ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

10 September 2002


1. No agreement reached in German GMO debate
2. I DON'T BELIEVE IT - John Ingham
3. GM food is getting everywhere - John  Humphrys
5. Britons led Powell jeers at summit
6. U.S. conscience is clear
7. Chaos, Tragedy, But Globalisation Rolls On
8. Starve for the environment


1. No agreement reached in German GMO debate

Environment Daily 1280, 05/09/02

A nine-month consultation on the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in Germany concluded this week without consensus being reached on a number of controversial issues. Launched by the agriculture ministry, the consultation brought together industry, environmental and consumer groups to discuss GMO issues, particularly in light of forthcoming EU legislation on labelling (ED 03/07/02,
and the awaited lifting of an EU moratorium on new GM goods (ED 29/10/01
article&ref=109 While participants agreed on points such as the need to ensure consumer choice, opinions were sharply divided over whether this could be achieved while allowing GM and non-GM substances to "coexist" in the production chain. German environmental group Bund claimed that coexistence would effectively exclude the "GM-free" option, allowing consumers to choose only between levels of GM contamination. Evaluation of the environmental and health risks of GMOs continued to split the pro and anti-lobbies, with some still calling for an absolute boycott, while the thresholds being discussed at EU level were seen as either too strict or too low by a number of groups. With the general election looming, the government has steered clear from voicing its own opinions, although agriculture minister Renate Künast underlined the need to consider costs associated with GM penetration outlined in research recently publicised by the European Commission (ED 23/05/02
article&ref=12203 Follow-up: German agriculture ministry, tel: +49 30 20060,
and press release
290-2002.htm. See also round table web pages


2. I don't believe it

John Ingham The Express Victor Meldrew
The Express September 9, 2002

I HAVE in my hand the latest weapon in Britain's store wars - a round carrot. It's about the size of a cherry and as appealing as a used gobstopper. Why do we need it? What is it for? The store that is flogging it claims that it is the perfect size for a lunchbox snack. So is an ordinary carrot. OK, it will be ideal for kids. It will give them something else to throw around the playground or stuff up their nostrils but at least this carrot has been created naturally. That is more than can be said for the freaks that are coming your way courtesy of 21st century Dr Frankensteins. Upset with Tibbles bringing in dead mice or frogs? Get a genetically modified cat. Some genius has worked out that it could be possible to engineer cats by removing their hunting gene but it wouldn't be a cat then, it would be a fat, furry thing that sits around all day.

 Convinced you can't live without Fido? Get him cloned. Some Yanks are storing pet DNA for the day when they can do a modern Jurassic Park. Wouldn't it be more respectful simply to mourn Fido when he dies and get a new puppy? A dog is for life, not for eternity. More horrific still are the scientists (Yanks again) who are cloning prize calves.

 Others (yes, Americans) are engineering salmon to grow three times as fast as normal salmon. When these monsters escape into the wild, you can bet that it won't do wild salmon any good. Then there are the sickos who want to engineer pigs and cattle and chickens so that they feel less pain. No pain means no welfare problems, so you can factory farm these creatures for ever more. Don't tell me this will help feed the Third World; the profits are made in the West, not in countries where millions live on $ 1 a day. A panel of experts chosen by the Government looked into this nightmare future last week. They held all sorts of focus groups but they didn't ask the vital question: Does anyone want to eat this stuff? I don't. The promise that it will be labelled as genetically modified fills me with contempt. Attempts at labelling foods from GM crops have been fought all the way by the biotech industry. It can see profits evaporating if we are told what we are eating. BEFORE you get cocky though, you are the reason these obscene experiments are taking place. Ask shoppers if they are opposed to GM animals and virtually all will say no. Ask them to choose between Freako GM Chicken at GBP 1 a breast or Free Range Chicken at GBP 1.50 a breast and most will let money overrule their ethics. Government advisers say GM animals are a decade away but we have a Prime Minister who naively thinks "Modern is Good" and "Tradition is Bad". He has a pro-GM science minister in Lord Sainsbury who has helped to bankroll the near bankrupt Labour Party.

