from Claire Robinson, WEEKLY WATCH editor
There's some great news this week from the US, where residents of Mendocino County have voted to ban the cultivation of GM crops. The campaigners are certain it's just the first of many such bans that will be passed by local ballots.
I never thought I'd see the day where the US is leading the way in resistance to GM while here in Britain, our supposedly elected leader is preparing to drag us over the GM cliff.
But he's in for a rough ride. Reacting to comments by the UK prime minister Blair's spokesman that the government is to announce the commercialisation of GM maize, Greenpeace's Sarah North said: "Tony Blair has today picked a fight with the British people. Once again he's pushing a pet project in spite of the evidence. There are thousands of people ready to fight this decision in the fields, the streets, the courts and the supermarkets. Today is just the start of it - there could be chaos in the countryside.
"British farmers are already suffering, and the last thing they need is a new threat from a technology that shoppers won't touch. Blair is giving it the nod on the basis of flawed testing. If GM is sown in our fields he will reap a whirlwind of protest."
As George Monbiot said this week, "We can't rely on the Establishment to topple Tony Blair: we must do it ourselves."
www.ngin.org.uk / www.gmwatch.org
GRASSROOTS VICTORY OF THE WEEK
UK GM CROP COMMERCIALISATION LOOMS
OTHER HIGHLIGHTS OF THE WEEK - UK
OTHER HIGHLIGHTS OF THE WEEK - GLOBAL
THE REST OF THE MONTH'S TOP STORIES
HEADLINES OF THE WEEK
GRASSROOTS VICTORY OF THE WEEK
+ MENDOCINO COUNTY BANS GM; BIOTECH INDUSTRY TO FIGHT VOTE
Congratulations to the people of Mendocino County, California, who voted in a March ballot to become the first region in the US to outlaw the growing of GM crops.
The biotechnology industry is considering a lawsuit or statewide legislation to nullify the successful Mendocino County ballot initiative. In the past, county efforts to restrict local use of agricultural pesticides have been voided by the state Legislature, and a similar fate could await the Mendocino County crop ban.
But activists in another California county, Humboldt, are already at work on an identical initiative and hope to gather enough signatures to qualify it for their local ballot in November.
Backers of Mendocino County's Measure H won almost 57 percent of the vote. "This is just the beginning of the revolution," said Els Cooperrider, an author of the initiative and co-owner of the Ukiah Brewing Company & Restaurant. "We're the first county in the US to prohibit the growing of genetically altered crops and animals, but we won't be the last."
They won even though they were outspent by a ratio of more than 6-to-1 by opponents, who raised more than USD600,000 - most of it from CropLife America, a trade and lobbying group representing the largest producers of genetically engineered seed in the world, including Monsanto, DuPont and Dow.
The measure's backers spent about USD100,000 in a mostly volunteer effort. http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2784
UK GM CROP COMMERCIALISATION LOOMS
+ NEW LABOUR SPIN OPERATION UNDERWAY - PUSH FOR GM COMMERCIALISATION
Hopes that GM commercialisation in the UK might be delayed for a year seem destined to be dashed. The government is expected to make an announcement soon that it will go ahead regardless of public opposition and all the evidence to the contrary.
We were warned by recently leaked Cabinet documents to expect an onslaught of spin citing "science" and the "developing world", and we're certainly getting it.
We've had Lord Sainsbury's associate Lord Taverne (see below) extolling the "benefits" of GM for the world's poor, a Cabinet leak that commercialisation will go ahead, two written replies to questions in Parliament from ministers invoking the deeply flawed Nuffield report, and now news (see below) that Labour-supporting Prof Joe Perry has worked a statistical miracle.
The timing of the release of the statistics from Perry on Nature's website (see below) is obviously intended to distract attention from the Environmental Audit Committee's findings against GM commercialisation, to be released 5 March. This is clearly a New Labour spin operation at its most cynical.
The pugnacious Perry likes to parrot Patrick Moore in suggesting that the environmental movement has been taken over by communists and Trotskyites. Even after he was shown evidence of Moore's track record as an industry front man, Perry continued to make these claims. An evangelical Christian, as well as a "Scientist for Labour", Perry claims GM crops are in tune with God's will. http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2790
+ SCIENTISTS BACK GM CROP FINDINGS
The imminent decision to approve the growing of GM maize in the UK will this week be supported by an announcement on 5 March by scientists involved in the farm-scale trials of GM crops that the EU ban on atrazine does not overturn their findings that growing GM maize does less damage to biodiversity than non-GM maize crops.
