useful autumn roundup from FoE's REAL FOOD campaign - apologies for any cross-posting. UK-related but GM animal feed evidence, for example - including urls for expert testimony - although previously reported will be of international interest.
There's news of a different kind this month. Later in December we'll be asking for your help in campaigning for greater access to organic foods in the UK. We'll be trying to persuade an MP to adopt the Organic Food and Farming Targets Bill. On the 14th of December MPs will be selected in a ballot giving them the chance to take up a bill of their choice in the new parliamentary session. This is our key chance to get the Organic Food and Farming Bill adopted.
This Bill will commit the Government to setting targets on how much organic food is produced and consumed in the UK. News of this later on in the month. In the meantime, if you'd like to know more about the Bill, please visit:
Christmas is coming up fast and it's the perfect time to send an electronic Real Food Christmas card. They're free, fast and environmentally friendly. Choose from designs submitted by children in our Real Food competition earlier this year. To send yours, visit:
All the best
Sandra Bell Real Food campaigner Friends of the Earth
3 October 2000
Biotech giant clams up at GM Seed List Hearing
At today's National Seed List Hearing Friends of the Earth Legal Advisor, Peter Roderick attacked Aventis - the seed company seeking Chardon LL's addition to the National Seed List - for refusing to provide witnesses for cross-examination at the Hearing.
"It is hugely ironic that it is those of us who have been accused of being unscientific and hysterical who are prepared to expose our arguments to careful questioning and structured examination: whilst the first such opportunity for the biotech industry in this country to do the same is disdainfully flunked," added Roderick.
The public hearing, expected to last around 10 weeks, focuses on trials of Chardon LL, a GM fodder maize. This is the final legal hurdle before the seed can be added to the National Seed List and grown commercially in the UK.
5 October 2000
GM-free diet for Iceland livestock
Supermarket chain Iceland has announced that all its livestock for primary meat production is now reared on a non-GM diet.
A new public opinion survey, commissioned by FOE and published today, reveals that 63 per cent of shoppers want supermarkets to drop GM ingredients from animal feeds. Only one in five favour supermarkets stocking products from GM-fed animals.
Most of the UK's leading supermarkets look set to follow Iceland's lead. Sainsbury's, Waitrose, Marks & Spencer and Asda have all said that they are removing GM ingredients from animal feed. Consumer concern has banished GM ingredients from most of our food. But GM soya and maize is still being imported in huge quantities for use in animal feeds. Maize commonly makes up 30-50 per cent of the diet of dairy cattle.
Avoiding GM animal feed would be easier if it was labelled. Since 1999, food eaten by the public has had to be labelled if it contains any GM DNA. But animal feed is exempt. However, last month the Food Standards Agency said that it wants to extend labelling to cover GM animal feed. The issue is also being considered by the EU.
"Congratulations to Iceland. Once again they have taken the initiative on GM food. The public have made it perfectly clear that they do not want shops and supermarkets to rear animals on GM feed," said Friends of the Earth Real Food Campaigner, Pete Riley. "It is time that every supermarket followed Iceland's lead and gave customers what they want."
5 October 2000
Aventis criticised by Government barrister
GM seed company Aventis was given a sharp warning that its application to have the GM maize Chardon LL added to the National Seed List was likely to fail if it continued to refuse to give evidence at a public hearing into the proposal.
Alun Alesbury, the senior barrister chairing the public hearing told Aventis' legal team that he had now had time to think about the, "situation produced by Aventis' double announcement," that they wouldn't supply witnesses to support the application or participate in the cross-examination of witnesses.
Alesbury said: "The Friends of the Earth representation contains a considerable number of questions in relation to the soundness of any potential decision to add Chardon LL to the national list, which as a straightforward matter of fact are in no way at all answered in the Aventis written representations."
He continued: "Unless Ministers are persuaded that all points are irrelevant, how can they [Aventis] conceive that Ministers can make a decision favourable to their application".
"Aventis has treated this hearing with cynical disdain. If it refuses to take a proper part it must take the consequences. It must now change its stance or withdraw its application for listing," said Friends of the Earth Legal Advisor, Peter Roderick. "Aventis' behaviour at these vital hearings is a perfect example of how the biotech companies have behaved throughout the GM debate. They claim that their opponents are irrational. Yet when given the chance to defend their position in public, they show themselves arrogant, secretive, contemptuous of rational argument, and uninterested in public opinion."
