As Monsanto (renamed in Windscale damage limitation mode) plans a British HQ for its new company – if it can acquire Syngenta – former Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Owen Paterson [below right] once again trots out tired myths about the virtues of genetic modification of crops.
He is said to be assisted by his brother-in-law, Viscount Matt Ridley, a genetic scientist who is a visiting professor at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) in New York which has received funding from Monsanto and Novartis. His long-term support for the technology, first highlighted in a ‘civilian’ September 2012 speech at the Rothamsted Research facility, inviting GMO innovators to take root in the UK, was followed by his DEFRA appointment.
Minister Paterson, in partnership with the Agricultural Biotechnology Council, financed by GM companies Monsanto, Syngenta and Bayer CropScience, frequently lobbied the EU on the desirability of GM crops. Last April he refused a Freedom of Information Act request to supply details about meetings between the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the GM industry trade body. He had to leave DEFRA, having extolled Britain’s shale gas reserves, ‘an unexpected and potentially huge windfall’, and mishandled the summer floods and badger culls.
He then set up a think tank UK2020. Millionaire-founded, it steers clear of direct funding from GM industries but vigorously promotes the technology at events such as last year’s South African agricultural biotechnology media conference, hosted by ISAAA which receives donations from both Monsanto and Bayer CropScience.
Murdoch’s Fox News: “the most anticipated and feared papal document in recent times”
Reports are coming in about the leaked papal encyclical on dangers to the environment but many failed to mention the references to genetically modified crops. It adds to the call for dialogue on this and other environmental issues voiced by the Vatican in 2013.
Farming Weekly Online does report the thoughts of Pope Francis on GMOs and pesticides, voiced in the draft of this major environmental document. He has called for a “scientific and social debate” on genetically modified foods that considers all the information available: “[I]t is necessary to ensure scientific and social debate that is responsible and large, able to consider all the information and to call things by their names. GMOs is an issue which is complex; it must be approached with a sympathetic look at all its aspects and this requires at least one effort to finance several lines of independent and interdisciplinary research.”
FW reports that he highlighted “significant problems” with the technology that should not be minimised, such as the “development of oligopolies in the production of seeds” and a “concentration of productive land in the hands of the few” that leads to the “disappearance of small producers”. Did it refer to GM herbicide resistant weeds and GM insecticide resistant insects?
The pontiff said the spread of GM crops “destroys the complex web of ecosystems, decreases diversity in production and affects the present and future of regional economies”. On the use of pesticides in agriculture – and GM cultivation – he warned that many birds and insects useful to agriculture are dying out as a result of pesticides created by technology.
We end with comments from a Nebraskan:
I see the landscape in farming country in Iowa & Nebraska – not a tree or bush in sight. Not one weed. The pesticides & weed killers spayed on the crops have killed off everything except the GMO crops! There go the butterflies, the bees & all other beneficial insects that pollinate our crops. It’s a sickening thing to see & it spells total disaster. I applaud the Pope for taking a world view of our problems. No other Pope has ever bothered with anything other than spiritual problems.
And from Brian John – on our mailing list:
Good for Pope Francis! The religious leaders — of all faiths — have been very slow to enter this debate, partly because they have been put under intense diplomatic pressure by the GMO/agrichemical industries and by the US and other governments. But the Christian understanding of the word “stewardship” is a very important part of the faith, and it’s great that Pope Francis is now prepared to explain it in terms of a global responsibility to look after the poor, to look after the environment and to maintain the purity of food and water. The GMO industry, and its acolytes, bang on all the time, quite cynically, about GMOs being needed to “feed the world” in a future full of uncertainties. It’s nonsense. of course, and the Pope’s intervention at this stage is of vast significance.
You can find the full draft encyclical here (in Italian): speciali.espresso.repubblica.it/pdf/laudato_si.pdf and comments on a translation.