Scientists had found that growing GM maize was more beneficial to weeds and wildlife. But this result was rendered out-of-date by the ban on atrazine, used in the trials in the control crop of non-GM maize. Environmental groups claimed withdrawing such a powerful weedkiller could make conventional maize production less damaging to wildlife and so overturn the result.
But Professor Joe Perry, the ecological statistician from Rothamsted Research station who recalculated the trials results following the ban, concluded that if atrazine was not used for conventional production, the benefits to wildlife of growing GM maize were reduced by about one-third but still remained significant. His findings are to be hurriedly published on the website of the magazine Nature.
The scientists' analysis of FSE sites where atrazine and the other triazine weedkillers were not used is based on only four samples, and in some cases just two. So there is a serious lack of reliable data.
Margaret Beckett, the environment secretary, is due to announce the go-ahead for GM maize next week, without allowing any further time for consideration of the evidence or follow up research. http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2790
+ GOVERNMENT HIDING BEHIND NUFFIELD'S DODGY DOSSIER
Recently, leaked Cabinet documents revealed that government ministers, including environment secretary Margaret Beckett, are planning to sell the public GM crop commercialisation on the basis of the technology's benefits for the developing world. In response, Labour Member of Parliament Joan Ruddock asked for evidence of those benefits - specifically, a list of the GM crops which have assisted development and of relevant peer-reviewed research to back that up.
In his reply, environment minister Elliott Morley refers her to "a recently published report by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics". This, Morley says, "contains a number of case studies detailing the actual and potential benefits of GM crops for developing countries" (update of the 1999 Nuffield report - "The use of genetically modified crops in developing countries: a follow up discussion paper", January 2004 http://www.nuffieldbioethics.org/filelibrary/pdf/gm_crops_paper_final.pdf )
So how reliable is the latest version of Nuffield that forms the basis of the government's case for commercialisation?
One of the limited number of case studies the new report uses is a Monsanto-initiated project to breed a GM virus-resistant sweet potato for use in Kenyan agriculture. On the face of it, this project appears to provide some of the evidence for increased crop yields that Joan Ruddock asks about. The report says, "it is expected that yields will increase by 18-25%" and that, where sold, "the increased income will be between 28-39%" (p.39).
That sounds impressive but the Nuffield report was released in the same month as the results of 3 years of crop trials on the GM sweet potato. These show the project to have been a complete failure. As New Scientist reported, the supposedly virus-resistant GM sweet potatoes were outperformed by conventional sweet potatoes.
The Nuffield authors can be forgiven for not knowing the results of the trials in advance, but a report by Aaron deGrassi of the Institute of Development Studies, produced well ahead of the final version of the Nuffield report, pointed to the lack of reliable scientific evidence to support the claims being made for the Kenyan project. It also pointed to reasons for extreme caution about its likely outcome.
DeGrassi's report was not only widely circulated on the Internet, but it was repeatedly referred to in national press articles in the months prior to the production of the final version of the Nuffield report. One of these even told the Nuffield authors they needed to go and read deGrassi's report! In addition, the only development specialist on the Nuffield Working Party (Michael Lipton) is based, like deGrassi, at the University of Sussex.
Indeed, Lipton and deGrassi were both among those at a two-day conference on GM and development at the Institute of Development Studies at the beginning of October 2003 - some 3 months before the publication of the Nuffield report. http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=1564
It is, therefore, extremely difficult to see the Nuffield authors' failure to make any reference to deGrassi's work as anything other than deliberate. This typifies the character of this deeply flawed report. http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2765
+ GM WILL NOT SOLVE WORLD HUNGER, SAYS CATHOLIC INSTITUTE FOR INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS (CIIR)
CIIR has criticised recent moves by the biotech lobby to pitch GMOs as a solution to world hunger, in particular the UK government's claims to justify commercialisation on this basis. CIIR believes that what happens in the UK will set a clear precedent for the rest of the world. If the UK and Europe give the go-ahead to the commercialisation of GM crops and foods, developing countries will be put under further pressure to follow suit. The introduction of GM crops in countries with weak institutions and lax regulations will result in food insecurity, poverty and environmental vulnerability for millions of heavily disadvantaged farmers. It will also further tighten corporate control of production. http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2766
+ "THE HUGE BENEFITS OF GM ARE BEING BLOCKED BY BLIND OPPOSITION" - TAVERNE
Chairman of Sense About Science Lord Dick Taverne has published an article in the Guardian (March 3) with the above title. The message of the article is predictable and in line with what Cabinet leaks told us to expect - "The strongest argument in favour of developing GM crops is the contribution they can make to reducing world poverty, hunger and disease".