Transcripts of the hearing can be found at: www.maff.gov.uk/planth/pvs/chardon/index.htm
18 October 2000
Hold on the milk says top scientist
A leading UK animal scientist claims he would not drink milk from cows fed the GM maize that is currently being scrutinised at a Government public hearing.
Professor Bob Orskov OBE, Director of the International Feed Resource Unit in Aberdeen appeared as an expert witness for Friends of the Earth at the national seed list hearing in London. The hearing is considering objections to a Government proposal to allow Chardon LL, the first GM maize to be licensed for sale in the UK. He believes that, "The scientific case put forward for this GM maize is not adequate" and says that "if the GM maize was approved for commercial growing in the UK then people would be justified in turning their back on consuming milk derived from it... As a scientist I wouldn't drink milk from cows fed GM maize with the present state of knowledge."
Professor Orskov's fears were also shared by another eminent scientist giving evidence today. Dr Vyvyan Howard, Head of the Foetal and Infant Toxico-Pathology Group at the University of Liverpool, said, "My interpretation is that this GM maize has not been tested thoroughly".
At the hearing, safety data presented by Aventis, the biotech firm that owns the maize, has been heavily criticised. The GM maize has not been tested on cattle, even though it is intended for their use. The company has tested its use on rats and broiler chickens despite very different internal organs.
Professor Orskov, one of the country's leading experts on ruminant nutrition is adamant that the GM maize should be thoroughly tested on cattle before being introduced commercially as animal feed. "We need to carry out proper, long-term tests both on the effect of the maize silage for the microbes in the stomach of the ruminants which digest the feed and on the host animals," said Orskov. "There is also a serious problem of perception by the consuming public. Since adults do not have a requirement for milk they could switch to other foods. Aventis needs to pay attention to this. If the GM maize was approved for commercial growing in the UK then people would be justified in turning their back on consuming milk derived from it. This would have a disastrous effect on our dairy industry. As a scientist I wouldn't drink milk from cows fed GM maize with the present state of knowledge."
Witnesses' evidence is available at: www.foe.co.uk/campaigns/food_and_biotechnology/pdf/gm_forage_testing.pdf and www.foe.co.uk/campaigns/food_and_biotechnology/pdf/chardon11_safety.pdf
19 October 2000
Government GM policy in tatters
The Government's GM policy was further undermined when the National Assembly for Wales voted down new laws on the commercial licensing of GM crops. To become law throughout Britain, the draft Seeds (National List of Varieties) Regulations 2000 need approval from the Welsh Assembly, the Secretary of State for Scotland and Agriculture Minister, Baroness Hayman. AREN'T THESE DIFFERENT - WHO IS THE WELSH INDIVIDUAL?
"This is a wonderful day for the Assembly and the environment. It has made completely the right decision in rejecting these regulations," said Friends of the Earth Cymru GM Campaigner Raoul Bhambral.
24 October 2000
Promising green speech from Blair?
Friends of the Earth has responded to PM Tony Blair's speech on the environment by welcoming his call for a closer partnership between Government and green organisations. But Friends of the Earth Executive Director, Charles Secrett warned that "it takes two to tango", and that New Labour must show that the environment is now finally "at the heart of Government" with radical green manifesto pledges for a second term.
However Blair claimed to be "neither pro nor anti" GM food. This is false. No 10 and the Cabinet Office have intervened repeatedly during the GM debate to support the biotech industry. Friends of the Earth has caught the Government breaking the law in favour of the industry on three separate occasions. 25 October 2000
Supermarkets back organic farming bill
Supermarket giants Sainsbury's and Iceland today told a committee of MPs that more Government support is needed for organic farming. They said that they would like to offer more British organic products but cannot because of the lack of supply. As a result 70 per cent of organic food in UK shops is imported from abroad. The supermarkets were giving evidence to the Commons Agriculture Committee.
Iceland and Sainsbury's are both supporting the Organic Food and Farming Targets Bill (as are Asda, Marks & Spencer and Waitrose) which aims for a significant increase in organic farmland in England and Wales. Campaigners today called on Tony Blair to give the Bill his personal backing.
Although there is massive demand for organic food and hundreds of farmers want to convert, UK farmers are only producing a fraction of the organic food that is required. Unfortunately Government support has been woefully inadequate: organic conversion money has not been available to farmers this year and the money ear-marked next year (£140 million over seven years) is not enough.
