The Scottish government has put together sound, well-reasoned principles to guide their opposition to GM foods – they must be defended
EXCERPT: To take one example that made Unionist politicians and commentators absolutely livid, was the Scottish Government having a different policy on GM foods. Scotland’s policy in this area is one rooted in a European-wide anti-GM network and in the precautionary principle. It makes good business sense. It must be defended... If we can now see the corporate vultures circling around the carcass of Brexit Britain we can also see the deep irony that the communities most likely to be hit hard by a further-deregulated food system are those already disfigured by inequality and diet-related ill-health. This is a new era of hunger and food madness.
Brexit's real driving force is lower standards and less regulation
By Mike Small
The National, 13 June 2021
As the summer looms and the Delta variant spreads, the Sausage Wars intensify. Joe Biden arrives in Cornwall to chide Boris Johnson for his catastrophic handling of the Northern Ireland Protocol and while the leaders and wives posed for photo-ops in reality Biden ordered US officials to hand Boris Johnson an unprecedented diplomatic rebuke for endangering the Northern Ireland peace process over Brexit.
Yael Lempert, America’s most senior diplomat in Britain, told Lord Frost, the Brexit minister, that the government was “inflaming” tensions in Ireland with its opposition to checks at ports in the province. In an extraordinary move, Lempert said she had been instructed to take the extreme step of issuing London with a demarche: a formal diplomatic reprimand rarely exchanged between allies. The press was largely silent on this unprecedented moment.
As Sammy Wilson poses proudly with his staunch sausages, Brexit Britain grinds to a halt in its own farce. The chasm between the grandiose claims of Liberty and the reality of not being able to move sausages is huge. So we are left with Sammy and Cold War Steve and Julia Hartley-Brewer saying: “Many worried that Northern Ireland had effectively been thrown under a bus to deliver Brexit for the rest of the UK. I, as a Brexiteer, hold my hands up to that, as a price worth paying.”
If the disdain for Ireland and other parts is barely concealed by the nuttier end of the Brexit commentariat it’s rife too in government. The trade minister Ranil Jayawardenena said: “It is wrong that anyone should be threatening the British sausage. We will stand up for the British sausage and no-one will ever be able to destroy it.”
Brexit was sold on a long list of claims, that “we” would take back control, assert sovereignty and be liberated from the boot and heel of the dreaded EU. We would “protect our borders” control immigration and restrict free movement. The reality is that “Global Britain” can’t send sausages to Northern Ireland.
The grace period is nearly over and the marching season is nearly upon us. Sammy and his sausages might seem funny but it will be decidedly less comic on July 12 when loyalist mobs unleash their sausage-rage.
The fact that it was dark money that channeled £435,000 to the DUP’s Brexit campaign, that helped create this farce will mean nothing to the permanently aggrieved protestants who feel hoodwinked and conned by Boris Johnson.
As Anand Menon has put it: “The UK has unilaterally delayed putting in place some of the measures the EU says the protocol implies (notably a ban on the export of chilled meat – including sausages – across the Irish Sea) and is threatening to delay still further. There are further arguments to come, as the grace periods end and – absent agreement on ‘technical’ matters large and small – border checks begin on everything from food products and parcels on October 1, to medicines at the start of next year. The blunt fact is that the UK signed up to this agreement, and the EU has legitimate expectations that we will implement it.”
So things are going to get worse and Johnson’s incompetence and intransigence not only threatens the peace of Northern Ireland but also undermines the possibility of a US trade-deal, the big things the Brexiteeers are pinning their hopes on.
Beyond this is the bigger question of food regulations. And this is what this is really about. While the British try desperately to shunt the blame on to the Europeans the reality is that the UK does not formally abide by EU rules and doesn’t want to.
Deregulated food standards have always been at the heart of the Brexit plan.
But whilst Sausage Wars might be a new terrain, there is a long backstory to the crisis.
To take one example that made Unionist politicians and commentators absolutely livid, was the Scottish Government having a different policy on GM foods. Scotland’s policy in this area is one rooted in a European-wide anti-GM network and in the precautionary principle. It makes good business sense. It must be defended.
In 2013 the Scottish Government laid out the following principles which guided their policy:
-The precautionary principle – insufficient evidence has been presented that GM crops are safe.
-The preventative principle – the cultivation of GM crops could tarnish Scotland’s natural environment and damage wider aspects of the Scottish economy such as tourism and the production of high quality, natural food
-The democratic principle – science-based decision making cannot replace the will of the people. There is no evidence of a demand for GM products by Scottish consumers.
The fact that the Scottish Government has put together these sound, well-reasoned principles to guide their opposition gives us real hope that Scotland can be a strong voice against the pro-GM lobby in the years to come, and we can focus our attention on building a sustainable food system for the next generation. But the very idea of Scotland charting a different path was the cause of apoplexy among many journalists and politicians.
