1.Halt new UK push for farming technofixes
2.Corrupt research threatens us all
1.Halt new UK push for farming technofixes
A new UK Government consultation aims for more GM and cloning. Help us change the story.
What you can do
Please write to your MP urging her/him to call for this consultation to be withdrawn and replaced with one that better addresses the problems we really face. Please share copies of any responses you get with us so we can keep up-to-date with developments.
If you also wish to respond directly to the BIS consulation, please note their deadline for comments is 2pm, 22 November 2012. Full details are available at the BIS link below.
Points to include:
*I would like to draw your attention to the serious deficiencies in the BIS consultation "Shaping a UK Strategy for Agri-Tech", notably that there is no analysis of the UK’s own food sovereignty, which must be the starting point for such a strategy process.
*BIS appears not to have sought the views of food producers outside the UK in framing its consultation, which suggests BIS is focussed on exporting UK technology to boost the UK economy rather than meeting the stated food and farming objectives of the strategy.
*The consultation fails to deal with the role intensive industrial agriculture has played over the past seven decades in degrading soil, biodiversity loss, water and air pollution, over-exploitation of water resources and greenhouse gas emissions.
*The consultation pays very little attention to the restoration of global soils, which are seriously degraded due to erosion, low organic matter, biodiversity losses, salination and depleted mineral and plant nutrients.
*I strongly object to BIS assumptions that exporting some agri-technologies (eg, GM, cloning and nanotechnology) will both benefit the UK economy and solve food shortages. This does not recognise either the full range of options for improving genuinely sustainable agriculture or the fact that BIS-favoured technologies are rejected by consumers world-wide when they can make an informed choice (eg, labels on GM foods). Furthermore as US farmers crippled by superweeds and Indian farmers let down by GM cotton now know to their cost, rolling out technology without proper regard to health, environment and socio-economic consequences can do more harm than good.
*I respectfully request that you press for this BIS consultation to be withdrawn and replaced with one that looks at all routes to securing future food supplies, including the widespread promotion and uptake of cheap, available, proven agroecological techniques.
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Background to this action
The UK Department for Business, Industry and Skills (BIS) has launched a public consultation called “Shaping a UK Agri-tech Strategy” saying:
“This call for evidence invites you to submit views and information that will help shape a Government strategy to promote UK economic growth and international development by making best use of the science and technologies relevant to agriculture…
“The Government is developing a long-term agri-tech strategy focused on knowledge transfer and the application of technology to the agricultural sector. This is part of the UK Industrial Strategy announced by the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills in September 2012.”
This consultation is important. It will set the UK’s agricultural research and development (R&D) agenda for several decades and is clearly linked into UK industrial policy. The resulting policy is likely to support GM and cloning when it is vital that it should instead address the real problems facing us in providing a balanced diet for everyone on the planet without wrecking it.
Politicians, technocrats and scientists now base their agriculture policies on the vague concept of “sustainable intensification”, yet they do not explain what this really means. As its title suggests the consultation assumes that innovation in agricultural technology (agri-tech) will be a key part of the solution. This begs a number of questions, including what technology, why and who controls it, but these are not addressed satisfactorily.
The consultation (available at www.bis.gov.uk/Consultations/shaping-uk-agri-tech-strategy-call-for-evidence) states:
"The aim of the "Agri-Tech Strategy" is to provide a clear, shared, long-term vision for unlocking the full economic potential of the UK’s world leading research. This will help to deliver:
Improved agricultural production efficiencies (for both food and non-food manufacturing) while avoiding environmental harm.
Solutions to global food security while maintaining natural resources and preserving biodiversity.
Sustainable international development and wider international collaborations.
Increased engagement with the business sector, including through inward investment to further stimulate enterprise and accelerate the translation of research into practical applications.
Increased UK exports of knowledge, products, systems services and technology.
A well-networked, professional, highly skilled and technology-aware agricultural sector with improved access to advice for the farming community on best practice and new technologies."
We need your help to improve these aims.
Please write to your MP today demanding a withdrawal and rethink on the BIS consultation.
Assumptions and omissions
BIS assumes the market is the solution, yet the market continues to fail the one billion people who have insufficient food and the one billion who are obese.
The consultation document fails to take into account critical relevant issues including:
Healthy soil is a critical component of achieving some of these objectives, but soil is not mentioned once in the consultation document. At best soil is treated as a “natural resource” that needs to be “maintained”, which does not give sufficient weight to evidence of existing serious degradation of soils globally. The Government allocates just 1.25% of agricultural R&D expenditure to soil and water resources combined.