The extent of Taverne's ignorance (or cynical disingenuousness) is astonishing. He cannot see the difference between gene tinkering of medicines and gene tinkering of foods: "Many green activists oppose GM crops on principle. It is difficult to understand what the principle is, since they do not campaign against the production of drugs by genetic modification. Yet the same technique is used to transfer a gene from one species to another to make human insulin for people with diabetes, for instance, as to modify a GM crop. By what principle is it right to make better drugs to protect us from disease, but not to modify plants to make them resistant to insect pests? Why is there such a violent reaction against the genetic modification of plants?"
Well, for starters, people can choose whether to take GM drugs, based on an assessment of possible benefits against possible risks. Then there's the fact that drugs undergo at least some clinical testing for safety. And the fact that few people take a drug for their whole lives. And the fact that it's possible, at least in theory, to grow GM medicines in contained conditions. Naturally, Taverne does not mention the fact that some diabetics have reported serious problems with GM insulin... http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2773
+ ROTTEN TO THE CORP - CORRUPT POLITICS AND SCIENCE
More of Taverne's tosh and details of the dubious origins and tactics of the lobby group he chairs, Sense About Science, are in the article "Rotten to the Corp", by GM WATCH editors Claire Robinson and Jonathan Matthews, published in Science in Society magazine no 21, Spring 2004 (www.i-sis.org.uk, subscriptions +44 (0)20 7383 3376).
Excerpt from the article concerning SAS black propaganda tactics:
Articles in the Times Higher Education Supplement (THES) and elsewhere ... claimed that scientists who support GM were being subjected to a campaign of physical and mental abuse, leading some to leave the country for jobs abroad. One THES article headlined, "Scientists quit UK amid GM attacks", named two scientists said to have suffered such intimidation. One was - again - Chris Leaver, a SAS trustee. The other was Mike Wilson, a SAS advisory panelist.
Another THES article - "GM debate cut down by threats and abuse" - sounded a more sinister note. It spoke of "the increasingly violent anti-GM lobby", "growing levels of physical and mental intimidation", "hardcore tactics of protesters", "intimidation by anti-GM lobbyists... mirroring animal-rights activism", "increasingly vicious protests", "a baying mob of anti-GM activists", and "a string of personal threats". It called for "the government to intervene to protect researchers." However, this article, like the others, failed to cite a single instance of a researcher being assaulted or anything similar. Indeed, the only specific threat of any seriousness cited was a bomb hoax in 1998.
The irony is, of course, that victimisation is predominantly suffered by those scientists brave enough to publish findings unfavourable to the biotech industry or to criticize it (see "Biotech critic denied tenure", for the latest punishment meted out by the pro-biotech scientific establishment). What better way to deflect attention from these shameful events than to reverse the roles of victim and attacker in the public mind?
The same tactic was used again a month later in an article in The Times, by SAS chairman Lord Taveme, headlined, "When crops burn, the truth goes up in smoke". Taverne spoke of farmers and researchers being "terrorised" and of "anti-GM campaigners" adopting "the tactics of animal welfare terrorists".
Again, no examples were given, other than the bomb hoax five years earlier. Taverne wrote, "The anti-GM campaign has become a crusade. Its champions... have become ecofundamentalists, followers of a new kind of religion... But when campaigns become crusades, crusaders are more likely to turn to violence."
The attempt to portray anti-GM activists as terrorists is no spur-of-the-moment inspiration on the part of Taverne and his team. It is a carefully calculated tactic borrowed from America's pro-corporate 'Wise Use' movement - the brainchild of Ron Arnold, executive vice president of the Centre for the Defense of Free Enterprise. Founding funders include logging firms, oil company Exxon and biotech giant DuPont.
