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End of GM moratorium follows relentless high-powered well-funded lobbying by corporations

23 Jan

molly fg gm crops

MEP Molly Scott Cato, who is a member of the Agricultural Committee and spoke during the debate in the European Parliament, says:

“A new system of regulation for genetically modified organisms (GMOs) was voted for by a majority of MEPs this week. The new rules replace a Europe wide ban on GM crops with an in-out option. This allows countries to ban GM crops, but also to opt in and grow crops that have passed the EU’s GMO authorisation process. Given the strong support for GM from both Conservatives and Labour, GM crops that have been authorised by the EU could be grown in England by 2017.

“We aren’t voting on an end to the GM moratorium because of lobbying from our constituents. We have arrived here because of relentless high-powered well-funded lobbying by the corporations who have no interest in our welfare, but instead want to control our food supply and to swell their own profits. Greens will continue to stand with the many small farmers and consumers in the South West who don’t want this dangerous technology.”

Listen to Molly’s contribution to the European Parliament debate and another, most persuasively, in a videoed interview (Farmers Guardian link).

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Radio 4 smoothing the way for GM crops? Skewed interviewing by Charlotte Smith

1 Mar

farming today header

A sad awakening to hear on Farming Today, by chance, the poorest exchange on GM technology it is possible to imagine – inaccurately billed as an ‘exploration’: 

farming today blurb

Fifteen years ago in the late ‘90s, Radio 4’s Farming Today ‘faced the chop’ because of its courageous, truthful coverage of BSE and FMD issues and is now bland and establishment-friendly, proud that its ‘the rural agenda’ – and that of Countryfile – has made countryside “relevant to people’s lives as both a playground and a source of affordable and safe food.”

Note the playground is given first priority, when food – the staff of life – is placed second – a long way behind tourism and the import-export merry-go-round promoted by government and probably all ‘mainstream’ political parties.

Charlotte’s leading questions and comments, emotional not rational, included:

  • Are we holding back progress?
  • Is regulatory process hampering the development of GM crops?
  • We need GM crops to feed the world (quoting Mark Walport) – a theory discredited by facts presented by many, including geneticist Dr Michael Antoniou.

This notion of progress was used  in the 60s to build defective concrete tower blocks and justify other dubious projects – and now the taxpayer levied HS2.

Charlotte asserted that the rest of the world is using the technology (mainly for animal feed) but look at the pro-biotech ISAAA’s table:

GMO using conutires

The Rothamsted advocate could not have been given an easier ride

One of Charlotte’s opening remarks was “We need progress”  –  but surely not progress towards resistant weeds, insect pests and damage to health. None of these problems were even mentioned by the opponent of GM crops from the Soil Association. Were guidelines been imposed beforehand as a condition of appearing?

Challenge

MH 2 & farmer from MissouriThe BBC is challenged to invite farmer Michael Hart to speak in such a debate.

No laboratory scientist, in his short documentary he investigated the reality of farming genetically modified crops in the USA ten years after their introduction. He travelled across the US interviewing farmers and other specialists about their experiences of growing GM.

During the making of the film he heard problems of the ever-increasing costs of seeds and chemicals to weeds becoming resistant to herbicides.

The BBC is also challenged to present the facts about the high levels of ill health in a generation of Americans ‘nourished’ on meat from cattle fed GM maize and soy.

revolving_doorOr would this present too many obstacles to acceptance of GM technology, end the hospitality to media and close the biotech industry’s revolving door to the public relations sector, scientists and politicians?

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Monsanto rampant! Suppression, surveillance and aggression

2 Dec

How will Monsanto handle European opposition to GM crops?

By continued academic suppression?

richard e goodmanEarly this year Reed Elsevier’s Food and Chemical Toxicology journal appointed Richard E. Goodman, a former Monsanto scientist and an affiliate of the GMO industry-funded group, the International Life Sciences Institute, to the specially created post of associate editor for biotechnology at the journal.

In September 2012 the journal had published peer-reviewed research by University of Caen professor Giles Seralini showing that rats fed on a diet of GM maize (NK603, produced by Monsanto) and extremely diluted amounts of glyphosate herbicide (Monsanto’s Roundup) suffered damage to their kidneys and livers, developed tumours at a higher rate than a control group and had a higher mortality rate.

FCT seralini coverThe study was the first to test the effects of feeding GM organisms (GMOs) to animals for their entire lifetime. The current standard is for studies lasting for three months, conducted by the companies that created the GMO. Read more in a report published in the British Medical Journal.

Though there was concerted criticism of the research by vested interests, the European Food Safety Agency concluded that the work exposed a serious gap in testing of GM crops.

