Tag Archives: Dr Brian John

Answering the corporate-political voices which advocate GM crops as the solution to ‘world hunger’

21 Apr

And asking if the developing world, as it moves towards adopting the standard American diet, will see its destructive nature and pull out.

mark bittmanDr Brian John, of GM Free Cymru, draws attention to an article by Mark Bittman (right), an American food journalist, author, and columnist for The New York Times. It opens:

“It’s been 50 years since President John F. Kennedy spoke of ending world hunger, yet . . . the situation remains dire. The question “How will we feed the world?” implies that we have no choice but to intensify industrial agriculture, with more high-tech seeds, chemicals and collateral damage.

“Yet there are other, better options. Something approaching a billion people are hungry, a number that’s been fairly stable for more than 50 years, although it has declined as a percentage of the total population . . . Feeding the world” might as well be a marketing slogan for Big Ag, a euphemism for “Let’s ramp up sales,” as if producing more cars would guarantee that everyone had one”. It doesn’t work that way”.

The United States has a percentage rate of hunger close to that of Indonesia

usa hunger       Bittman’s points summarised:

  • The world has long produced around 2,700 calories per day per human, more than enough to meet the United Nations projection of a population of nine billion in 2050, up from the current seven billion.
  • There are hungry people not because food is lacking, but because not all of those calories go to feed humans (a third go to feed animals, nearly 5% are used to produce biofuels, and as much as a third is wasted, all along the food chain).
  • Chemical Concern adds that many landless people have too low an income to buy available food.

The current system is neither environmentally nor economically sustainable

  • It is dependent on fossil fuels and routinely resulting in environmental damage,
  • geared to letting the half of the planet with money eat well while everyone else scrambles to eat as cheaply as possible,
  • will become scarcer for the poor, because demand for animal products will surge, and they require more resources like grain to produce;
  • there is not the land, water or fertilizer — let alone the health care funding — for the world to consume Western levels of meat.

We must stop assuming that the industrial model of food production and its accompanying disease-producing diet is both inevitable and desirable.

Bittman: Let’s at last recognize that there are two food systems, one industrial and one of small landholders.

“The small-holder system is not only here for good, it’s arguably more efficient than the industrial model”.

etc group logoHe points out that according to the Ottawa based ETC Group, the industrial food chain uses 70% of agricultural resources to provide 30% of the world’s food, whereas what ETC calls “the peasant food web” produces the remaining 70% using only 30% of the resources. An ETC poster:

etc poster

Bittman continues: “(Though) high-yielding varieties of any major commercial monoculture crop will produce more per acre than peasant-bred varieties of the same crop, by diversifying crops, mixing plants and animals, planting trees — which provide not only fruit but shelter for birds, shade, fertility through nutrient recycling, and more — small landholders can produce more food (and more kinds of food) with fewer resources and lower transportation costs (which means a lower carbon footprint), while providing greater food security, maintaining greater biodiversity, and even better withstanding the effects of climate change.

“Yet obviously not all poor people feed themselves well, because they lack the essentials: land, water, energy and nutrients. Often that’s a result of cruel dictatorship (North Korea) or war, displacement and strife (the Horn of Africa, Haiti and many other places), or drought or other calamities. But it can also be an intentional and direct result of land and food speculation and land and water grabs, which make it impossible for peasants to remain in their home villages. (Governments of many developing countries may also act as agents for industrial agriculture, seeing peasant farming as “inefficient.”) . . .

“The result is forced flight to cities, where peasants become poorly paid laborers, enter the cash market for (increasingly mass produced) food, and eat worse. (They’re no longer “peasants,” at this point, but more akin to the working poor of the United States, who also often cannot afford to eat well, though not to the point of starvation.) It’s a formula for making not only hunger but obesity: remove the ability to produce food, then remove the ability to pay for food, or replace it with only one choice: bad food . . .

“Supporting, or at least not obstructing, peasant farming is one key factor, but the other is reining in Western-style monoculture and the standard American diet it creates . . .