Read on at
http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2785 or subscribe to Science in Society (details above)
OTHER HIGHLIGHTS OF THE WEEK - UK
+ COWS DANCE ON SAINSBURY'S ROOF TO LAUNCH NATIONAL ACTIONS
In a protest designed to launch national actions against GM animal feed, a pair of Friesian cows from Totnes, Devon took to the roof of a Sainsbury's supermarket. The anti-GM food campaigners dressed as cows were part of a 17-strong group from Totnes and Exeter who took their protest to Sainsbury's in Exeter as part of a national day of action against GM. The "cows" took to the roof of the store with a protest banner while other campaigners handed out leaflets, put warning labels on products they claim are GM-derived, took over the store loudspeaker system and released protest balloons inside the building.
The group reported: "Three of the checkout girls spent their break outside with the protesters, asked for leaflets and quietly said, 'good on you, we agree'. The police were called, but were almost embarrassingly co-operative, and there were no arrests." http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2775
+ GOODBYE RYLOTT - AND ALL BAYER'S OTHER EUROPEAN BOSSES
The man who led the charge on getting the former environment minister Michael Meacher sacked has himself been given the order of the boot. Bayer CropScience is parting company with Dr Paul Rylott, Bayer's UK head of bioscience, and all the bosses of its GM programmes throughout Europe, in a move which is bound to be seen as an acknowledgement that it sees little future for the technology in Europe. http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2754
OTHER HIGHLIGHTS OF THE WEEK - GLOBAL
+ FILIPINO ISLANDERS BLAME GM CROP FOR MYSTERY SICKNESS
More details have emerged of the strange illnesses seen in Filipino villagers and their animals living near Bt maize crops. A link between the illnesses and the GM crop has been suggested by a Norwegian government scientist.
Excerpts from Guardian article:
For the first time there are indications that the pollen from the bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) maize sown here (Kalyong village, on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao) last year may have contributed to human illness.
Terje Traavik, the scientific director of the Norwegian Institute of Gene Ecology, who was asked last October to analyse blood samples from 39 of the 100 people who fell ill, has said that a link might exist between GM crops and human health.
The landowners, government officials, and Monsanto, the multinational company that provided the seeds planted on the plot, insist the corn is not the cause. They claim the villagers are being manipulated by anti-GM campaigners.
Villagers say the trouble began in July last year when the maize plants started flowering. "There was this really pungent smell that got into our throats," said Maryjane Malayon. "It was like we were breathing in pesticides."
Her sister, Amaniel, their parents, Samuel and Merlina, and Maryjane's nine-month-old daughter, Eileen, began coughing, vomiting, feeling dizzy and suffering from head and stomach aches.
Within days people living a little further away, on the other side of the dusty road that runs through this village on the slopes of the remote 7,500ft (2,286m) volcano Mount Matutum, were experiencing similar symptoms.
Pablo Semon, a community leader, says about 100 people were affected.
Maryjane says the situation got so bad that the family was forced to move to a relative's home three miles down the mountain. "We were the only ones who moved because we were so close," she explains. "But within a week we had all recovered."
A villager who had no home at the time, Bernhard Nanquil, says he rented the Malayon home after they left. "Within a week I too was sick with a stomach ache and diarrhoea." Others noticed that their livestock was suffering.
"One day the horse ate some of the corn plants and its appetite disappeared," said Nestor Catoran. "The belly swelled, its mouth started frothing and it slowly died."
Villagers are linking the corn to the deaths of four other horses, which were disposed of without any analysis.
However, all the villagers are convinced that the corn is in some way responsible for their illness.
...Dr Traavik, who describes himself as a GMO sceptic and not an opponent, says it is highly unlikely the Bt toxin was the only cause of the villagers' sickness.
"There's no illness that's caused by only one factor," he said. "What happened in there [Kalyong] could have been an underlying viral infection that could explain the symptoms, but that does not exclude the possibility that this has been exacerbated by a new allergenic protein from the Bt corn."
The head of the corn programme at the department of agriculture, Artemio Salazar, has no time for the villagers' allegations. "The phenomenon - the supposedly allergenic reaction - was also occurring in areas where there was no Bt corn," he said yesterday, without being able to name any of the other regions.
