Tag Archives: MP Owen Paterson

GM an English issue: Scotland and Wales are strongly GM-free

4 Jul
Note Peter Melchett’s recent letter to the Times: scroll down.


The EU decision to allow Member States to decide whether to cultivate GM crops will have to be agreed by the European Parliament. If it is adopted, most countries in the EU, including Scotland and Wales, will remain GM free. There are currently no GM crops authorised for use in the EU that can be grown in England.

One safeguard/deterrent: the European Parliament has inserted a new clause on the liability for damage caused by GM crops into this proposal and improves existing EU law by making it compulsory for Member States to implement rules that prevent contamination of the GM free sector.

Earlier Wales had proposed a liability regime which made the GM companies responsible for any damage – and the GM industry promptly said they wouldn’t allow their crops to be grown under such a liability regime.

melchett arrestedSome time ago, Peter Melchett, Soil Association policy director,(far left) said:

“In future a committed pro-GM Secretary of State like Owen Paterson could take the decision to make England a ‘GM country’, and once that decision is taken, and GM crops are established, it will be extremely difficult for any future Government to adopt a different position”.

He thinks that England would then risk getting a reputation as the GM centre of Europe; no doubt MP Paterson and pro-GM farming publications would celebrate this.

Farmers in both the US and Canada lost $100s of millions worth of exports when these two countries started growing GM crops and Peter Melchett points out that, in such a case, our farmers would lose export markets to the rest of Europe and most of the rest of the world.

The EU’s Parliament magazine reports that Greens deputy Bart Staes was critical of the decision, saying that “It risks finally opening the door to genetically modified organisms across Europe, in spite of mass public opposition . . .The Greens will use all means at our disposal to prevent this wrongheaded proposal from entering into force . . . There are clear concerns that the opt-outs would not be legally sound and would be subject to legal challenges, leaving member states or regions isolated to defend their stance . . .

“There is also the clear and present danger of cross-contamination of crops, with the myriad of issues this poses.”


First published on Political Concern.



A Lancashire farmer directs attention to DEFRA’s Lord de Mauley: responsible for GM crops

16 Jun

lord de mauley

The EU decision to allow Member States to decide whether to cultivate GM crops will – if agreed by the European Parliament – be welcomed by low-profile minister Lord Rupert de Mauley.

This DEFRA parliamentary under secretary of state, is responsible for the department’s business in the House of Lords. He passes on to the Lords a digest of the statements made by his Right Hon Friend the Secretary of State (Owen Paterson).

On appointment Lord de Mauley said that farmers in the UK should be able to use genetically-modified crops, provided they can be shown to be safe for health and the environment.

He deplored EU legislation, which he said was stifling research into GM crops, so widely used in the USA and many developing countries:

“The unduly slow operation of the EU approval process, that is deterring investment and innovation in this technology. We want the EU regime to operate more effectively, grounded on an objective appraisal of the potential effects of GM crops on human health and the environment. Of course, we must be careful and base safety decisions on science and scientific evidence”.

Lord de Mauley is currently working closely with colleagues in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) on a life sciences agri-tech strategy, debated at the Royal Society on 21st May, 2014: Delivering the Agri-tech Strategy – improving the quality and productivity of the UK food production and processing sectors.

Though only indirect references were made – using the term ‘good science’ – Lord de Mauley has expressed hopes that ‘cutting-edge technology’ will be exported and also taken up by the domestic agricultural sector urging the whole of the farming industry to “up its game”:

“Wheat scientists and breeders are developing new lines that focused on sustainability traits, such as nutrient use efficiency, drought tolerance and pest and disease resistance”.

Business Green reports that, in June last year, de Mauley, now described as being responsible for GM crops, met Christopher Pollock, the outgoing chair of the advisory committee on releases to the environment (ACRE), and official adviser to the government on authorisation for growing GM crops, to discuss changing the European GM regulations.

Smithsonian assessment and University of Toronto study: oilsands operations’ release of carcinogenic compounds underestimated

4 Feb

oil sands fernhurst sussex

 Further grounds for objection to the Sussex applications?

The Financial Times reports that solicitors for residents near the village of Fernhurst, West Sussex (above), have written to Celtique Energie and Ed Davey, the energy secretary, to deny the company permission to prospect for oil under their property; last year objectors in Wisborough Green lodged so many online objections with South Downs National Park Authority that its system crashed.

