Friends of the Earth Europe

Brussels, October 03, 2002 – A draft European directive on environmental liability is so weak it is practically useless, Friends of the Earth said today. The European Parliament is holding a ‘public hearing’ in Brussels on the proposals today (Thursday), which were drawn up by the European Commission.

Comprehensive laws on environmental liability are essential to make those responsible for environmental damage or destruction liable for their actions. Unfortunately the proposals drawn up by the European Commission are far from adequate.

– They only apply to biodiversity in certain ‘protected’ areas, and only to certain protected species. Species protected under national and international biodiversity legislation are not fully covered. In all only around 20 per cent of the EU’s biodiversity, and only around 13 per cent of its land area is covered by the draft directive.

– They only cover damage to land if it causes “serious potential harm to public health as a result of soil and subsoil contamination.” Damage to soil eco-systems is completely overlooked.

– Economic damage – such as the contamination of organic crops through cross-pollination with genetically modified crops – isalso completely overlooked.

The draft directive is also riddled with loopholes and caveats which weaken it further. These include:

– State-of-knowledge defence. Polluters can avoid liability by arguing that the activities or emissions were not considered harmful when the incident happened.

– Permit-defence. This excludes liability for all activities and emissions for which the operator holds a permit or authorisation.

Geert Ritsema of Friends of the Earth Europe said:

“These proposals on environmental liability are completely inadequate. If business pollutes the environment surely it should pay for the damage it has caused? If this legislation is passed the environment will pay the price and the tax-payers will foot the bill.

“Why doesn’t this directive fully cover damage caused by genetically modified crops? The ultimate responsibility for any harm caused by GMOs should lie with the Directors of the biotech companies. That’s fair on farmers, consumers, the environment and tax-payers.”

Geert Ritsema, Friends of the Earth Europe.
Phone: +32-2-542 0182, Mobile: +31-6-290 05 908