Who Will Assume Liability?
Insurance companies brand genetically engineered plants as risky as war and nuclear accidents
Here is an interesting new development. Agribusiness corporations continue to promote genetically modified crops, but insurance companies are refusing to cover their potential liability.
Obviously, this could stop genetic manipulation from spreading. So, will the GM corporations make their product safer, to obtain insurance? Of course not. They will instead run to the government and ask that taxpayers be liable for paying any damage claims.
We favor a free market, and a necessary part of that is full liability, no special insurance handed out by the government. Citizens should not be forced to provide subsidized insurance to an industry that private insurers find too risky to deal with.
See this recent article from the Sunday Herald in Scotland.
by Rob Edwards
Genetically modified crops, like war and nuclear accidents, have been deemed too dangerous to insure against. Insurance companies have decided not to provide farms that use GM crops, their neighbours or anyone else with coverage against the risks of GM contamination.
This means that there will be no insurance pay-outs for anyone whose health is harmed by GM food, and organic farmers put out of business by genetic pollution will get no compensation. As a result, leading land agents are advising their clients not to get involved with GM crops. The revelations come amidst growing alarm about the dangers to human health and the environment posed by genetically engineered plants in Scotland. Doctors say GM food is a "gamble", while conservationists fear GM crops could breed "superweeds" resistant to herbicides.
Now the fears of protesters, scientists, food safety experts and many others, have been endorsed by insurance companies, the commercial experts in risk assessment. The two standard exemption clauses in insurance policies - for damages caused by war or nuclear accidents - have been joined by a third: the dangers posed by GM crops.
"These are a new and unknown quantity and until there is more scientific evidence and legal information it is impossible for any insurance company to provide cover," a spokesman for NFU Insurance, a leading insurer for farmers, told the Sunday Herald.
"We believe that the companies that are in control of the trials should be responsible for the crops that are grown and we advise farmers to make certain that these companies accept any liabilities."
Major rural land agents like Smiths Gore and Finlayson Hughes warn farmers off planting GM crops because of the potential liabilities. "If you cannot get cover, you'll have to think long and hard about it," said Richard Thompson from Smiths Gore.
Jo Hunt from Highlands and Islands GM Concern said "The Scottish Executive must move quickly to control these risks by requiring experimenting companies to provide their own full insurance cover and protect the 99.99% of Scotland's farmers who are not willing to take environmental risks which are unknown and uninsurable."
Peter Erskine, who runs an organic farm producing grain, grass and potatoes near Crail in Fife, is only 16 miles from a proposed new GM trial at Newport on Tay. "I am not ecstatic about someone wantonly introducing a factor that could seriously affect my business and is uninsurable," he said.
The GM trials would reduce the value of all nearby lands and inevitably cause contamination in years to come, which could lead to the withdrawal of organic farm certification. "It's an appalling Pandora's Box that you can't put the lid on," he added. "It's grim."
Last week Charles Saunders, chairman of the British Medical Association's public health committee, called for the GM trials to be halted until scientists can prove they are safe. "We simply do not have enough reliable scientific evidence on their safety to be able to make a valid decision as to whether there are potential health effects or not," he was reported as saying.
Meanwhile, Brian Johnson, the scientist from English Nature leading investigations into GM by the government's conservation agencies has warned about the risks of "superweeds". Research in Canada has shown that GM oilseed rape can produce seeds which accumulate resistance to more than one herbicide.
This phenomenon, known as "gene-stacking", could lead to rape plants, which cannot be controlled by normal weedkillers, interfering with other crops. "There are serious implications for GM contamination of conventional food," said Johnson.
Protesters will be urging the Scottish Parliament this week to suspend all the GM trials in Scotland. As well as being uninsurable and potentially hazardous, they will argue that the Munlochy trial is illegal because it could damage a nearby conservation area, the Inner Moray Firth, which is protected under European law.
"The risks of GM are many and potentially huge, and are taken by every person living within a 9km radius of the site and in the resulting food chain," Highlands and Islands GM Concern will say. "The benefits are few and potentially very small or negative, and accrue to only one trans-national company, based in another country. GM crops are not worth the risk."
Be sure to see Fred Foldvary's editorial on Genetically Manipulated Food
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