"It is environmental and economic madness that our farmers are missing out on the organic boom. With the right support from Government organic farming in the UK could bring huge benefits to rural areas, bring back birds and butterflies to our farmland, and make organic food available to more people," said Friends of the Earth Real Food Campaigner Sandra Bell. "The supermarkets realise this, consumers realise this - its time for Ministers to wake up to the potential of organic farming and give it the backing it deserves."
30 October 2000
Call for pesticide tax
Friends of the Earth today urged the Chancellor to bring in a pesticide tax to tackle the appalling impact of chemicals on the environment and reduce the contamination of our food.
"Voluntary measures and codes of practice have already failed. Pesticides have had a terrible impact on birds like the skylark and are regularly found in our food," said Friends of the Earth Real Food Campaigner, Sandra Bell. "The Government must put public health and the environment before vested interests and stick to its plans for a pesticides tax. Imposing a pesticide tax and putting the money into farming would help British farmers produce the sort of chemical-free food people want. It would also help to repair the damage to our countryside inflicted by 50 years of intensive agriculture.
Other countries have introduced a pesticide tax and achieved significant reductions in pesticide use. In Sweden pesticide reductions of 65 per cent over nine years have been achieved and in Denmark there have been reductions of 30 per cent over seven years.
Friends of the Earth has calculated that a pesticides tax, set at a low but effective level, could contribute more than £30 million a year to support farmers wishing to convert to organic farming. Added to the £20 million a year promised by the Government from next spring, this could contribute to a significant expansion of organic farming in the UK and help reduce our reliance on imports of organic food. Currently we import 70 per cent of the organic food consumed in the UK.
31 October 2000
Kiss of death for GM seed
Government plans to allow GM maize, Cardon LL, to be added to the national seed list - the final legal barrier before a seed can be commercially grown - has hit the rocks after the Ministry of Agriculture admitted that basic test data may not meet minimum legal requirements.
"This fiasco has only come to light because Friends of the Earth and ordinary members of the public forced the Government to hold a public hearing on the listing of this GM seed," said Friends of the Earth Legal Advisor, Peter Roderick. "Only a week after the BSE report was published, we now find that the minimum official testing of this crop has simply not taken place. If the hearing had not happened, this vital information would never have come to light and the crop would have been given official approval. This is yet another humiliating blow to the biotech industry and their backers in Government."
3 November 2000
Scientists slam GM research
Scientific research backing an application for GM maize to be commercially sold to farmers is "inadequate" a public hearing was told today.
Scientists from the University of Bristol's Department of Clinical Veterinary Science told the national seed list hearing that nutrition tests on chickens, presented by biotech company Aventis, "is inadequate in terms of providing any evidence or conclusions. It is not of a standard that would be acceptable for publication in a scientific journal". Concerns were also raised about "suspicious" higher death rates among chickens that ate the GM maize during the study.
Aventis' research compared broiler chickens fed GM maize with those fed on conventional maize. Friends of the Earth approached Dr Steve Kestin and Dr Toby Knowles, scientists working on chicken studies for the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, to peer-review it.
During the hearing, leading experts have questioned Aventis' scientific evidence for the marketing of this GM forage maize. In particular, they have expressed concern over the failure to test the GM maize on cows (for whom the crop is being produced).
"Once again the 'sound science' of the biotech industry has been found sadly wanting. This shoddy study should never have been submitted to support the case for this GM maize to be granted a commercial licence. The fact that it was, and the Government did nothing about it, is a scandal. It's high time the cosy and unquestioning relationship between the biotech industry and Government was ended," said Policy and Campaigns Director, Tony Juniper. "The well-being of the public, health and environment must be put above vested interest and profit. Aventis can start today by withdrawing this GM application."
5 November 2000
Illegal GM ingredients found in supermarkets
Food containing illegal GM ingredients is being sold in the UK, Friends of the Earth and the Mail on Sunday have revealed. Laboratory tests found that Phileas Fogg tortilla chips and own-brand tortilla chips sold by Asda and Safeway contained GM ingredients not licensed for sale in the UK. Illegal GM traces were also found in Tesco and Sainsbury's tortilla chips.
