George "Useless" Eustice fills reporter's ears with false claims
The UK government's environment secretary George ("Useless") Eustice has been briefing the media to boost the prospects of GM gene-edited crops and foods, which the UK government is hell-bent on allowing into our fields and onto our plates at warp speed by removing safety checks and GMO labelling.
According to an article in the i newspaper, for which Eustice is the only named source, "supermarket shoppers will be able to buy food produced using genetically-edited ingredients from as early as next year".
The article continues, "The Government is due to present a groundbreaking bill next week [i.e. this week] that will pave the way for crops to be produced using precision genetic editing techniques that will make them naturally more resilient and require less pesticides.
"Speaking exclusively to i, George Eustice said the Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill will be passed into law this year, potentially enabling the first GE foods to be available by 2023."
The article contains several lies and misleading claims.
1. The article hypes the gene-edited non-browning mushroom, which it says "has boosted shelf life and dramatically reduced food waste". However, we've seen no evidence that the mushroom has been commercialised and even the GMO-boosting Genetic Literacy Project says it hasn't. So how can it possibly be boosting shelf life and reducing food waste?
2. The article hypes gene-edited soybeans "which can be used to produce healthier and longer lasting oil". In reality, Calyxt's soybean is genetically engineered to have an altered fat profile to prevent the formation of unhealthy trans fats in foods fried at high temperatures, as in fast food and junk food. But the soybean has flopped in the US due to disappointing yields, and has proven unprofitable for Calyxt.
3. The article claims that the EU has "banned the [GM] technique for years". This is nonsense, pure and simple, and if the writer of the article had done a quick Google, he would have found out as much. For example, this site has the facts. The EU has never banned GMOs. It does regulate them. It imports lots of GMOs, which mostly end up in animal feed, as EU retailers keep GMOs out of the food supply due to consumer rejection.
Cultivation is a different matter. Only one type of GMO is grown in Spain and Portugal, a type of maize. Attempts to get other GMOs approved for cultivation have failed due to lack of agreement by Member States, meaning that a "qualified majority" in favour of the GMO is not achieved. This isn't a ban, it's just a lack of enthusiasm for what's widely seen as an unimpressive and risky technology.
As these facts are easy to find out, we have to conclude that the author of the article or his source has an agenda behind the lie that the EU "bans" GM technology. After all, "The EU bans this great technology and the Brexited UK now has the freedom to use it" sounds much better than "The EU allows GM technology but some Member States don't want it, yet the EU's trading partner, the UK, is going to go ahead and create a GMO free-for-all". The latter is, however, the truth.
4. The article quotes unnamed "experts" as saying that gene editing simple accelerates natural breeding – an incorrect statement that ignores the radical nature of the gene editing technique and the massive damage it can cause to the genomes of plants and animals. Not surprisingly, no "expert" has put his or her name to this statement.
5. The article claims that gene editing "has the potential to make crops much more nutritious and resistant to storms or pests – and to considerably boost the resilience and yields of livestock". Again, this is nonsense, and the author of the article apparently didn't even ask for a single example of such a gene-edited wonder crop. If he had, he would know that they don't exist.
6. The article claims that gene editing will enable farmers to breed polled cattle – ignoring the well known fact that non-GMO polled cattle are widely available and the slightly lesser known fact that the GMO polled cattle failed miserably when they were unexpectedly found to contain antibiotic resistance genes.
7. Eustice is quoted as saying "around a third of all animal feed used in the EU is genetically edited without the need for labelling". This is a lie twice over. Around a third of EU animal feed is genetically modified, using older-style transgenic techniques, not gene editing. And the feed has to be labelled GMO under EU law. The farmer sees the label, but due to a loophole in the law, the products from the GM-fed animal – meat, milk or eggs – do not have to be labelled as to their origins.
Again, these facts are easy to find out. The fact that the author of the article and Eustice himself got so many things wrong means that they are either deliberately misleading the public or they are completely ignorant about the topic. Either conclusion is worrying for us, the consumers of the experimental GM gene-edited products that are proposed to be produced in England.
The article contains a nasty threat against the devolved nations, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland, when it says, "While the regulations will be limited to England, the [GM gene-edited] produce is likely to be available UK-wide."
Interestingly, Eustice uses the word "deployed" when he talks about gene-edited GM crops. It's the language of war, and its use in this context reflects the mindset of those promoting these crops. They appear to believe that we're in a war against nature and see GM as a weapon against the challenges that nature brings.
Commenting on the article, GM Freeze Director Liz O’Neill said: "We already know that the Government is hell-bent on dismantling the safety net of proper public protections but George Eustice’s comments today suggest he also plans to overrule the democratic mandate of the devolved nations and remove our right to make an informed choice about what we are buying and eating.
"Gene editing is GM with better PR – there is much that can go wrong and UK citizens have shown time and again that they want it to be subject to proper safety checks. It’s time for the Government to start listening to ordinary people rather than those with a vested interest in a high-tech takeover of the food chain."