One of his microbiology experts, Nina Barzaga, from the University of the Philippines, added: "We have to see the results. "But I think they're trying to create some panic ... the Bt toxin has never been associated with any sickness anywhere in the world." [GM WATCH: This is rubbish - even the natural non-GM form of the Bt toxin has been linked to health problems in those who spray it, though it decomposes rapidly in daylight. The effects of the GM form of the toxin are unknown but plenty of scientists have raised questions about its safety.]
Dr Traavik said he would be willing to share his results with Dr Barzaga but cautioned against saying there had never been problems with Bt maize.
Monsanto was not available for comment yesterday but said last week that it was extremely unlikely that the maize was responsible for ill health in the village. http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2774
More on the story:
For more details on Traavik's research, including his identification of a possible GM viral culprit in the mystery disease, the Cauliflower Mosaic Virus (CaMV) promoter used in most current GM crops, see: http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2712
For the short version, see item below: + RESEARCH SHOWS NEW DANGERS OF GM FOOD in THE REST OF THE MONTH'S TOP STORIES.
+ PHILIPPINES: FAO AWARDEE NIXES GMO CROPS
A former nun judged last year to be the 'Best Female Farmer' by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has strongly called on consumers to shun food products containing GMOs. Virginia Munino, who left the convent of the Oblates of Notre Dame in 1994, said that GM foods pose risks to health and the environment. http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2751
+ EYEING MARKETS, INDIA PULLS PUNCHES ON BIOSAFETY - ACTIVISTS
India has agreed to soften international protections against plant contamination, in a bid to enhance commercial prospects for GM crops that could jeopardise consumer safety and food security, leading activists said.
At issue is the UN Convention on Biodiversity's Biosafety Protocol, which aims to ensure that GMOs do not harm human health, contaminate traditional crops, and reduce Earth's biodiversity. Parties to the protocol, which was signed in Cartagena, Colombia in 2000 and took effect last September, met in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia Feb 23-27 to hammer out implementation standards.
"The Indian team seemed soft on issues like levels of compliance and handling of GM crops because they see themselves as exporters of GM crops in the future," said Suman Sahai, a member of the influential Delhi-based group Gene Campaign who attended the Kuala Lumpur talks. http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2772
+ INDIAN GOVERNMENT PAYS UNIVERSITY TO DEVELOP GM HERBS, OILSEEDS, PULSES
The government has given Rs 40 million to the Delhi-based university, Jamia Hamdard, to develop GM oilseeds, pulses and medicinal herbs. The move seems especially demented in view of the large export market for such products, which relies on a customer base that is unusually concerned with health, safety and purity. http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2772
+ LATIN AMERICA: UNEP REGIONAL OFFICE URGES CAUTION ON TRANSGENICS
The United Nations Environment Programme has warned in Mexico that transgenic crops could pose a threat to biodiversity and human health, and recommended that the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean act with caution in using GMOs.
This stance clashes with the position taken by its sister organisation, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), in 2001.
The UNEP opinion on the controversial issue is laid out in its Global Environment Outlook report (GEO 2003) for Latin America and the Caribbean, presented in the Mexican capital to enthusiastic applause from environmentalists. GEO 2003 warns of the possibility that modified genes might be spread accidentally amongst species, and could pose a danger to the biodiversity that is fundamental to humanity's food security.
The report states that the debate on GMOs involves polarised positions and major commercial interests, and that the precautionary principle should be applied as the norm until scientific consensus exists on the matter. http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2788
+ GM PIG FEED BLUNDER
The carcasses of three GM pigs have accidentally ended up in animal feed in Canada. Health officials seized 800 tonnes of feed after the alarm was raised on 11 February, but not before some 1 per cent of the contaminated material had been given to chicken and swine in Ontario and Quebec. The pigs, all female, came from TGN Biotech in Quebec, a research company that engineers male pigs to produce therapeutic proteins in their semen, for use in human and veterinary medicine. No charges are expected to be laid. http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2787
-------------------------------------------------------THE REST OF THE MONTH'S TOP STORIES
+ AFRICA GROUP'S VICTORY OVER US AT BIOSAFETY MEETING
The Biosafety Protocol is back on track, and looks stronger than ever, thanks largely to the work of the Africa Group at the recent talks in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. This makes the claims by the US and UK governments that GM crops are wanted by Africa look all the more foolish.
