GeneWatch PR: Key wildlife species and habitats excluded from proposed GM environmental liability laws.

30 November, 2006

Tomorrow, the Government is launching its consultation on the implementation of the Environmental Liability Directive (1). This includes the proposals for laws that will govern whether biotech companies have to pay for environmental harm caused by GMOs (2).

The Government's proposals, seen by GeneWatch UK, are the weakest possible and will fail to protect important sites and species.

"For GMOs, the Government doesn't intend to make the polluter pay," said Dr Sue Mayer, GeneWatch's Director. "These proposals are too weak to be effective and are dangerous because they create the impression that laws exist when they are a sham. While the public pay millions to protect species like the red squirrel and water vole, any damage that may be done by GMOs will not be paid for by the biotech industry".

  • Of the 566 Biodiversity Action Plan species, three hundred and seventy five (66%) will not be covered (3). A full list is published on the GeneWatch web site and includes:
    • the cirl bunting, corn bunting, tree sparrow, bullfinch;
    • the water vole, the red squirrel, and the brown hare; and
    • many butterflies and moths.
  • Three thousand three hundred Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), forming 25% of the land area of biological SSSIs in the UK will not be included. The SSSI system is an important pillar of nature conservation in the UK. GeneWatch has published a full list of these sites on its web site. (4)

The proposals also make it difficult to ensure the biotech industry pays out, even when harm occurs to species that are covered.

"It is highly unlikely that a biotechnology company or person using GMOs would be required to pay for remediation of any environmental damage that may arise unless they were proven to be negligent. Either damage will not be repaired or the state will have to pay. This is not what people said they wanted during the Government’s own 'GM Nation?' debate. The proposals could have been written by the biotech industry", said Dr Mayer

For further information contact Sue Mayer on 01298 871898 (office) or 07930 308807 (mobile)

Notes to editors

  1. The DEFRA consultation 'Environmental Liability Directive. Consultation on options for implementation of the Directive' will be launched on Friday 1st December 2006 and will be available at: The closing date for submissions will be the 22nd February 2007
  2. The Environmental Liability Directive (ELD - 2004/35) provides the liability regime for environmental harm arising from the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). This is the regime that was promised during the negotiation of the Deliberate Release Directive (2001/18 - Recital 16), but it also includes environmental damage caused by other activities that are not addressed here. If environmental damage takes place as a result of using a GM organism, the company or person responsible should have to pay the costs of remediation (putting things right). For briefings about the Environmental Liability Directive and GMOs click here
  3. In the UK, a Biodiversity Action Plan was launched in 1994. Species and habitats of conservation concern were identified and plans established to protect and improve their status. For a full list of those species not covered under the Government's proposals click here
  4. For a full list of SSSIs that the Government does not intend to be included in the environmental liability laws click here.



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