“But if the standard American diet represents the low point of eating, a question is whether the developing world, as it hurtles toward that nutritional nadir — the polar opposite of hunger, but almost as deadly — can see its destructive nature and pull out of the dive before its diet crashes. Because “solving” hunger by driving people into cities to take low-paying jobs so they can buy burgers and fries is hardly a desirable outcome”.

Read the full article here: http://mobile.nytimes.com/2013/10/15/opinion/how-to-feed-the-world.html


The headlines trumpeted the farmer’s contravention of Welsh GMO-Free status – but the truth received little coverage

24 May

The power to mislead and depress

To this day, the writer had accepted accounts such as the one in the Guardian – and only by accident came across information about what appears to be an  industry ‘plant’. The truth is recorded here for others who missed the revelation.

Jonathon Harrington, no ordinary farmer but – as was not made clear – a chartered biologist working in the field on advanced crop technologies and consultant for Cropgen, an organisation funded by the industry to promote crop biotechnology, claimed to have grown GMO maize on his farm in Powys, Wales, as a protest against the Welsh Assembly’s opposition to GM crops.

Jonathan Latham and Allison Wilson reported on an investigation by Welsh trading standards officers which concluded there was no evidence that he did this.

Information obtained under freedom of information legislation by the campaigning group GM Free Cymru later showed that Powys County Council investigated these claims under trading standards regulations. These require labeling and traceability records to be maintained as well as registration as a seed trader. According to the information obtained by GM Free Cymru, Harrington is not registered and kept no written records.

Samples of seed supplied to the Trading Standards Service by Harrington were analysed by a Public Analyst and found not to be GM modified seed.

In a letter to GM Free Cymru, Mr Lee Evans of Powys CC said: “I can confirm that during the course of the investigation, (we found) no evidence that GM crops were grown, cultivated, circulated to any farms in the Powys area or fed to any stock in the county.”

Dr Brian John and GM Free Cymru are to be congratulated on this investigation and it is deplorable that a search reveals no correction to the first account by any mainstream news outlet – due to the powerful influence of the industry?

ISAAA ‘spin’ – proclaiming the success of GM crops – is discredited

25 Feb

gmfree cymru logoDr Brian John (GM-free Cymru) comments on an emailed reference to a Financial Times report of what some commentators call the ‘annual ISAAA spinfest’: “never take anything from the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) seriously”.

ISAAA Biotech header

As another had commented: “I don’t think we can even accept the figures — ISAAA has this intriguing habit of adding up “trait acres” — which means that for a quadruple-stacked variety the acres are counted four times……….. “  Dr John continued:

“Naturally, some of the media who are inclined to support GMOs will make the most of whatever is fed to them by Clive James founder and chair”.


India and China: 2006-2013

China people's daily logoA report in China’s People’s Daily recorded that China had ‘brought in’ some 5 million farmers to cultivate Bt cotton. The genetically modified cotton was projected as a ‘silver bullet’ for the Chinese small cotton producers.

The public had been “repeatedly bombarded by industry drones of how successful the introduction has been for the farmers” and by now, considering all the promises of increasing ‘productivity’, this success should have led to reports of China’s emergence as the foremost global supplier of cotton.

mirid bug

mirid bug

However, there were reports of a study conducted by Cornell University and the Chinese Academy of Sciences which showed that after seven years of introduction Chinese farmers lost money as they had to use 20 times more pesticides sprays to control pests:

“The study — the first to look at the longer-term economic impact of Bt cotton — found that by year three, farmers in the survey who had planted Bt cotton cut pesticide use by more than 70 percent and had earnings 36 percent higher than farmers planting conventional cotton. By 2004, however, they had to spray just as much as conventional farmers, which resulted in a net average income of 8 percent less than conventional cotton farmers because Bt seed is triple the cost of conventional seed.”

Four years later the Guardian reported: “Millions of hectares of farmland in northern China have been struck by infestations of bugs following the widespread adoption of Bt cotton, an engineered variety made by the US biotech giant, Monsanto.

Agricultural economist Devinder Sharma comments : “The magic bullet had bitten the dust in China”


Sharma continues: “In India, the corporate media kept the story alive. Every now and then I find articles detailing the promises of GM crops. More often than not these are based on wrong facts.