Teresa Anderson of Gaia reported: "There were fears that in spite of the urgent need to develop and strengthen many issues, the United States delegation would continue in their efforts to undermine the Protocol. Indeed, the US lobbied hard to weaken the agreement, claiming that the labelling and liability wanted by other nations was unrealistic for trade. The US is not even a signatory of the Protocol, but that did not stop them from trying to interfere. But developing countries, particularly the Africa Group, (led by Dr Tewolde Egziabher) kept the agenda firmly focused on what was needed. They argued convincingly and effectively for the adoption of labelling and documentation requirements, as well as progress in the issue of liability. http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2735
+ ARGENTINA POLICES PATENTS, TAXES ITS FARMERS, FOR MONSANTO
Argentina has been reduced by the US and Monsanto to proposing to tax its own farmers in order to collect an estimated $34 million in royalties for Monsanto and other seed companies. Argentina will effectively police the patent system for Monsanto, using its police and the courts against its own farmers. http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2715
Argentine agronomist, Adolfo Boy, issued a warning at the conference that the country's GM experiment was threatening a catastrophe for Argentina's agriculture, food security and ecology. "Let Argentina be a warning to others. We are going down the path of destruction." http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2719
+ RESEARCH SHOWS NEW DANGERS OF GM FOOD
New research by geneticist and advisor to the Norwegian government Prof Terje Traavik at the Norwegian Institute for Gene Ecology, in Tromso, Norway points to serious health dangers of GM foods and vaccines. The study found that:
*Inhaled GM maize pollen may cause disease
*GM food promoter (CaMV or cauliflower mosaic virus promoter) transfers to rat cells
*GM vaccines recombine into unpredictable hybrid viruses in human and animal cells.
Terje Traavik, PhD, Director of the Norwegian Institute for Gene Ecology, announced the findings at a meeting held on February 22 in Kuala Lumpur, sponsored by the Third World Network. The studies are ongoing and not yet published, but Traavik says, "Publication of results typically requires a waiting period of up to one year or more. With such evidence of possible human health impacts of foods already on the market, we believed that waiting to report our findings through publication would not be in the public's interest." http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2735
+ WHO'S LIABLE FOR UK GM CONTAMINATION?
Leaked Cabinet minutes show the UK government holds a pigs-might-fly belief that the industry will pick up the tab for a fund to compensate conventional or organic farmers who suffer losses from GM contamination.
Here's Paul Rylott, head of biosciences at Bayer CropSciences and chairman of the industry-backed Agricultural Biotechnology Council on the likelihood of this happening: "If the government told us to provide a compensation fund for organic farmers, we'd say 'don't be silly'. There's no need to have a compensation fund." http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2678
+ UK MINISTER 'BROKE CABINET RULE' IN BIOTECH PROMOTION
UK science minister Lord Sainsbury is fighting for his political life after he was accused of breaching government guidelines over his business interests. Leaked minutes reveal that Sainsbury, who has extensive business interests in the biotech sector, was at a key Cabinet meeting which drew up a strategy to promote the fledgling industry, a policy shift from which he could reap large dividends.
At the meeting Sainsbury was tasked with asking the prime minister to use his influence with European leaders to promote the biotech industry. By doing so Sainsbury is accused of contravening Article Six of Cabinet Office guidelines that stipulate: 'Ministers must ensure that no conflict arises, or appears to arise, between their public duties and their private interests.' The news triggered calls for the minister to be sacked. http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2694
See our profile of Sainsbury at http://www.gmwatch.org/profile1.asp?PrId=116&page=S
+ GM-FREE REBELLION GROWS
Dozens of regions across Britain are preparing to declare themselves "GM-free" after leaked cabinet minutes said the government was poised to give the go-ahead for GM crops. At least 20 local authority areas - and the whole of Wales - are preparing to oppose the planting of GM maize. Another 20 regions have voiced opposition and may also refuse to allow them to be grown.
