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Growing of GM crops banned in Northern Ireland by environment minister

By Claire Williamson

Published 21/09/2015

Each regional assembly within the UK is making its own decision.
Each regional assembly within the UK is making its own decision.

The growing of genetically modified (GM) crops has been banned in Northern Ireland by the environment minister.

Mark H Durkan announced today he was prohibiting the cultivation of GM crops because he was "unconvinced of the advantages".

It follows an earlier European Union decision to permit its 28 member states to adopt their own position on the issue.

While commercially there are no GM crops being grown in the UK, each regional assembly within the UK is making its own decision.

Mr Durkan said: “I remain unconvinced of the advantages of GM crops, and I consider it prudent to prohibit their cultivation here for the foreseeable future.

“The pattern of land use here and the relatively small size of many agricultural holdings creates potential difficulties if we were to seek to keep GM and non-GM crops separate.  I consider that the costs of doing so could potentially be significant and, in many cases, totally impractical.

“Further, we are rightly proud of our natural environment and rich biodiversity.  We are perceived internationally to have a clean and green image. I am concerned that the growing of GM crops – which I acknowledge is controversial – could potentially damage that image.”

Mr Durkan is responsible for all matters relating to the release of GM material into the environment and this includes the growing of GM crops.

The Ulsters Farmer Union, which had previously expressed concern at the EU's proposal, said it was important that "science is not portrayed in a negative way".

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A spokeswoman said: "The Ulster Farmers' Union recognises why the Environment Minister has made the decision he has on GM cultivation. 

"This could however create problems if the Republic of Ireland adopts a different approach towards growing these crops. 

"It is important that the science is not portrayed in a negative way and that the Minister recognises that in time the science behind GM crops could deliver benefits for farmers, food processors and consumers in the future."

Meanwhile the Green party welcomed the announcement.

East Belfast Green Party Councillor Ross Brown said: "The Green Party is pleased that the Environment Minister is upholding the precautionary principle to ensure that Northern Ireland is not automatically included as an area in which GM crops can be grown.

“It is certainly prudent to prohibit the growth of GM crops until there is further evaluation of any environmental impacts and potential risks to other crops and wildlife.

“Northern Ireland will be able to retain its ‘clean and green’ image, which, given the pressure our agri-rural industry is under should be welcomed."

Mr Brown added: “The Green Party had endeavoured to bring this issue to the Assembly on a number of occasions and we appreciate the decisive action Minister Durkan has taken to ensure Northern Ireland leads the way in remaining GM free.”

Under EU rules, GM crops must be formally authorised before they can be cultivated in the EU geographical area.

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