The leaked memos in the Sunday Times article below make totally transparent the basis of the UK government's strategy on GMOs - pleasing Washington!
What the article fails to make clear though is the steps the government has already taken to serve Washington's cause and how it is being assisted in this strategy by the UK's Food Standards Agency. (see item 2)
The last paragrpah of the Sunday Times piece is also completely misleading about opposition to GM and what the recent Eurobarometer survey showed. Far from showing as it suggests that "opposition may be weakening" the survey showed opposition as strong as ever in the UK with only 10% of the population supporting GM food and only 3% strongly supporting it. That's the extent of Blair's constituency - or it would be if his constituency weren't in Washington DC.
In Europe the Eurobarometer survey showed 70.9 per cent of European citizens simply do not want GM food while 94.6 per cent of want the right to choose.
1.Ministers try to stop labels for GM food
2.GOVERNMENT URGES MEPs TO VOTE FOR GM FOOD
Ministers try to stop labels for GM food
David Cracknell, Political Editor
The Sunday Times, June 01, 2003
MINISTERS want to kill off plans by Brussels to bring in a comprehensive regime for labelling genetically modified food. They fear "negative fall-out" from Washington if they back the consumer friendly policy, leaked cabinet papers reveal. The documents, including a memo from Jack Straw, the foreign secretary, show that ministers are desperate not to antagonise America, the world’s largest producer of GM crops.
This is despite the fact that Labour has sought to ease fears over GM products by paying lip service to labelling in the past.
Straw's memo reveals that the British embassy in Washington is helping in the campaign to "minimise the risks" of alienating the United States. He argues that members of the European parliament should be "strongly" lobbied with the argument "made by Washington" that the plans could have "implications" for Africa, where America promotes much of its GM technology.
Straw discloses that Tony Brenton, Britain's acting US ambassador, has warned that voting for the regime would be a "hard sell" to the Bush administration."Our international trading partners, particularly the US, will need to fully understand our motives if we are to minimise negative fall-out," Straw says in the "restricted"; memo, dated May 9.
In another memo, Margaret Beckett, the environment secretary, acknowledges that the Americans are "impatient and dissatisfied". But she warns that opposing the European Union plans on tracing and labelling GM will cause "presentation difficulties" -- Whitehall code for a public backlash.
Beckett, who will launch a public debate on GM this week, admits that the UK is in a "minority of one" among EU members in opposing the regulations which, if passed, would see almost all products containing GM ingredients or derivatives clearly labelled.
The issue will pit the United States against Europe at the G8 summit in Evian, France, which begins today. America has already filed a complaint under World Trade Organisation rules against the EU's moratorium on new GM products.
The latest EU move will intensify the dispute as Tony Blair tries to play peacemaker between Europe and America.
The documents confirm the fears of anti-GM campaigners who have long claimed that Britain is under pressure from Washington and the biotechnology industry to oppose a stricter labelling regime. While the campaigners argue that consumers have the right to know, the GM industry says the stricter labelling regulations will set it back decades.
Although opposition may be weakening, 44% of people have safety fears over GM food as opposed to 28% who do not, says Eurobarometer, the EU research group.
2.GOVERNMENT URGES MEPs TO VOTE FOR GM FOOD
May 9 2003
The Government is asking UK Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) to vote in favour of the GM contamination of our food and against the widespread labelling of food containing traces of GM materials, Friends of the Earth revealed today. The advice comes ahead of the Government's `public debate' on GM foods.
In a few weeks’ time MEPs will vote on new European legislation to strengthen the labelling of food containing GM-derived ingredients.
Currently food containing at least one per cent of GM DNA must be labelled.
The new proposals would strengthen the legislation by:
Reducing the GM labelling threshold. MEPs backed a 0.5 per cent labelling threshold at the first reading last year, but the Council of Ministers increased it to 0.9 per cent. MEPs can still vote for the 0.5 per cent threshold, though Friends of the Earth has been calling for the limit to be set at the lowest detectable level (currently 0.1 per cent).
Increasing the scope of the legislation to include GM derivatives, which don't contain DNA, such as oil and lecithin. This would be achieved through a comprehensive `traceability' regime;
Extending it to cover animal feed.
However the Government is urging MEPs to weaken the proposals by voting to maintain the current GM threshold of 1 per cent. The recommendation is contained in a briefing to MEPs from the Food Standards Agency and Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).
The briefing claims thresholds below one per cent are unenforceable.
But the Government's own Central Science Laboratory has confirmed that a limit of detection of 0.1 per cent is verifiable.
The briefing comes hot on the heels of the FSA's own Citizen's Jury, held in Slough in early April, the 15 jurors unanimously recommended comprehensive labelling of any food containing GM ingredients or derived from GM crops including "a GM logo".
EU citizens strongly support comprehensive labelling, with the latest polls indicating that 94 per cent back strong EU legislation to maintain choice for consumers.
Friend's of the Earth's GM Campaigner Pete Riley said: "Consumers have made it perfectly clear that they want comprehensive GM labelling so that they can avoid food containing GM ingredients. But once again the UK Government is ignoring public concern on this issue. It is urging MEPs to weaken new European legislation on GM food labels and reduce the ability of consumers to choose what they eat. So much for the openness of the Government's GM public debate to be launched next month
The role of the Food Standards Agency must also be questioned. It claims to be listening to consumer concerns but when it comes to GM labelling it seems to represent the biotech industry. The major supermarkets are already working to a 0.1 per cent threshold.