On Thursday 28th November the Wall Street Journal reported that FCT has decided to retract the study, though admitting that an examination of Prof Séralini’s raw data showed “no evidence of fraud or intentional misrepresentation of the data” and nothing “incorrect” about the data.

By surveillance and infiltration?

blackwater renamed logoThe Guardian reports that defence contractor Blackwater, known for its killing of civilians in Nisour Square and in Afghanistan; its multiple front companies and its alleged intimacy with the CIA, was rebranded Xe and later sold to a group of investors who renamed it Academi, was paid by Monsanto for two years to “provide operatives to infiltrate activist groups organizing against the multinational biotech firm.” A more wide-ranging report was published today. The Nation, America’s oldest continuously published weekly politics and culture magazine, founded in 1865, adds dates and details in its ‘Black ops’ article.

By meeting protest with state or proxy violence?

monsanto logoFollowing unrest in Argentina due to the exposure of a clear link between the use of the chemical glyphosate in Monsanto’s Round-Up pesticide, with health problems in the country, including cancer, thyroid disorders and chronic respiratory illness, reported by Associated Press, there have been protests at the construction of a processing plant by the biotech giant. Monsanto disclaimed responsibility and alleged that liability lay with those using the pesticide.
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Construction of the corn-processing plant in Cordoba province was disrupted in October, when the activists started to block roads to the site. The activists were concerned that once finished, the plant would process Monsanto-made genetically modified corn, with the products ending up in the local market.
On November 29th, 20 protestors were injured outside the construction site on Thursday by construction workers from the Argentine Construction Union,employed to build Monsanto’s plant, who say that the blockade is damaging their jobs. Police are said to have intervened using tear gas. Earlier police tried to clear roads and a video was posted in the Belfast Telegraph. They were moderate, but will restraint continue as such clashes escalate?

So how will Monsanto handle European opposition to GM technology? With suppression, surveillance and aggression? Or will they just continue to rely on the strong multinational corporate–political alliances?


Do some Government science advisers misrepresent science?

30 Apr

Government science advisers misrepresent science. In too many cases after their appointments they soon begin to sound less like scientists than industrial lobbyists. So writes George Monbiot, in the Guardian today.

The BSE crisis 20 years ago was exacerbated by the failure of government scientists accurately to present the evidence. The chief veterinary officer wrongly dismissed the research suggesting that BSE could jump from one species to another.

$RKIGGA1Monbiot asserts that the worst example in the past ten years was set by Sir Mark Walport, the British government’s new chief scientist – see an earlier post on this site. In the Financial Times, he denounced the proposal for a temporary European ban on the pesticides blamed for killing bees and other pollinators, claiming that “the consequences of such a moratorium could be harmful to the continent’s crop production, farming communities and consumers.”

UK government ministers attempted to block a Europe-wide suspension of the neonicotinoid insecticides increasingly linked to serious harm in bees – as Monbiot puts it “fighting valiantly on behalf of the manufacturers Syngenta and Bayer”.

Government trials taken too late – after the toxins had already been widely deployed

The government had carried out field trials which, it claimed, showed that “effects on bees do not occur under normal circumstances”. But Professor Dave Goulson, one of the UK’s leading experts, explained to Monbiot that the experiment was hopelessly contaminated. The nests of bumblebees which were meant to function as a pesticide-free control group were exposed to similar levels of neonicotinoids as those in the experimental group. The study was also published only on the internet and not peer-reviewed.

Walport went on to suggest that the proposed ban would cause “severe reductions in yields to struggling European farmers and economies.” But following its investigation, published last month, the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee concluded that “neonicotinoid pesticides are not fundamental to the general economic or agricultural viability of UK farming.” In fact they can prevent a more precise and rational use of pesticides, known as integrated pest management.

Political-corporate scaremongers

Monbiot comments, “Those opposed to measures which protect the natural world are often far worse scaremongers than environmentalists can be. How often have you heard people claim that ‘if the greens get their way, we’ll go back to living in caves” or “if carbon taxes are approved, the economy will collapse’? “

The precautionary principle which some regard as the environmental ‘gold standard’

Walport’s definition: the precautionary principle “just means working out and balancing in advance all the risks and benefits of action or inaction, and to make a proportionate response.” Monbiot’s corrects him, pointing out that the Rio declaration, signed by the UK and 171 other states, defines it as follows:

“Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.”

Monbiot concludes:

Less than a month into the job, Sir Mark Walport has misinformed the public about the scientific method, risk and uncertainty. He has made groundless, unscientific and emotionally manipulative claims. He has indulged in scaremongering and wild exaggeration in support of the government’s position. For this reason, he will doubtless remain in post, and end his career with a peerage. The rest of us will carry the cost of his preferment.

