CAMPAIGNS: Friends of the Earth aims at a GM-free UK - Lobbying

Client: Friends of the Earth PR Team: In-house Campaign: GM-free Britain Timescale: October 2002-ongoing Budget: undisclosed

For the last five years there has been a moratorium throughout the EU on the use of genetically modified (GM) crops. Until now, member states have expressed serious reservations over the strength of GM legislation and issues such as clear labelling. This year new legislation will be introduced, with the expectation that approval for widescale GM planting will be granted. In the UK, Friends of the Earth undertook a lobbying campaign to ensure the country remains GM-free.

Objectives

To stop GM crops being commercially grown in the UK. To lobby local authorities with the aim of ensuring ten councils vote to become GM-free.

Strategy and Plan

Having already done much to highlight its position on the subject, Friends of the Earth was able to build on existing work within local communities.

The campaign was enacted at a local level, with grassroots Friends of the Earth campaigners encouraged to lobby farmers and other interested parties, such as bee keepers, organic groups and the Wholesome Food Association.

Once these groups had been brought on board they all lobbied their own local authorities and individual councillors with petitions and opinion polls.

A national day of action was centred around the local elections, where campaigners presented councillors with locally grown organic food and a booklet called GM-free Food Forever, specifically aimed at local authorities.

The booklet was produced by the organisation's central office, along with other campaigning materials such as briefing papers, printed material, legal advice and training.

Local councillors were being asked to do three things: ban GM ingredients in council services such as school dinners, ban GM crops on council land, and use EU legislation to target the banning of specific GM crops.

There are 22 different crops going through the approvals process, the most likely for the UK being fodder maize and rapeseed oil.

Measurement and Evaluation

Press coverage has been positive. Stories ran in the Yorkshire Gazette and Herald, Manchester Metro, Western Morning News and specialist titles such as Farmers Weekly.

Results

To date, over 20 local authorities have voted to be GM-free, twice that of the target number. These include the Lake District National Park; the first national park in the UK to do so. Six of the councils who have switched are in the South West where just under 50 per cent of the UK's fodder maize is grown.

Cornwall County Councillor Rachel Ewer felt the campaign, 'was very helpful and well organised. It gave us loads of support and helped us win over the rest of the council', she said. West Country-based freelance journalist Aura Sabadus said: 'They did a great job keeping in touch with farmers and the wider community.'

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