Margaret Beckett, the environment secretary, has conceded the government may have to allow GM-free zones because of public opposition. http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2682
+ BRITISH BEE-KEEPERS ASSOCIATION - BOUGHT BY THE BIOTECHS
BBKA member Phil Chandler writes on the BBKA forum that the BBKA is taking money from biotech corporations. He writes, "There have been a series of talks to local associations by biotech mouthpieces like Paul Rylott and Mick Fuller, and practically none putting the case for the opposition. It seems likely that BBKA has sold out to the biotechs in the most shameful way, potentially putting at risk the entire British bee population if this technology proves less benevolent than its proponents claim. If this were happening within a political party, it would be all over the press. Because the media generally regard beekeeping as an amusing hobby practiced by harmless, mostly elderly folk, instead of an activity that is vital to British agriculture, nothing is said." http://www.bbka.org.uk/phpBB2/index.php
+ US CROPS "WIDELY CONTAMINATED" BY GM DNA
US scientists are warning of a potentially "serious risk to human health" after the discovery that traditional varieties of major American food crops are widely contaminated by DNA sequences from GM crops. Crops engineered to produce industrial chemicals and drugs - so-called "pharm" crops - could already be poisoning ostensibly GM-free crops grown for food, warns the study by the Washington-based Union for Concerned Scientists. "If genes find their way from pharm crops to ordinary corn, they or their products could wind up in drug-laced corn flakes," says the report's co-author, UCS microbiologist Margaret Mellon.
The UCS asked two commercial laboratories to test traditional varieties of three crops - maize, soybeans and canola or oil-seed rape - for sequences of DNA from GM varieties currently grown on US farms. The labs reported that the seeds were "pervasively contaminated with low levels of DNA sequences from GM varieties". Up to 1 per cent of individual seeds, and more than half the batches of seeds, contained one or more of the GM sequences. The authors say while there is no evidence that these crops are unsafe, the same may not be true for pharm crops. http://www.newscientist.com/news/news.jsp?id=ns99994709
More on the contamination story: http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2713
The UCS report, "Gone to Seed", can be found at: http://www.ucsusa.org/food_and_environment/biotechnology/seedreport_fullreport.pdf
+ USDA EMPLOYEES EARN EXTRA FROM GM CROPS
US Dept of Ag (USDA) employees gain financially from the sales of GM patented seed that USDA helped develop. In particular, employees stand to profit from the widely hated Terminator technology crops. As these USDA employees are the same people who approve and regulate GM crops, there appears to be something of a conflict of interest. http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2622
+ THE SLEAZE BEHIND OUR SCIENCE
The conflicts of interest revealed by the MMR story are everywhere By George Monbiot
This excellent article from the Guardian questions why MMR researcher Andrew Wakefield is being pilloried for alleged conflicts of interest when the science establishment is rife with such conflicts that go unreported. The answer is, of course, that Wakefield threatens industry, whereas the scientists who are allowed to live in peace are those who support its interests. http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2710
Interesting snippet from the article, in light of the UK government's plans to commercialise Bayer's GM maize:
"Friends of the Earth are currently being sued by the biotech company Bayer to prevent them from exposing its data on the environmental and health effects of glufosinate ammonium, the herbicide used on the GM maize the government wants to approve for planting in Britain. By all accounts the figures make grim reading. But if Bayer gets its way, neither we nor the government will be allowed to see them before the decision is made."
+ GM SCIENCE REVIEW PANEL GOT IT WRONG
University of Leeds microbiologist John Heritage has published a paper in Nature Biotechnology which argues, based on the evidence thus far, that GM transgenes do transfer to gut microflora of people or animals that eat the GM food. UK prime minister Blair's Science Review Panel had argued (2003) that such transfer was "unlikely".
Heritage claims that such transfers "are highly unlikely to alter gastrointestinal function or endanger human health" (though this claim is not supported by science). But he warns that this may not be the case with genes encoding for antibiotic resistance.