A University of Toronto study, published on February 4th in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, has concluded that the emission levels of some toxic air pollutants in the Alberta oilsands have been greatly underestimated.

oilsands canada mining

CBC News reports:

“When dealing with chemicals that have such great potential to harm people and animals, it is absolutely vital that we truly understand how, and how much they are being released into the environment,” Abha Parajulee, lead author of a paper on oilsands pollution, said in a news release . . . This study included indirect pathways for the pollutants to enter the air, such as evaporation from tailing ponds and additional polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)released during the transport and storage of other waste materials from oilsands operations.

“Tailing ponds are not the end of the journey for the pollutants they contain. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons PAHs are highly volatile, meaning they escape into the air much more than many people think,” Parajulee said.

Before commenting that the higher levels of PAHs in the area aren’t dangerous in the short term but are significantly higher – one hundred to one thousand times greater – than reported in mining companies’ environmental impact assessments and Canada’s official National Pollutant Release Inventory, Smithsonian researchers add that the mining of tar sands,

The EPA lists PAHs as priority pollutants [PDF] because in animal-based lab experiments they’ve led to tumors, interfered with the immune system and caused reproductive problems

The Smithsonian’s downbeat conclusion is, “If nothing else, it is concerning that throughout decades of oil extraction in Athabasca, environmental impact assessments have dramatically underestimated the emissions levels of a key air pollutant”.

A more active concern is manifested by Celtique’s chief executive

Geoff Davies said the company had chosen the site at Fernhurst because “geologically it’s the most likely place that shales could work”. He said the landowners’ tactics threatened to strangle Britain’s shale industry at birth: “If this happens all over the country, it will delay the evaluation of resources that could make a big contribution to the UK’s oil and gas reserves, to taxation and employment.”

The public comments after hearing Owen Paterson’s opinion: ‘I would like to see shale gas exploited all over rural parts of the UK’:

  • Perhaps the fracking could start in Paterson’s and Cameron’s back gardens. After all they’re telling us it’s harmless.
  • Methane is 86 times more powerful than carbon in bringing about temperature rise in climate change. When is the government going to wake up and invest in renewables. They know it is the only answer. They just want to get rich before the planet collapses.
  • Trash UK for cash? No thanks. 40 fracking sites and 12 Nuclear reactors? There will be nothing left of these lovely islands. Groningen in Holland is paying out big time for earthquake damage to local homes, don’t take my word for it, look it up*.
  • Cheque’s in the post Paterson?


The complete study
*Ed: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/27/world/europe/more-earthquakes-in-loppersum-the-netherlands.html?pagewanted=1&_r=0; January, Dutch government decision to reduce fracking: http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/01/17/netherlands-gas-idUSL5N0KR1C820140117

Scottish farmer: GMs will totally undermine the integrity of our livestock vegetable and cereal farming

7 Nov

Tom Douglas of Glendearg Farm, Galashiels, writes in the Scottish Farmer this week:

My GM opposition continues for reasons of monopolisation of our life essentials by organisations I would not trust and the weak government control over them.

It is apparent that the UK government and Owen Paterson value Monsanto more than the considerations of the electorate and that of our biggest trading partner the EU.

The golden rice development is an absolute example of this, tricking us into eating insect repellent or other poisons systematically integrated into the structure of our food.

Another problem is that GM labelling is not compulsory

We will not know the genetic make up of our life essentials and the food we are eating or the long term effects it will have on our metabolism or the ecology which surrounds us.

The non labelling allows Tesco and Asda to stock GMs unnoticed by the public . . .

Ultimately, what we will have to do is create a national marketing group for all agricultural produce to defend ourselves and our products in the market and negotiate a realistic sustainable price for a product before production starts and claw our way back to making a respectable income from our production.


The continuing benefits of the precautionary principle

6 Nov

 Jonathon Porritt was speaking at a chemicals industry event on 5th November and focussed  – understandably – on the precautionary principle.

safety of plastics 2 event headerOne of the questions you’ve asked us to consider is this: “how to deal with the unintended consequences of precautionism?”

So where exactly did this word “precautionism” come from?

To be honest, I haven’t done a retrospective linguistic analysis, but I can pretty much guarantee that it was first used by one of those companies or individuals who see anything to do with precaution-based research, development and regulation as being anti-growth, anti-progress and anti-science.

The ‘application of caution far beyond what common sense might dictate’

First, a little case study. A few days ago, the International Agency for Research on Cancer added airborne pollution (essentially, high levels of particulate matter) to its list of Group 1 carcinogens – where there is “sufficient evidence” that they cause cancer in humans: “the risk of developing cancer is significantly increased in people exposed to air pollution.” This came hot on the heels of data demonstrating that air pollution killed 3.2 million people in 2010, including 230,000 cancer-related deaths.