 So don't count on them standing up for you when Dubya Bush and American biotech firms come threatening trade wars if we don't buy cows with eight buttocks ("Hey, the rump steaks don't taste of anything but they are cheap"). If only we could genetically modify politicians - and insert a gene which reminds them they are our servants, not our masters.


3. Never mind the labels, GM food is getting everywhere

John  Humphrys
Sunday Times (London) September 8, 2002

Read any good food labels lately? Probably not. Life's too short and anyway the labels are pretty meaningless for those of us who can't tell our soya lethicin from our invert sugar syrup. Unless you suffer from some terrible allergy there seems little point in label-reading. Unless you worry about genetically modified food. In that case the labels will tell you only part of the story. If the tomatoes in the tin or the potatoes on the shelf have been genetically modified, the label will say so. That is the law. But what if food manufacturers use GM oil or GM sugar or GM soya in the process? Then you may never know. Nor will you know if the beef you are eating has been fattened with GM maize or the eggs you are frying come from chickens that were reared on GM feed. The biotech industry and its supporters say there is no point in telling us because there is not a shred of evidence to suggest that milk or cheese from a cow fed GM maize or soya contains any of the modified DNA. Their opponents say we simply don't know that. The process of inserting modified genes is random and the bacterial vehicle that includes the new gene is inherently unstable so nobody really knows where such genes might end up. The government says that in the absence of a physical test it is difficult to see how a labelling rule might be enforced. Then there is the question of food that has been accidentally contaminated with GM material. How much GM content should be allowed before the label tells us? At present the threshold is 1% but the European parliament has voted to reduce it to half that. Its proposals have yet to be accepted. Again, the British government says testing methods are not reliable enough to measure GM content at that level.

You might wonder why I am banging on about such apparently arcane matters. Who cares what the labels say? The answer is that the biotech industry cares very much indeed and so do its opponents. This could be the issue that decides the future of GM food in Europe. More than 50m tons of GM crops are being grown. Apart from the GM cotton, it nearly all ends up in our food one way or the other, either by design - as ingredients - or by accident. If we know it is there we may reject the food. The effect on the industry - already reeling from the European Union's refusal so far to allow the commercial planting of GM crops - would be catastrophic. Certainly the public appears to care. The Consumers' Association has carried out a survey which produced results not unlike an election in the USSR circa 1960. It showed that 94% of us think food containing GM ingredients should be labelled as such. It also found that 87% think the GM identification should appear on the label even if the GM ingredients cannot be detected in the final product. This, says the industry, is absurd and the British government seems to agree. But is it? If you buy eggs labelled as free range there is no test that will show whether the hen which laid them spent her life pecking around the fields or cooped up in some wretched little cage in a battery unit.

 No test will show whether your sirloin steak came from a grass-fed, organically reared Welsh Black or some sad steer reared in a feed lot which scarcely knew what a green field looks like. Nor is there a test to show whether the clotted cream really comes from Devon or the Jersey potatoes from the Channel Islands. Yet we mostly trust what the labels tell us and we are right to do so. There are ways of monitoring the claims of manufacturers at various points in the food chain. There are clear inspection procedures.

 There is a chain of custody. There are laws. None of this would matter if we were not so suspicious of GM food - or "Franken-food" as the tabloid newspaper headlines prefer.

 We simply do not trust it. Is that a rational response to an entirely new technology which does something that nature had never intended, or is it a hysterical reaction whipped up by a group of campaigners who would still have us ploughing fields with oxen and harvesting corn with sickles if they had their way? I wish I knew. Maybe I should remove that last sentence. Columnists are paid to know. A columnist without an iron-clad opinion on everything from the mental state of Tara Palmer-Tomkinson to George Bush's motives for invading Iraq is scarcely worth the ink on his page. I do not know but I can tell you where my instincts lie. On the basis of my own experience and observations I approve of organic farming methods. I am instinctively nervous of any new technology that could go so horribly wrong. But if the risk is small enough and the potential benefits are great enough I am prepared to be persuaded.