Friends of the Earth bought 20 products - mainly tortilla chips - from a number of supermarkets in the UK. These were sent for analysis at GeneScan in Freiburg, Germany, one of Europe's top laboratories. Three were found to contain a Monsanto GM maize (GA21). Monsanto's Dekalb GM maize (DBT418) traces at close to the detection level were also found in two further products. Neither GM ingredient is approved for use in Europe.
Monsanto is currently seeking safety approval for GA21. Earlier this year a UK Government committee concluded that there was insufficient information on whether the GM maize could provoke allergic reactions. An application for EU safety approval for Dekalb DBT418 was withdrawn last year after concerns were raised about its potential health impact.
This year has seen a number of alarming GM contamination incidents. Millions of taco shells were removed from shop shelves in the US after Friends of the Earth US discovered that they contained a type of GM corn, StarLink, not approved for human consumption. StarLink has Federal approval to be grown as animal feed but cannot be used in human food because it "exhibits some characteristics of known allergens". And in the UK, earlier this year, farmers were forced to destroy their crops after it was discovered that their non-GM oilseed rape had been contaminated with a GM variety which couldn't lawfully be marketed in the UK.
"This shocking discovery is the latest in a growing list of GM blunders. It's becoming increasingly clear that the biotech industry can't control its products and Government regulation is pathetically lax," said Friends of the Earth Real Food Campaigner, Adrian Bebb. "Little wonder that public confidence in the GM industry is so low."
9 November 2000
Government in chaos over GM seeds
Government GM policy was in chaos today when Ministers requested that a public hearing into GM crops be postponed indefinitely.
The hearing was called to hear objections to a Government proposal to allow a type of GM maize to be sold to farmers. Friends of the Earth has called on Aventis, the seed company that owns the GM seed, to withdraw its application.
The postponement call follows revelations that official basic tests on Chardon LL, a type of GM maize, had only been conducted for one year by the French authorities rather than the two required under EU law. The UK Government is now waiting for guidance from the EU Commission, as the defects in the French testing regime have serious EU-wide implications.
The revelation that test data hasn't met legal requirements only came to light after Friends of the Earth and members of the public forced the Government to hold a public hearing into the proposed listing of Chardon LL. During the hearing, expert scientific witnesses have produced evidence that casts severe doubt over the validity of allowing the seed to be listed. They include concerns over the failure to test the GM maize on cows, and suspicious higher death rates among chickens eating the GM maize during trials.
"Once again the Government's GM policy is in chaos. This is a desperate effort to buy time to sort out this mess with the Commission and the biotech industry," said Friends of the Earth Legal Advisor, Peter Roderick. "But even if this latest mistake hadn't occurred we think the weight of scientific evidence against listing is overwhelming. Events should fall on its sword, concede defeat and withdraw its application."
15 November 2000
MPs debate new law on GM liability
A new law that makes biotech companies liable for any harm or damage caused by GM crops or food will be put before the House of Commons today. At present no one is legally responsible for GM mishaps. And according to a legal opinion delivered today by a leading barrister, the civil law will not help farmers or beekeepers seeking compensation for the GM contamination of their crops or honey.
The Genetically Modified Food and Producer Liability Bill is being presented today by Alan Simpson MP (Labour, Nottingham South). It will require biotech companies to have insurance cover for all types of claim and to establish a compensation fund for cases where blame is hard to apportion.
Damage to the environment from GMOs is not covered by any existing legislation. The UK Government is relying on a EU Environmental Liability Directive in four years' time. This could lead to farmers and retailers being sued for any health problems associated with GM foods.
Friends of the Earth asked top barrister Steven Crag to look at three possible GM contamination scenarios:
Ã¯ farmers growing oilseed rape within cross pollination distance of a GM crop;
Ã¯ beekeepers with hives within flying distance of GM crops;
Ã¯ fruit growers who may lose pollination services of beekeepers.
Steven Crag says in his report: "My conclusion is that those who may potentially (or actually) suffer loss because of contamination by GMOs are unlikely to have an effective cause of action at common law. And, indeed, even if the possibility of legal action is accepted, the high risk of losing (and cost implications of this) is very likely to deter potential litigants".
"The biotech industry claims that GM crops and food are safe yet they refuse to accept full liability for them. It's no wonder the public have got such little confidence in them," said Friends of the Earth Real Food Campaigner, Pete Riley. "It's about time the Government took decisive action and refused to let GM crops or food enter the market until strict liability legislation is in place. And they can start on that today by backing Alan Simpson's Bill to make GM firms carry the can if anything goes wrong."