debate info - check out:
1. Glasgow debate - Anthony Jackson
2. Let's do a Monsanto - George Monbiot
3. The view from Europe: plain weird! - Steve McGiffen
4. John Innes Centre's GM Nation - 11 Debate Events
5. meanwhile in Lincolnshire
6. How to get involved
1. Glasgow debate - Anthony Jackson
brief overview of Glasgow debate:
Full at 150!
Good mix of participants, by age, sex, knowledge of GM and background.
Feedback from tables was overwhelmingly negative towards GM crops and food. What benefits could be found were widely seen as aspirational at best, and constrasted markedly with a deep concern over the associated risks to the environment and health.
A straw-poll at the end showed:
GM crops should be grown in UK:  4 (inc FSE [GM trial] farmer + wife)
Unsure:  3
GM crops should not be grown in UK: 143.
further details of  all regional debates available on GM Nation? website:
2. Let’s do a Monsanto
The government says that it wants a 'great debate' about GM - we must
call its bluff
George Monbiot,5673,974036,00.html
The Guardian, Tuesday June 10, 2003

Something about the launch of the government's "great GM debate" last week rang a bell. It was, perhaps, the contrast between the ambition of its stated aims and the feebleness of their execution. Though the environment secretary, Margaret Beckett, claims she wants "to ensure all voices are heard", she has set aside an advertising budget of precisely zero. Public discussions will take place in just six towns.

Then I got it. Five years ago, Monsanto, the world's most controversial biotechnology company, did the same thing. In June 1998, after its attempts to persuade consumers that they wanted to eat genetically modified food had failed, it launched what it called a public debate "to encourage a positive understanding of food biotechnology". As the company's GM investments were then valued at $96bn (£60bn), the proposition that it might desist if the response was unfavourable seemed unlikely.

To Monsanto's horror, it got the debate it said it wanted. A few days after it launched its new policy, Prince Charles wrote an article for the Telegraph. His argument, as always, was cack-handed and contradictory, but it shoved genetic engineering to the top of the news agenda. Monsanto's share value slumped. Within two years it had been taken over by Pharmacia, a company it once dwarfed.

Like Monsanto, the British government has already invested in genetic engineering. In 1999, it allocated £13m (or 26 times what it is spending on the great debate) "to improve the profile of the biotech industry", by promoting "the financial and environmental benefits of biotechnology". This, and its appointment of major biotech investors to head several research committees and a government department, ensured that it lost the confidence of the public. So, like Monsanto, it now seeks to revive that confidence, by claiming - rather too late - that it is open to persuasion. 

Again, the decision to introduce the crops to Britain appears to have been made long before the debate began.

Last year, an unnamed minister told the Financial Times that the debate was simply a "PR offensive". "They're calling it a consultation," he said, "but don't be in any doubt, the decision is already taken." In March, Margaret Beckett began the licensing process for 18 applications to grow or import commercial quantities of GM crops in Britain. Her action pre-empts the debate, pre-empts the field trials designed to determine whether or not the crops are safe to grow here, and pre-empts the only real decisions which count: namely those made by the EU and the World Trade Organisation. The WTO must now respond to an official US complaint about Europe's refusal to buy GM food. If the US wins, we must either pay hundreds of millions of dollars of annual compensation, or permit GM crops to be grown and marketed here.

Why should this prospect concern us? I might have hoped that, five years after the first, real debate began in Britain, it would not be necessary to answer that question. But so much misinformation has been published over the past few weeks that it seems I may have to start from the beginning.

The principal issue, perpetually and deliberately ignored by government, many scientists, most of the media and, needless to say, the questionnaire being used to test public opinion, is the corporate takeover of the food chain. By patenting transferred genes and the technology associated with them, then buying up the competing seed merchants and seed-breeding centres, the biotech companies can exert control over the crops at every stage of production and sale. Farmers are reduced to their sub-contracted agents. This has devastating implications for food security in the poor world: food is removed from local marketing networks - and therefore the mouths of local people - and gravitates instead towards sources of hard currency. This problem is compounded by the fact that (and this is another perpetually neglected issue) most of the acreage of GM crops is devoted to producing not food for humans, but feed for animals.

The second issue is environmental damage. Many of the crops have been engineered to withstand applications of weedkiller. This permits farmers to wipe out almost every competing species of plant in their fields. The exceptions are the weeds which, as a result of GM pollen contamination, have acquired multiple herbicide resistance. In Canada, for example, some oilseed rape is now resistant to all three of the most widely used modern pesticides. The result is that farmers trying to grow other crops must now spray it with 2,4-D, a poison which persists in the environment.
The third issue, greatly over-emphasised by the press, is human health. There is, as yet, no evidence of adverse health effects caused directly by GM crops. This could be because there are no effects, or it could be because the necessary clinical trials and epidemiological studies, have, extraordinarily, still to be conducted.

There is, however, some evidence of possible indirect effects. In 1997 the Conservative government quietly raised the permitted levels of glyphosate in soya beans destined for human consumption by 20,000%. Glyphosate is the active ingredient of Roundup, the pesticide which Monsanto's soya beans have been engineered to resist. "Roundup Ready" GM crops, because they are sprayed directly with the herbicide, are likely to contain far higher levels of glyphosate than conventional ones. In 1999, the Journal of the American Cancer Society reported that exposure to glyphosate led to increased risks of contracting a type of cancer called non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

The defenders of GM crops say we can avoid all such hazards by choosing not to eat them. The problem is that we can avoid them only if we know whether or not the food we eat contains them. The US appears determined to attack the strict labelling requirements for which the European parliament has now voted. If it succeeds in persuading the WTO that accurate labelling is an unfair restriction, then the only means we have of avoiding GM is to eat organic, whose certification boards ensure that it is GM-free. But as pollen from GM crops contaminates organic crops, the distinction will eventually become impossible to sustain. While banning GM products might at first appear to be a restriction of consumer choice (someone, somewhere, might want to eat one), not banning them turns out to be a far greater intrusion upon our liberties.

