COUNCIL MEETING, 25 FEBRUARY, 2004
REPORT OF THE
POLICY ON GENETICALLY MODIFIED FOODS
1. On 25 July 2003, the Leader decided that the County Council would:
(i) adopt and disseminate a precautionary policy relating to genetic modification
(ii) respond to the GM Debate Steering Board by adopting a precautionary policy;
(iii) continue with its Food Standards activities, including the routine testing of
meals sold on Hampshire County Council premises for genetically modified
(iv) organise a Conference on genetic modification to which the public,
businesses, leading experts and other interested parties would be invited.
The Conference took place on 27 October 2003 at The Guildhall, Winchester. Importantly, it had as its key note speaker Professor Malcolm Grant, the Chairman of the Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission who reported back on the results of the GM Nation? Public debate first hand.
2. On 18 September 2003, the County Council received two notices of motion on genetic modification from Councillors K. House and M. J. Roberts. Copies of these motions are attached as Appendix I to this report. The Council agreed to refer the motions to the Policy and Resources Policy Review Committee and to the Leader with the benefit of advice from the most recent Government reports and changes to EU regulations on GM. The intention of the motions was to seek to use European Legislation (Article 19 of EU Directive 2001/18/EC) to request the Secretary of State for Agriculture and the European Commission to provide legal protection for the environment by preventing particular GM crops from being grown in Hampshire. Councillor House's motion also sought to strengthen the precautionary policy to include a ban on GM crops on County Council farms.
3. The feedback from the GM Conference on 27 October 2003 on these issues included eighteen individuals specifically asking for Hampshire to be made GM-free and four directly opposed to the motion. Thirty-two preferred a precautionary approach which relied on resistance to GM until more scientific research had been carried out. The farming community and biotechnology representatives were worried that a GM-free Hampshire would have a negative impact on trade and would close the door on specific progress. The main supporters of a GM-free Hampshire were environmentalists, especially Friends of the Earth. The majority of groups preferred the "Precautionary Approach".
4. The use of GM products and crops in the European Community (EC) is controlled by Directive 2001/18/EC on the deliberate release into the environment of genetically modified organisms (GMO's). The Directive provides a procedure for the European Commission and the 15 member states to decide whether to allow individual GM products to be placed on the EC market. Only "EU competent authorities" can grant approvals for GM foods to be sold or grown in Europe. In the UK, the competent authority is the UK Government. Therefore, Hampshire County Council has no direct powers to make Hampshire GM-free, other than by lobbying the government.
5. Although some GMO's have been approved for use in the UK, (e.g soya and maize), the EU suspended the authorisation of new GM crops in 1998 - mainly due to public concerns. However, the EU is now under pressure to lift the moratorium, not least from the USA via the World Trade Organisation. Some local authorities have purported to declared their area "GM free" by applying Article 19 of EU Directive 2001/18/EC but this is a very dubious legal validity as local authorities are not competent authorities for the purposes of the Directive. The UK Government (DEFRA) do not agree GM free status is appropriate unless there is sound scientific evidence of risks to human health or the environment.
6. Until recently, it was generally held that there was not any sound scientific evidence of risks to human health or the environment. However, recent UK crop trials showed that there could be risks to the environment from GM oilseed rape or GM sugar beet. This may be enough to declare an area GM-free but only on a case by case basis, because the same trials found that GM maize was less harmful to the environment. An application by Austria to introduce legislation banning the use of GMO's in the region of Upper Austria was rejected recently by the European Commission. The Commission confirmed the decision made in July 2003 by the European Food Safety Authority because there was no new evidence provided by the authority that GM plants were a risk to public health or the environment.
7. Finally, there is the whole issue of what is "GM free"? The legal definition is less than 0.9%, to allow for "accidental minor contamination". The current Hampshire County Council policy on school meals established in 1999 is a ban on foods containing "detectable GM". It is felt appropriate to update this policy to reflect latest EU legal standards. If soya is taken as an example, the current policy could result in a ban on all products containing soya. This is because practically all soya now contains traces of GM and sensitive tests can now detect 0.1 to 0.5% GM material. Hampshire Scientific Service could carry out research to identify non-GM alternatives to permitted GM ingredients (e.g. soya binding agents).