Intensive agriculture has already played a key role in degrading ecosystems and polluting the planet beyond sustainable limits.
The huge pool of existing knowledge, skills, and experience held by farmers around the world, particularly in relation to their own specific climate, soils, and biodiversity.
The implications of the imbalance between the food/feed we grow and what we import, including how vulnerable this makes us to shortages and sudden price inflation, which the UK is exposed to because of our dependence of imported soya for use in unsustainable intensive livestock and poultry production.
The growing recognition that food sovereignty provides a surer and more democratic means to tackle global food and farming problems than an export-led competitive approach overreliant on technology. Food sovereignty is the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems.
Many MPs are not fully engaged in the debate on how to feed the world in a sustainable way. They can be lead to believe that technologies such as GM, cloning, and nanotechnology are a "tool in the toolbox" when such tecnofixes are in fact the means to control and profit from the global food chain. The BIS consultation provides a chance to lobby your MP about the weaknesses of the Government’s approach, which places far too much emphasis on technology and exports and far too little on the agroecological land management needed to create a sustainable and resilient food system.
2.Corrupt research threatens us all
GHQ, October 21 2012
Farming is in dire need of good science. In the 40 years or so I've been writing about it, the industry's gone from sustainable mixed farms producing healthy foods to a sort of scorched-earth system based on hybrid cereals and huge inputs of chemical fertilizer, pesticides and fossil fuels.
The cost of all this is now becoming clear. In return for the "green revolution" we have degraded soils, polluted rivers and a food supply uniquely vulnerable to extreme weather events like drought. In place of healthy foods we have commodity grains – depleted of nutrients – which food corporations turn into branded products that are the cause of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and a host of other degenerative conditions.
There's an urgent need for industrial countries to return to sustainable farming methods – what we agricultural geeks used to call “good husbandry”. To make this change farmers will need the support and guidance of sound science. Yet this is the moment the BBSRC – the quango dispensing public money for farming research – decides to put agribusiness companies at the heart of the process.
If anyone has benefited from the wholesale destruction of sound farming in Britain it's corporate agribusiness, a powerful consortium of fertilizer manufacturers, chemical companies, biotech firms, machinery manufacturers and oil companies. The war on family mixed farms has mostly been conducted by well-funded corporate lobbying, particularly in Brussels.
The near strangle-hold on UK farming by agribusiness companies now extends to publicly-funded research. The BBSRC – which dispenses public money for biological research – has set up a clutch of what it calls "research and technology clubs". The declared aim is to work with business partners on collaborative research projects. But what the clubs will do is give the very corporations that have destroyed sustainable farming in Britain a major say in the way taxpayers’ money is spent on research.
For example, the Crop Improvement Research Club includes the agrochemical company BASF, the biotech giant Monsanto, the chemical and biotech company Syngenta, and Velcourt, an agribusiness farm management company that has been in the forefront of high (pesticide) input farming in Britain. The club's management group is even chaired by Keith Norman of Velcourt.
Together the agribusiness partners bring £560,000 in research funds to the club. But the BBSRC contributes a massive £6 million of public funds to the party, while the Scottish Government contributes another GBP500,000. This means that while contributing just 8 per cent to the club, the chemical and biotech industries get to say how GBP6.5 million of public money is spent on research. This when the research most needed in farming is the sort that will get their damaging products off the land.
Another collaborative venture largely funded by taxpayers is the Diet and Health Research Industry Club with over GBP12 million to spend. Industry members include such health promoting companies as Coca-Cola, PepsiCo UK, Kraft Foods, Nestle, Sugar Nutrition, and Unilever. The very corporations who peddle health-destroying foods are put in control of healthy diets, while farmers – the real producers of healthy foods – are shackled to the same corporate sector.
Only a political class driven by free-market ideology – and lacking any real understanding of farming, food and health – could have spawned such an Alice-in-Wonderland construct.
When a small group of us set up the Oxford Real Farming Conference a few years back it was because we believed farming should be conducted in the interests of people, not of corporate profits. The established conference we opposed was – and still is – supported by corporate sponsors. We are not. Our only financial support comes from an organic farming trust. Our aim is to provide an independent forum for sustainable and productive agriculture, informed by sound biology.
If you share our aims please check out the ORFC website and sign up for the 2013 conference.
And let's together bring farming – and the public research that supports it – back under the control of the people of these islands.