The only chance we have of keeping them out of Europe is to ensure that the political cost becomes greater than the economic cost: to demand, in other words, that our governments fight the US through the WTO and, if they lose, pay compensation rather than permit them to be planted. So let us join this debate, and see how much the government likes it when "all voices are heard". Like Monsanto, it may come to wish it had never asked.
** On Thursday June 12 at 2pm, George Monbiot will be live online at Guardian Unlimited to discuss his new book, The Age of Consent: A Manifesto For a New World Order. You can post questions now at
3. The view from Europe - Steve McGiffen
 <<Their views come amid claims that ministers have already made up their mind on the matter - trying to push for an imminent commercialisation of the controversial technology in Britain.>>

I completely agree with the sentiments behind this. However, the whole campaign, and the government's response to it - the national debate itself - take on, from Brussels, a somewhat surreal character.

The fact is that next month the European Parliament will approve what will be the strictest regulation of cultivation and marketing of GMOs in the world. This will then in turn be approved by the Council of Ministers, though there may be some haggling over details. By the end of the year the legislative framework will be in place, and Britain will have no choice (unless the government is prepared to defy the law) but to licence the cultivation of GMOs and permit their marketing.

Even if the debate in the UK is so successful that the UK minister is prepared to vote against the legislative package (highly unlikely) he will be outvoted. If the government then attempts to prevent a company or farmer who follows the rules from cultivating GMOs, or if it attempts to prevent a food manufacturer or distributor from marketing approved GMOs, it will be taken to the Court of Justice which will instruct it to comply.

As both an opponent of GMOs and a strong critic of this autocratic, technocratic European Union, I consider all of this to be disgraceful. Yet to ignore it, as both sides in Britain appear to be doing, is plain weird.  
When imminent EU legislation is mentioned it is as if it were some sort of sideshow. It isn't. The laws governing GMOs will be made in Brussels and Strasbourg, not Westminster. Sad but true.

The national debate is therefore pure theatre, designed to distract people from the facts of the matter. To put it another way, it matters not a jot if the minister has or has not already made up his mind. His views will have influence, but will not determine the laws which British biotech firms and farmers will have to follow, nor the level of protection available to consumers or the environment.

That will be done by the Council, where he is one of fifteen (though weighted voting gives him somewhat more power than this implies), and the Parliament, where Britian's governing party is divided, with the majority (through a mixture of scientific illiteracy and sheer cowardliness) defying their own Socialist Group and voting on instructions from the UK government.

Good luck, all the same!
Steve McGiffen
Environmental Adviser
GUE-NGL (United Left Group)
European Parliament

From the national public debate meeting in Taunton:
"At the end of the conference we were asked if we wanted to see GM plants grown in the UK. Nobody put their hands up."
With every sector of the public polled, including the farming community, against GM crops...
Western Morning News, 9 June 2003
John Innes Centre's GM Nation - 11 Debate Events
anyone heard of any other biotech institutes etc. getting involved?
GM Nation? Debate Events
John Innes Centre
(Room Chatt 34/35 at the Lecture Theatre Building)

An opportunity to take part in the Government's GM Nation? Debate
You will also be shown the GM Nation video ... and asked to complete a feedback form. There will also be a selection of further information available and people on hand to answer any questions you may have on topics raised by the video.  

Doors open 30 mins prior to each session and video screening will begin promptly at the times shown.  
Monday 23 June          10.00, 14.00 and 18.00
Wednesday 25 June       14.00 and 18.00
Monday 30 june          10.00, 14.00 and 18.00
Thursday 3 July         10.00, 14.00 and 18.00
To register your attendance, or to find out more informnation please contact:
Dee Rawsthorne Tel: 01603 450528; Fax: 01603 450025
E-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
5.  Manwhile in Lincolnshire
Farmers and shoppers from across the county are being invited to take part in the national debate on genetically modified crops. Meetings are being held at 2pm every day at the Bank Farm bar in Anderby Road, Chapel St Leonards, near Skegness, as part of the Government-backed debate.

Further meetings are being held at the venue at 7.30pm every Monday for the next three weeks.  Organiser Kate O'Connell (49) is also planning a tour of meetings across the county so everyone can voice their opinions on the controversial crops.  "We are inviting people from every part of the county," she said.  "It is desperately important that as many people take part in this debate as possible.

"If people do not take part the Government will be able to argue that nobody cares."

The debates will follow a screening of a Government video designed to give information from both sides of the discussion.  Results from the talks will then be passed to regional government officers and inform legislation on genetically modified crops.
For further information contact Bank Farm bar on (01754) 871445.
6. How to get involved
ideas and more here:
You can submit your views via
Remaining regional meeting:
Harrogate: 13 June
People are also being encouraged to hold their own local meetings. If you want to organize a meeting the Five Year Freeze can help supply you with leaflets, and support, please call 0207 837 0642.
If you are able to attend a meeting and are willing to take materials along with you please call us on 0207 837 0642.
More information available at
Freeze info:
A GM science review where the more technically interested can submit views (you don't have to be a scientist)
Looks at the overall costs and benefits associated with the growing of GM crops, including their effect on conventional and organic farming interests.