“As if this is not enough, GM industry ensures that it packs a few ‘participants’ in every conference/seminar organised by the civil society or farmer organisations. Recently while I was speaking at the Indian Merchant’s Chambers in Mumbai, two farmers — one from Rajasthan, and another from Warangal in Andhra Pradesh — got up to say how successful the technology has been for the farmers. Incidentally, both farmers happened to be passing through the city when they heard of the conference!”

Prof Glenn Davis Stone GMOHe recommends an excellent (and provocative) analysis by an American anthropologist, Prof Glenn Davis Stone of the University of Washington. In his blog, Stone notes that the Business Standard reports that India’s cotton yields have dropped to a 5-year low, “setting off a fascinating round of finger pointing”. In a blog post entitled: GM cotton failing in India; blame the farmers! he writes:

“If you follow GMO debates you will have heard several years of kennel barking about how these figures show a remarkable success. But as I have pointed out (in my blog and in EPW), most of the rise in productivity had nothing to with Bt cotton; in fact it happened before Bt cotton became popular. . . Check it out:

  • the biggest rises were from 2002/3 to 2004/5, when yields rose 56% from 302 to 470 kg;
  • by 2004/5, only 5.6% of India’s cotton farmers had adopted Bt.;
  • do the math: if those 5.6% of planters were really responsible for a 56% rise in yields, then they must have been harvesting 3,288 kg/hectare.”

Read the rest of the article and see Monsanto – implicitly accepting these figures -‘ducking and weaving’ – and blaming the Indian farmer . . .

Bio Spectrum: “India struggles to keep Bt cotton growth story going”

biospectrum asia logoSince then, the mainstream media report improved figures, but BioSpectrum (India & Asia), a publication by Cybermedia, ‘a torch bearer for technology business, knowledge and information’ reports:

“Maharashtra, a state in western India, has seen a drop in the yield and production of Bt cotton in the past one year, especially in the dry regions of Vidarbha, that receives low rainfall. This is despite the fact that at the time 95% of the total land sown in the state comes under Bt cotton cultivation. Also, cost of cultivation is taking a toll on farmers. Labour is scarce. The cost of cultivation for a farmer ranges between Rs 15,000 and Rs 20,000 per acre. This excludes land rentals. Labour for picking and weeding takes 60% of the cultivation cost”.

drought afflicted land vidarbhaKeerthana Nagarajan reported on Radio Netherlands’ website: “An estimated 7300 farmers have killed themselves in drought-stricken Vidarbha since 2004 – the year that the government introduced a policy to grow Bacillus thuringiensis or BT cotton, a genetically modified variety of cotton”.

New Delhi’s NDTV reports that a group of NGOs has claimed that the government’s own data proved that BT cotton has resulted in stagnant yields, pest resistance and evolution of new pest and disease attacks, and quotes allegations that the failure of  BT cotton is the root cause of farmer suicides claiming over 10,000 lives so far in the state.

Barack Obama bt protest posterTwo years earlier there were candle-light protests on the eve of US President Barack Obama’s visit, seeking to draw his attention to the plight of agriculture sector in the region. Further evidence that – as Dr John advises – industry figures proclaiming GM successes should not be accepted at face value.

See also cases against Bayer CropScience (substandard GM seeds 2013) and Maharashtra’s 2012 cancellation of Mahyco Monsanto Biotech’s license to sell its genetically modified Bt cotton seeds.


Environment Minister Owen Paterson said to have believed the “bedtime GM fairytale” told to him by biotechnology corporations – and by MP George Freeman?

28 Dec

gmfree cymru

Dr Brian John, spokesman for GM-Free Cymru, has reacted to the government’s latest drive for GM crops following a meeting – largely unnoticed by the media – of Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer and BASF with their industry body, the Agricultural Biotechnology Council (ABC), Science Minister David Willetts, Lord Taylor, academics from UK universities, research institutes and representatives of the National Farmers Union (NFU).

The summary of the meeting which was written by the ABC and obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, shows plans to:

  • spend more taxpayers’ money on R&D for GM crops and on “education”
  • promote GM crops in developing countries
  • remove regulatory and political barriers

Earlier this month it was widely reported that Owen Paterson, the Cabinet minister in charge of food and farming, said that genetically modified food should be grown and sold widely in Britain and consumer opposition to the technology is a “complete nonsense”.