Far from Scotland being some kind of parochial outlier, in our GM policy we had in fact joined a global resistance. India has not approved a single genetically modified food crop for human consumption. Only four African nations – South Africa, Burkina Faso, Egypt, and Sudan permit the commercial use of products that contain GMOs. Other countries involved in bans and restrictions throughout the world include: Italy, Austria, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Portugal, Greece, Spain, Switzerland, Norway, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Algeria, Brazil and Paraguay.
This is just one area that is about to come under sustained attack.
Food standards are not just an issue for obscure policies and technical details, they are the basis for our health and wellbeing they are the basis for our food sovereignty. Without food sovereignty – without control over what our children eat – we are nothing. And this battle lands in a country where there are already massive issues with poverty, health and wellbeing, and in which Scotland in particular faces huge challenges about our dietary health.
In a country in which 1.5 million people are already reliant on foodbanks, further price rises and disruptions aren’t good news and are likely to hugely exacerbate inequality.
As Ash Sarkar explained back in 2018: “Hard Brexit has never been about sovereignty – it’s about creating a legislative bonfire to decimate protections enshrined in law, and hold the UK hostage to corrupt corporate interests.”
Hard Brexit as a form of hyper-nostalgia is the emergent form, a new isolationism in a country that already has a disastrous relationship with food. In a country that has concentrated the food system into the hands of a handful of companies, that has a population more divorced from land, nature, seasonality and place than almost anywhere else in Europe, and that already has staggering food poverty and insecurity, Brexit-style shortages aren’t going to arrive into a context of resilience, balance and plenty. They will arrive into a context of childhood obesity, diabetes and deep cultural ignorance.
The reason that protecting food policy is important to Scotland is interesting. On the one hand we have some of the greatest natural resources in food and an image of food that we can project and build on. But the flip-side of that is that we have huge issues about our diet, about our obsession with export growth, about our salmon industry, about our obesity epidemic, about our diet-related ill health that we desperately need to confront. Some of these myths – say about basing food policy on export growth make even less sense in a post-Covid, post-Brexit world than they did before.
Nor does this particularly virulent form of disaster capitalism derive from the popular will as routinely claimed. This isn’t happening with just the momentum of The People but with the organised will of groups with direct economic interest. On food standards and regulations there’s a feeding frenzy of right-wing think-tanks queuing up to divvy-up your rights to good (or at least nominally safe) food. As the dearth of foreign workers leaves crops rotting in the ground the glee with which policy makers are eyeing up the potential profits of a free trade agreement is undeniable.
Politically, for both the Biden administration and Johnson’s beleaguered government this would be a rabbit out of the hat moment, a vindication of the Global Britain rhetoric for Boris and a clarion of American Means Business for Biden.
As long ago as 2018 the environmental group Unearthed revealed the reality of the Anglo-American trade deal after a transatlantic network of conservative think tanks accidentally published its secret plans to influence US-UK trade negotiations.
They revealed, “Documents outline plans to form an ‘unprecedented’ coalition of hard-Brexit and libertarian think tanks, which will call for Britain to ditch strict EU safety standards – including rules on food and pharmaceuticals – in order to secure a sweeping US-UK trade deal.”
A report by the Soil Association highlights 10 concerns about food safety in a post-Brexit era. These foods are currently banned in the UK:
1. Chlorine-washed chicken (banned in the EU)
2. Hormone-treated beef (banned in the EU)
3. Ractopamine in pork (banned in the EU)
4. Chicken litter as animal feed (banned in the EU). Includes the birds’ faeces.
5. Atrazine-treated crops (banned in the EU): Atrazine is a herbicide used on 90% of sugar cane, which can enter into the water supply and interfere with wildlife.
6. Genetically modified foods (banned in the EU). [GMW: This is incorrect. GM foods are not banned in the EU or the UK. Many GM foods have been approved by the EU for use in food and feed, but they are regulated, being subjected to safety assessments and GMO labelling. Food retail companies have largely excluded GM ingredients from their products. Many EU countries have taken the EU-granted option to ban the planting of GM crops in their fields, but this is on a case-by-case basis and could change if a particular GM crop was deemed useful to one of the countries that has implemented bans on past GM crops.]
7. Brominated vegetable oil (banned in the EU). BVO is used in citrus drinks; Coca-Cola announced it would stop using BVO in 2004.
8. Potassium bromate (banned in the EU). A dough conditioner also banned in China, Brazil and Canada, in tests on rats it has been found to be a possible carcinogen.
9. Azodicarbonamide. A bleaching agent for flour, it has been linked to an increase in tumours in rats.
10. Food colourants (banned in the UK, regulated in the EU). Can lead to hyperactivity in children.
This is your Brexit Recipe Book. This is what your cupboards and your supermarket shelves will be brimming with if Britain’s corporate ambition gets its wishes.
If we can now see the corporate vultures circling around the carcass of Brexit Britain we can also see the deep irony that the communities most likely to be hit hard by a further-deregulated food system are those already disfigured by inequality and diet-related ill-health.
This is a new era of hunger and food madness.