The debate about the link between air pollution and cancer has been going on for more than 20 years. Throughout that time, many scientists and activists who urged caution in terms of the potential carcinogenic impacts of those pollutants were subject to constant hostility and occasional vilification. I doubt they’ll be taking much comfort from having been vindicated.

In our day-to-day lives, precaution comes naturally. By and large, we do look before we cross the road, and we tend to think that insuring our homes or cars (or bikes, in my case!) just makes good sense. Managing risk – taking precautions – comes naturally at that level.

But that’s not what we’re talking about here. If it means anything, I suspect “precautionism” refers to the perceived application of caution far beyond what common sense might dictate – and doing so in certain cases not just to slow down developments but to stop them altogether.

On GM applications, for instance, there are organisations that are fundamentally opposed to all GM in all situations for all time.

For me, personally, this is not particularly smart. In the field of biotechnology, for instance, it may well prove to be the case that the use of GM-modified organisms (algae or bacteria, for instance) will bring significant benefits in terms of providing bio-based feedstocks and fuels to substitute for today’s fossil fuel-based feedstocks and fuels. If these new, more efficient processing technologies can be completely contained in closed (factory) environments, I can see no inherent problem with such developments – subject to rigorous and consistent regulation, with a great deal of precaution baked into the process from the very start.

Taking an appropriately precautionary approach in any new innovation process makes a lot of sense. Seeking to set aside all such precautionary approaches is as stupid as using the “need for precaution” as a pretext to stop potentially good things happening. But determining what “appropriate precaution” means in practice in dozens of contemporary controversies is still a fine art.

Which brings me on to the latest efforts of the world’s biggest agri-businesses to attack precautionism and get the precautionary principle relegated once and for all to the margins of regulatory history.

safety of plastics sponsorThe CEOs of Bayer, Dow Chemical, Novartis and Syngenta (but not Monsanto, incidentally, prompting the thought that the CEOs of Bayer, Dow Chemical, Novartis and Syngenta did not want their brands “contaminated” by association with the whipping-boy of anti-GM campaigners!) sent letters to the Presidents of the European Commission, Parliament and Council calling on them to stop applying the precautionary principle to risk assessments, and start applying the “Innovation Principle” to stimulate economic recovery in Europe.

It was pretty crude stuff, unashamedly self-interested, and I suspect will get short shrift from the recipients of those letters. But those companies will undoubtedly carry on attacking the precautionary principle.

And I rather suspect that “Golden Rice” (GM rice specifically “enriched” with the nutrient beta-carotene to deal with Vitamin A Deficiency (VAD) in South-East Asia) will continue to be used as their poster child for just how “wicked” the precautionary principle is.

Pro-GM fundamentalists

I use that word “wicked” deliberately, for that’s the word used by Owen Paterson, our Secretary of State at DEFRA, to describe those who continue to campaign against the immediate rollout of Golden Rice. He has accused them, in effect, of being directly responsible for the death of tens of thousands of children from VAD. As such, he has enthusiastically joined the ranks of today’s “GM fundamentalists”, who are so obsessively pro-GM that they will distort the truth about any particular debate, will misrepresent, demonise and unashamedly lie to ensure that any alternatives to GM are ignored by the media.

Let me be clear here: I would be content if Golden Rice was able to clear all its regulatory hurdles, and could be safely included in broad-based campaigns to improve the overall diets of the 120 million people suffering from VAD today. This is indeed a huge and continuing problem – but one that demands long-term, integrated approaches to improving nutrition rather than some GM silver bullet.

As it happens, Golden Rice 2 (Golden Rice 1 proved not to have the desired benefits its originators hoped for) isn’t yet ready to be rolled out. There are no published safety assessments regarding possible health impacts, and no published environmental impact assessments – which anyone but a GM-fundamentalist like Owen Paterson would probably consider to be the minimum level of precaution needed before such a major development.

Allow me therefore to quote from the International Rice Research Institute, a prestigious research institute that is emphatically not anti-GM, and which even Owen Paterson would acknowledge has rather more knowledge about rice than his “Uncle Ben” ignorance.

“It has not yet been determined whether daily consumption of Golden Rice does improve the Vitamin A status of people who are Vitamin A deficient, and could therefore reduce related conditions such as night blindness. Golden Rice will only be made available in the Philippines if it is approved by regulators and shown to reduce VAD in community conditions. This process may take another two years or more.”

Two years! How “wicked” is that, you may be asking? No more and no less wicked than those arguing that the precautionary principle still has a vital role to play in good regulatory processes.#