GM-Free Cymru catalogues Paterson’s errors and – speaking for the group – Dr John says:

“What we have here is a classic example of a Government minister taking an aggressive stance on something which he knows absolutely nothing about.

“We challenge him, on the basis of hard evidence, on every single point which he makes. GM crops and foods are not wanted and not needed, and they harm both the environment and human health. Mr Paterson should seek better advice in future, or choose his friends more carefully.”

GM Education reports that discussions covered:

  • how a pro-GM agenda could be promoted in the UK ;
  • the encouragement of UK scientists to call for weaker regulation of GM crops in Europe;
  • and developing a more pro-GM approach to science in school curriculum.

MP George Freeman, chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Science and Technology in Agriculture is a supporter of GM technology and caused an outcry when he wrongly described M&S broccoli as having been genetically modified. GeneWatch has found details of GM industry funding for Freeman’s group in the Register of All-Party Groups:

National Farmers Union
Crop Protection Association
National Institute of Agricultural Botany
British Society of Plant Breeders
Agricultural Biotechnology Council,
Agricultural Industries Confederation
Maltsters Association of Great Britain
National Association of British and Irish Millers
Agricultural and Horticultural Development Board

It is provided via Front Foot Communications Ltd who act as the group’s secretariat. Funders include the Agricultural Biotechnology Council (representing the biggest GM crop companies BASF, Bayer CropScience, Dow AgroSciences, Pioneer (DuPont), Monsanto and Syngenta); the National Farmers Union (NFU), the Crop Protection Association, and the Agricultural Industries Confederation – see page 508.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Science and Technology in Agriculture should  be free of vested interest – honest and impartial.

MEPs to debate Prof Seralini’s findings on GM maize NK603

18 Dec

efsa logoA reader has drawn attention to the report that several MEPs have been expressing dissatisfaction with the European Food Safety Authority’s assessment of the Seralini study. The chair of the Petitions Committee, Erminia Mazzoni, said that Professor Eric Gilles Seralini and a representative of EFSA would be invited to a meeting in Parliament to debate Prof Seralini’s findings on the genetically modified maize NK603.

EFSA GMO panelThe MEPs had been discussing two petitions submitted by Dr Brian John, of GM Free Cymru (Wales), to the Petitions Committee. The most damaging allegation made by Dr John was the claim that Per Bergman, an EFSA director, and Dr Andrew Chesson (Rowett Research Institute), a member of EFSA’s GMO panel, had organised a teleconference to discredit Prof Seralini and limit the damage to EFSA.

Richard Seeber, a coordinator for food for the centre-right EPP, the largest political group, said that industry had too much influence over the Authority and that EFSA rules on independence needed to be tightened. The following table taken from the EFSA website does appear to indicate inappropriate priorities.

EFSA further issues

Mr Seeber and other MEPs said EFSA had reached its conclusions too quickly and that the Seralini work, which claimed NK603 caused cancer in rats, should be looked at by independent people in a more detailed way.

The following response by farmer Michael Hart was triggered by three articles

22 Sep

Yesterday senior reporter, Elinor Zuke, wrote about a peer-reviewed study conducted by a team of researchers at the University of Caen, which has just been published in the scientific journal Food and Chemical Toxicology, though a link to the study is not yet online there.

More on: http://political-cleanup.org/?p=5920

Yesterday a French research team claimed exposure to the herbicide Roundup – produced by biotech giant Monsanto – caused tumours to develop in lab rats and led to premature death. The Agricultural Biotechnology Council – a pro-GM body with many members who represent biotech companies – led the criticism

More on http://political-cleanup.org/?p=5931

A formal complaint has been made about the BBC’s coverage of the recently reported peer-reviewed research published in the scientific journal Food and Chemical Toxicology – ” an “expert furore” smokescreen . . .Dr Brian John wrote:

“The BBC should have accorded this new Seralini study (in a top peer-reviewed American journal) great respect, instead of which it was buried, with no news coverage, and only a biased piece by Jonathan Amos put on the BBC web site.

More on http://political-cleanup.org/?p=5934