GENETICALLY MODIFIED ORGANISMS AND
COORDINATION OF GOVERNMENT POLICY
53. Civil liability in the UK liability for environmental
damage is currently governed by the normal rules of tort law.
For instance the common law tort of nuisance imposes liability
where damaging weed seeds are allowed to escape onto neighbouring
land, although application of this has yet to be tested in the
The UK Environmental Law Association (UKELA) pointed out that
the unique characteristics of biological agents are likely to
cause problems for establishing proof of harm and causation.
Specific provisions governing liability for damage caused by the
release of GMOs have been the subject of debate in both an EC
and international context.
54. The European Parliament has proposed an amendment
to the Deliberate Release Directive to include such provisions
with a related requirement for sufficient liability insurance
to be held by those "legally responsible for deliberate releases
of genetically modified organisms". This is described as
an incentive for industry to ensure the safety of their releases.
The report notes that in 1989 the Commission promised development
of a general proposal on liability for environmental damage throughout
the EU (including GMOs) but, despite a Green Paper in 1993, no
proposal had been tabled.
In addition to the European Parliament's initiative we note that
the question of the liability of the State for (negligent) decisions
made by its regulators also needs to be considered.
The issue of liability was also discussed in the context of the
negotiations on the Biosafety Protocol and proved contentious.
55. Mr Meacher told us that the Commission was working
on a White Paper on the overall situation but that it might yet
be "several" years before agreement is reached.
The Government wrote that it was considering the need for specific
provisions in the light of what it saw as a balance between concerns
about biotechnology (and calls for secure liability measures)
and the achievement of rapid progress on the Directive in question.
On grounds of promoting public confidence alone we see merit
in the inclusion in the Deliberate Release Directive of specific
provisions for the liability of those with responsibilities for
the release of GMOs that cause environmental damage. We note
that with the farm-scale trials due to begin this year large-scale
releases of GMOs are set to occur. It appears important that legal
certainty is established over responsibility for damage as soon
as possible. We further recommend that the UK seek agreement
within the EU for a provision on liability to be part of the EU's
mandate for further negotiations on the Biosafety Protocol.
96 Appendix 9, paragraph 7 Back
on the proposal for a European Parliament and Council Directive
amending Directive 90/220/EEC on the deliberate release into the
environment of genetically modified organisms (COM(98)0085 - 98/0072(COD)),
Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Consumer Protection,
28 January 1999. Evidence from Friends of the Earth states that
this proposal has been rejected by the Commission (Appendix 4). Back
Opinion, Committee on Research, Technological Development and
101 Q392 Back