8. In response to the two notices of motion, it appears that the County Council does not have legal powers to declare Hampshire GM-free. However, it would be feasible for the Council to lobby Central Government and the EU to keep the UK GM-free until they have scientific evidence that there are no significant risks to human health or the environment. The Policy and Resources Policy Review Committee on 4 December 2003 considered a report by the Director of Property, Business and Regulatory Services and Director of Environment on the issues. They supported its conclusions and additional comments made by the Leader and officers. However, the Committee also felt it was appropriate to include a reference to seek to keep Hampshire free from GM crops and to make a direct reference to Article 19 as a means of lobbying Government. Finally, they wished to encourage district and unitary authorities in Hampshire to adopt a similar GM policy to the County Council.
1. The Leader has considered the matter and the advice of the Policy Review Committee and supports the conclusions reached subject to some minor format changes.
2. The proposals support several of the Aims of the Corporate Strategy; namely Aim 2, (Stewardship of the environment); Aim 4 (Building strong and safe communities) and Aim 5 (Improving services)
1. That the County Council updates its precautionary GM Policy to reflect recent
changes in EU Law, the findings of the latest Government reports and crop
trials and feedback from the County Council's GM Debate as follows:
That the County Council will:
- not provide meals containing detectable genetically modified ingredients, in line with the latest EU legal standards.
- advise Hampshire food businesses on the requirements of the new EU Regulations on GM Food Labelling and enforce the new rules via Trading Standards inspections, traceability checks, sampling and analysis.
- not permit the growing of GM crops on County Council land and request the Government, as far as possible, to keep Hampshire free from GM crops by using Article 19 of EU Directive 2001/18/EC.
- use its own scientific and food inspection protocols to identify non-GM alternatives to permitted GM ingredients and urge the UK Government to invest in further independent scientific research on the effects of GM.
- request that, because of Hampshire's unusually rich biological diversity, the government consults Hampshire County Council on any proposed trialling or commercial growing of any GM crops in the County before any consents are given.
- request the UK Government to keep the UK GM-free until it has scientific evidence that there are no significant risks to human health or the environment.
- encourage District and Unitary Councils in Hampshire to adopt this or a similar policy with respect to their land and services.
2. That officers prepare a non-technical guidance note on the precautionary GM policy for dissemination to interested parties.
COUNTY COUNCIL MEETING 25 FEBRUARY 2004
NOTICES OF MOTION TO COUNCIL ON 18 SEPTEMBER 2003
1. GM CROPS
Councillor M. J. Roberts' Notice of Motion:-
"Hampshire County Council pledges that it will use new European Legislation (Article of EU deliberate Release Directive 2001/18) so that the Council can request the Secretary of State for Agriculture and the European Commission to provide legal protection to prevent particular GM crops from being grown in their area to protect the environment".
2. KEEPING HAMPSHIRE GM FREE
Councillor K.House's Notice of Motion:-
"This Council recognises:
· that genetic modification of crop plants is a relatively new branch of science and technology;
· that there is still scientific debate about the safety of GM crops; and
· that the commercial growing of GM crops presents legal, economic, social and
ethical problems that have not yet been properly addressed.
This Council, therefore, reaffirms its precautionary approach:
· which prevents the use of any detectable amounts of GM ingredients in County Council meals; and
· which includes a clause in all new farm tenancy agreements stipulating that GMOs are not used on County Farms.
This Council declares that, as far as possible, the County Council will work to ensure that Hampshire is kept free of GM crops and feed, that no GM crops are grown on land over which it has control, and asserts a GM-free policy for all goods and services for which the Council is responsible.
This Council also commits to considering each prospective GMO Marketing Consent and, where appropriate, writing to both the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and to the European Commission, requesting that a condition under Article 19 (3) (c) be added to such Marketing Consent so as to exempt Hampshire from the scope of such consent."