Rebecca Evans, Deputy Minister for Farming and Food
On 13 January the European Union (EU) voted in favour of amending legislation in Europe that will allow Member States and Regions to make national decisions on whether they wish to ban or cultivate genetically modified (GM) crops in their territories. This change of EU legislation is expected to be adopted this Spring and will create a mechanism by which the Welsh Government can demand that the GM applicant limits the geographic scope of an EU GM crop authorisation to exclude Wales. Should this demand not be met then we can adopt further measures to restrict or prohibit the GM crop cultivation. These further measures may include such things as environmental or agriculture policy, socio-economic impacts, public policy or the avoidance of GM contamination to other products. We have campaigned for several years to have socio-economic issues included as important factors in the consideration of GM crop approvals and I am pleased that these are now formally recognised.
This development will help us in our delivery of our GM policy which is to maintain a restrictive and precautionary approach to GM crop cultivation. It is a policy approach that enjoys cross-party support.
This recent European Parliament decision will provide Wales with the necessary tools to maintain this approach by allowing us to control the future cultivation of GM crops in Wales. It will allow us to protect the significant investment we have made in our organic sector and safeguard the agricultural land in Wales that is managed under voluntary agri-environment schemes. Farming and food processing industries remain the cornerstone of our rural economy. Our emphasis is on competing on quality, strong branding and adding value through local processing. We, therefore, need to preserve consumer confidence and maintain our focus on a clean, green, natural environment. By having the ability to control what is grown in Wales we can have confidence in preserving these values.
Whilst we take a precautionary approach, we also keep an open mind on future GM developments and plant breeding technologies. There are currently no GM crops that are suitable for Welsh growing conditions or that could have a lasting benefit to Wales. Future research into advanced plant breeding techniques carried out on a basis of independence, openness and integrity may help deliver the next generation of crops (GM or conventional) that benefit the farmer, consumer and environment, and could lead to more sustainable forms of agriculture. We, therefore, support the growing Welsh research expertise in biomedical and agricultural sciences. As an example of this, we recently supported the trials of a genetically modified vaccine against prostate cancer currently being undertaken at a hospital in Wales as part of a larger Great Britain trial.
In the coming weeks Welsh Government officials will be working with the other UK administrations to establish the details of the proposal to amend Directive 2001/18/EC on the deliberate release into the environment of GMOs, and how it will be administered in the UK and the EU. One important aspect will be establishing cross-border arrangements with England to ensure that Welsh farmers are protected from any possible contamination should GM crops be grown across the border. This EU decision is an important and ground breaking decision and for the first time provides Member States and Regions with the power to decide whether or not to grow a GM crop in their territory. Like a number of other EU countries which fought hard for this, the Welsh Government welcomes this decision .