So why do some Government science advisers misrepresent science?

Readers comment that if they do not toe (or tow) the government line, they will be dismissed like Dr David Nutt or worse – be persecuted like Dr David Kelly.

 

The Farmers Guardian pro-GM front page

28 Aug

As the corporate–political drive to introduce GM crops intensifies, with recent support from the BBC in its Countryside File, the Farmers Guardian – which often prints articles showing genetic modification in a positive light – has used its front page to feature the views of establishment scientist Professor Robert Watson.

Establishment?

Yes, witness his choices of career from chief scientist at the World Bank, to Nasa, and as an Associate Director the White House Office, before joining DEFRA and soon returning to America.

All this was omitted by the FG who said only that he was born in Essex, took up DEFRA position and continued to work at the University of East Anglia.

Professor Watson’s parting shot: “GM is a part of the solution to feed the world”

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 A firm rebuttal comes from Kings College geneticist Dr Michael Antoniou in the summary of a recent report.

GM crops:

  • are not adequately regulated to ensure safety,
  • do not increase yield potential,
  • do not reduce pesticide use but increase it,
  • create serious problems for farmers, including herbicide-tolerant “superweeds”, compromised soil quality, and increased disease susceptibility in crops,
  • have mixed economic effects,
  • harm soil quality, disrupt ecosystems, and reduce biodiversity,
  • do not offer effective solutions to climate change,
  • are as energy-hungry as any other chemically-farmed crops

Dr Antoniou’s final assertion: “[GM crops] cannot solve the problem of world hunger but distract from its real causes – poverty, lack of access to food and, increasingly, lack of access to land to grow it on”.

Has Bell Pottinger been commissioned to renew the campaign for GM crops to boost Monsanto’s falling profits?

12 Aug

On a sister site in 2010 we quoted Colin Tudge’s description of  New Labour’s agricultural strategy, “if such it can be called”, as “an open invitation to Monsanto, Cargill, and Tesco, to fill their boots.”

A few events were listed:

  • The recently exposed Bell Pottinger, the lobbying firm acting for Monsanto, was paying up to £10,000 a year to MP Peter Luff, the Tory chairman of the Agriculture Select Committee which policed Government food policy.
  • Monsanto met government minister Jack Cunningham when he was chair of the cabinet committee on GM. His special adviser, Cathy McGlynn, went on to join Bell Pottinger.
  • David Hill, Tony Blair’s chief media spokesperson, was a senior executive at Bell-Pottinger and managing director of its subsidiary Good Relations Ltd, where he was public relations advisor to Monsanto.
  • During 1997-1999 GM food firms met government officials or ministers 81 times and Monsanto reps visited into the agriculture and environment departments 22 times. (They couldn’t be closer to Blair, Daily Mail, February 13, 1999)

The same tactics are used world-wide: corporate vested interest embedded in government advisory committees influences the decision-making process. Read more here. The post ended:

Short-lived lifting of spirits when news of Monsanto’s dramatically falling profits on Round-Up sales was arrested by the explanation that this was due to China manufacturing a cheaper substitute – as well as problems with weed resistance.

In 2010 we asked. “Will the drive to extend production of GM crops in Europe intensify to recover ground after Monsanto’s quarterly profits fell by 45%?”

 

Two years later we can see that it has.

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US & UK political backing for GM technology – but Wales stands firm

16 Jul

November 2009

There is another ‘wave’ of pressure for the growing of GM crops in England, but Wales has taken an unprecedented stand – see final paragraph.  It is coming under great pressure to  reverse its decision.

The National Farmers Union has backed calls for politicians in Europe to give farmers the chance to grow GM crops after recent surveys showed a majority of farmers in favour of the technology.

Pressure is mounting from some scientists for Europe to end its resistance to genetically modified (GM) crops and on the 3rd March there was a failed attempt by the European Commission supported by the UK government – to force two EU member states to drop their ban on the cultivation of a genetically modified maize.

Instead of the usual debates about GM the focus here is on the power of vested interest and lack of independent political scrutiny which enabled the technology to get firm hold in USA.

