GM Crops Pose Huge Liability Risks
|October 9, 2003||Posted by Staff under The Progress Report|
GM Crops Pose Huge Liability Risks
Insurers ‘would not cover’ GM farmers
Scientists, consumers, food safety groups, free market advocates, children’s safety groups, and property rights supporters all want a responsible government policy on genetically modified (GM) crops and foods.
Here is an interesting new development from the United Kingdom, as reported by the Guardian.
by Sally Bolton and agencies
The likelihood that genetically-modified crops will ever be farmed in the UK was greatly reduced after it emerged that farmers may not be able to obtain insurance cover for the potential risks of GM farming.
A survey carried out by agricultural campaigning group Farm found that none of the five main British insurance underwriters would be willing to offer cover to farmers considering growing GM crops, or to non-GM farmers seeking to protect their businesses from GM crop contamination.
All the companies surveyed said that they felt unable to insure farmers against potentially huge compensation payouts if widespread fears about GM food and farming proved to be realised.
They said that too little was known about the long-term effects on human health and the environment of growing GM for them to be able to offer any form of coverage.
Some firms even compared the risks of GM to the Thalidomide scandal of the 1960s — in which vast sums in compensation were paid out when babies were born with deformities resulting from the drug.
Others cited the payouts caused by the use of asbestos. One company said: “Fifty years ago, insurers were writing policies for asbestos without a care in the world — now they are facing claims of hundreds of millions of pounds.
“The insurance industry has learned to be wary of new things, and there is a real feeling that GM could come back and bite you in five years.”
The Farm survey found that opposition from the firms to insuring GM crops was comparable to the public’s hostility towards buying and eating them.
Robin Maynard, Farm’s national coordinator, said: “When insurers quantify GM crops in the same category as thalidomide, asbestos and terrorism, no thinking farmer should risk their business and public reputation by taking on this unproven, unwanted and unnecessary technology.
“Time and time again, farmers have borne the brunt of someone else’s mistakes or shortcuts — BSE, organophosphates, salmonella … It’s time farmers got out of the firing line and let those seeking to force GM crops into our fields and onto supermarket shelves take the flak.
Farm, a new organisation representing working farmers, surveyed the five companies – Agricultural Insurance Underwriters Agency, Rural Insurance Group, BIB Underwriters Limited, Farm Web and NFU Mutual — a week ago.
The survey comes shortly before the government’s expected October 16 publication of the findings of its three-year field-scale GM crop trials.
Margaret Beckett, the head of the department of environment, food and rural affairs, will base her decision over whether to allow GM farming on the results of the trials.
Mr Maynard said: “For both farmers and consumers, [the government] would have to guarantee what the insurers clearly believe isn’t possible — that GM crops can be grown without contaminating the crops of the majority of farmers who want to remain GM-free.”
A nationwide survey of public opinion, published last month, showed overwhelming opposition to GM technology.
Be sure to see Fred Foldvary’s editorial on Genetically Manipulated Food
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