John Heritage, "The fate of transgenes in the human gut", Nature Biotechnology, February 2004, Vol 22 no. 2 pp170-172
+ UK RETAILERS CONFIRM HIGH PUBLIC OPPOSITION TO GM
Unlike the UK government, British retailers are under no illusion that public opposition to GM is high and has not decreased. The following is an excerpt from recent evidence to the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee on "GM food - evaluating the farm scale trials", 17 December 2003:
"...we are talking about a consuming public of which anywhere up to 70 per cent will say they will not buy GM products. As an industry, therefore, retailers' attitudes for their own-label products - and I have to stress own-label products - are that they have non-GM policies." - Richard Ali, Director of Food Policy, British Retail Consortium (which represents the major British supermarkets) http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2681
+ INDIA: BT COTTON BENEFITS SHORT-LIVED - STUDY
A study by entomologists at Indian Agricultural Research Institute in New Delhi has cast doubts on the long-term benefits of Bt cotton. The Bt gene produces a toxin called "Cry1ac" that kills bollworms, a cotton pest. The study, by K Chandrasekar and GT Gujar, found that the protection afforded by the Bt gene lasts at best for six years. The bollworm developed "31-fold resistance to the toxin 'Cry1ac' within six generations." http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2634
+ INDIA: SUPREME COURT SENDS NOTICES TO MINISTERS OVER MONSANTO WHEAT PATENT
A three-member Supreme Court bench has issued notices to the ministries of commerce, industry, law, agriculture and environment on a public interest litigation accusing the government of not objecting to Monsanto's patent claim over an Indian wheat landrace, granted by the European Patent Office (EPO) on 21 May 2003. The lawsuit was filed by the New Delhi-based Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology. The wheat is used in India for making chapattis or flat bread. http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2634
+ STUPID WHITE MEN RUNNING BIOTECH
It seems even the vigorously pro-GM Nature Biotechnology journal is losing patience with the greed and stupidity of the biotech industry. The journal has published a damning editorial on the genetic engineering of pharmaceutical drugs into food or animal feed crops, a practice which it fears will muddy the pitch for the whole GM industry.
Excerpt: "It seems that an industry in which the PhD is the intellectual norm is either incapable of learning a simple lesson from the past or cannot bring itself to act appropriately, despite what it has learned previously." http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2621
+ WHAT BELGIUM SAID ABOUT BAYER'S GM OILSEED RAPE APPLICATION
The Belgian Biosafety Council has issued a report giving its reasons for refusing Bayer's application to grow its Liberty Link oilseed rape MS8xRF3.
- effective and practicable measures minimizing the environmental risks associated with this GM line have not been defined.
- a loss of biodiversity due to the use of the associated herbicide was demonstrated in the Farmscale Evaluation trials in the UK and no measures compensating this loss were proposed by the notifier.
- the long distance dissemination of pollen, an intrinsic oilseed rape characteristic, will lead to a gene flow to the neighbouring oilseed rape fields and wild relatives, at a time where coexistence regulation is not yet entered into force.
QUOTE OF THE MONTH
+ MICHAEL MEACHER ON GM CROP COMMERCIALISATION IN UK
"Why is the Government going ahead? It is not because of the science, it is because of the Bush administration applying pressure, and because of companies like Monsanto who want to make a big profit bonanza out of cornering the world food supply. It is nothing to do with feeding the world." - Michael Meacher, former UK environment minister http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2677
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HEADLINES OF THE WEEK: from the GMWATCH archive
4/3/2004 "Pa, There's Pig Vaccine In My Corn Bread!"/And GM pigs in the feed!
4/3/2004 Biotech industry to fight vote against altered crops
4/3/2004 New Labour spin operation underway - push for commercialisation
4/3/2004 Responses to Taverne - Sense and GM science
4/3/2004 Rotten to the Corp - corrupt politics and science
4/3/2004 UN Environment Programme warns GMOs could pose a threat, urges caution
3/3/2004 Cows dance on Sainsbury's roof to launch national actions against GM animal feed
3/3/2004 Filipino islanders blame GM crop for mystery sickness
3/3/2004 India Pulls Punches on Biosafety/India Can Shine By Fighting Against Biopiracy
3/3/2004 The huge benefits of GM are being blocked by blind opposition - Taverne
3/3/2004 US scientists and others urge caution with GMOs
2/3/2004 GM will not solve world hunger - Catholic Institute for International Relations
2/3/2004 Government hiding behind Nuffield's dodgy dossier
1/3/2004 Eco-Traitor - Patrick Moore, a new profile
1/3/2004 FAO awardee nixes GMO crops
29/2/2004 GM crops roll-out is blighted as MPs prepare to challenge No 10
29/2/2004 Rylott sacked - GM giant culls top jobs in Europe
28/2/2004 THE WEEKLY WATCH number 61
FOR THE COMPLETE GMWATCH ARCHIVE: http://www.gmwatch.org/archive.asp
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