The drive for GM in the US had powerful support :

  • Clarence Thomas, one of the Supreme Court Judges who voted for the legality of George Bush’s election, was Monsanto’s lawyer.
  • The U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Anne Veneman, was on the Board of Directors of Monsanto’s Calgene Corporation.
  • The Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, was on the Board of Directors of Monsanto’s Searle pharmaceuticals.
  • The U.S. Secretary of Health, Tommy Thompson, received $50,000 in donations from Monsanto during his winning campaign for Wisconsin’s governor.
  • The two congressmen receiving the most donations from Monsanto during the last election were Larry Combest (Chairman of the House Agricultural Committee) and Attorney General John Ashcroft. (Source: Dairy Education Board)
  • The man in charge of overseeing the GMO evaluations at the FDA, Michael Taylor, was not a scientist but a lawyer who had previously represented US biotechnology giant Monsanto. After leaving the FDA he went back to his private practice, eventually becoming Monsanto’s vice president.

The US Center for Responsive Politics points out that this is a classic case of the revolving door syndrome, the conflict of interest caused by the constant movement of professionals back and forth between the private and public sectors.

Britain does not give similar access to information, so there are relatively low numbers of known political links with the industry

In 1999 The Observer reported that Bell Pottinger, the lobbying firm acting for Monsanto was paying up to £10,000 a year to Peter Luff, the chairman of the influential House of Commons Agriculture Select Committee which policed Government food policy.

A year later concerns were recorded about Dr Lutman, who works at the Institute of Arable Crops Research (IACR), where he heads the weed biology and control research programme. He is also on the panel of CropGen, whose chairman has said it exists “to provide a voice for crop biotechnology in UK”. CropGen is being funded initially by a group of biotechnology companies, among them Monsanto.

IACR is part of a consortium of research groups carrying out government work on farm-scale trials of GM crops, undertaking contracts worth £3.3 million. Dr Lutman is co-author of a report to the government on progress on the trials.

In 2002 Andrew Bennett, a senior civil servant in the Department for International Development [DFID] – director of rural livelihoods and environment at the department and principal policy adviser to ministers – left to join Syngenta, the world’s largest agribusiness and second largest GM food company, formed by the merger in 2000 of the Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis Agribusiness and the British GM company Zeneca.

Mr Bennett helped to frame the department’s policies and influenced its decision to contribute £600,000 a year to GM crop research in poor countries. DFID backed Vision 2020, a British aid programme in Andra Pradesh, India, funding the McKinsey report that advocated a state plan to introduce prairie-style farming and GM crops – rejected and reversed after the next state election.

The Register of Lords’ Interests gave other leads.

Lord Smith is a director of the Clore Leadership Programme, and there are indirect links to the GM industry via two of the Programme’s funders.

The Gatsby Charitable Foundation, one of the Sainsbury foundations, was the first funder. In 1998 Lord Sainsbury was appointed as Minister of Science and Technology. He was the largest backer of biotechnology company Diatech whilst in charge of promoting biotechnology at the Department of Trade and Industry and a member of the Cabinet Biotechnology Committee. For many years the company controlled the worldwide patent rights over a key gene currently used in the genetic modification process, He resigned from his ministerial post in 2005 after repeated concerns were voiced about the extent of his role in dealing with GM issues within government and the potential conflict with his private business interests.

The other funder, the Kings Fund, is a less direct link. Its trustee, Dr Penny Dash, is a partner of McKinsey & Co and adviser to pharma companies and private equity groups, three sectors which have an interest in the widest possible use of genetic technology.

Another link between Lord Smith and the GM industry is his non-executive directorship of Zamyn. This company focusses on how globalisation is repositioning major corporations. It has the uphill task of highlighting them as ‘agents of cultural change’ and demonstrating that  they are ‘proactive benefactors’ as well as beneficiaries of a truly globalised society in which central, emerging and peripheral cultures would be interconnected to mutual benefit.

Zamyn’s directors have worked for Saatchi [PR], Syngenta [GM products], Shell & BP [oil is a base for agrochemicals] and Goldman Sachs and Barclays [finance].

The devolved governments are made of sterner stuff

In 2007 the Scottish government announced: “The Executive’s intention is to maintain a moratorium on the planting of GM crops in Scotland. GM crops are not grown in Scotland and we believe this respects the wishes of Scottish consumers who want local, high-quality produce. Scotland has a wonderful and varied environment, rich in biodiversity and we do not wish to jeopardise this.” The moratorium has been maintained to date.

On 4 March, 2009 came the announcement of a Welsh Assembly consultation document, aimed at making Wales one of the most difficult places in the world to grow genetically modified crops.  While Assembly Rural Affairs Minister, Elin Jones, accepts that it is not legally possible to declare Wales GM-free, the intention is to introduce regulation far more restrictive than in other parts of the UK. Farmers growing GM crops would have to inform all their neighbours and would also be legally liable to compensate any whose crops became contaminated.

The ‘polluter-pays’ principle in relation to GM crops exists nowhere else in the world.#