 The problem for the biotech industry is that it promised too much right from the beginning. In the brave new world of GM crops, no child would ever need to go hungry because yields would be higher. A new form of "golden" rice would contain vitamins to stop children going blind. The deserts would bloom and sea water could be used to irrigate GM crops. The environment would benefit from fewer chemicals being used. The list of promises was a long one. In the six years since the first GM crops were grown commercially the achievements have been more modest. Opponents such as the Soil Association say the benefits have been negligible and the dangers are as great as ever. Both sides have a list of scientists as long as your arm to support their claims. So how do we know who to believe? I asked ABC, which promotes the biotech industry in Britain, to update the promises and give me its reasons why GM is a good thing. Some of the old promises are still there, although couched in more guarded language. GM "offers opportunities" for environmentally friendly farming and demonstrates "positive benefits for farmland wildlife". Infertile land in developing countries could become productive "with the potential to improve millions of lives". GM "could be" one of the solutions to agriculture's problems. The Soil Association, unsurprisingly, dismisses all that. It claims that most GM crops will increase the use of agrochemicals and thus be bad for the environment and wildlife. GM is "completely unsustainable" for developing countries because such lands need low-cost, low-tech sustainable solutions which do not make the farmer dependent on large foreign companies. GM is not a solution to agriculture's problems but will exacerbate them - not least by producing "super-weeds".

 Then we come back to the problem about the safety of GM food. The industry says 300m tons of GM produce have been consumed around the world since 1995 and "there is no evidence whatsoever" of any harm to human or animal health. The Soil Association says there has been no monitoring for any health effects so it is impossible to make that claim.

 The industry says any GM product entering the market place is more extensively tested than any other product entering the food chain. The Soil Association says GM products have been tested far less even than pesticides and food additives. The final claim made by the industry is that GM crops "allow for greater consumer choice". Real choice, it says, means being free to choose between foods and products. But do we have real choice? If our food contains GM material as a result of accidental contamination and we are not aware of it, how can we choose? You may take the view that less than 1% contamination is insignificant. Or you may take the Soil Association's view that it represents a real threat. You may agree with the industry that beef fed on GM maize or chocolate made with GM oil is indistinguishable from what Great-Aunt Agnes used to eat 50 years ago - or you may not. But that's not really the issue in the great labelling row. With so much GM material being used around the world it is inevitable that we will eat meat and dairy products from animals fed on it and other food that has been contaminated with GM material by mistake. What worries opponents of GM is that the industry will win this war by default.


4. Letters: Salmon farmers are not leaping on GM bandwagon

The Express September 9, 2002

Mountford (Letters, Daily Express, September 5) is quite wrong to state that "fish farmers now want to breed genetically modified super salmon". In fact, Scottish farmers have consistently stated that they are opposed to the introduction of GM fish and can foresee no likelihood of it happening. He is also mistaken in believing that fish farms are overcrowded. Fish only occupy a maximum of two per cent of the space in sea pens and swim freely in the remaining 98 per cent. Scottish Quality Salmon members take great pride in producing salmon to the highest standard of welfare and environmental care. To suggest otherwise is seriously misleading. Brian Simpson, Chief Executive, Scottish Quality Salmon, Perth


5. Britons led Powell jeers at summit

Jonathan Leake, Johannesburg
Sunday Times (London) September 8, 2002

THE protesters who made headlines by humiliating Colin Powell, the United States secretary of state, at the Earth Summit in Johannesburg included some of Britain's most prominent environmentalists. They have formed an international coalition with other radicals and are planning similar actions aimed at embarrassing American leaders whenever they appear in public. The group, led by the British branch of Friends of the Earth (FoE), disrupted Powell's speech last week with jeers and slow handclaps as he addressed the United Nations-sponsored conference. Many official delegates joined in, forcing Powell to stop speaking three times. This weekend the leader of the British protesters was revealed as Tony Juniper, director of FoE for England, Wales and Northern Ireland. A world authority on parrots, he is a veteran of many campaigns, including the Newbury bypass protests of the mid-1990s. At the World Economic Forum summit in Davos last year, he breached police checkpoints to distribute leaflets. He was arrested, taken to a wood by police and made to hug a tree for an hour as punishment. It was Juniper and two FoE colleagues, Craig Bennett, corporates campaigner, and international climate change co-ordinator Kate Hampton, a former model and ballet dancer, who led the slow handclaps and catcalling before starting a mass walkout in Johannesburg. Bennett has campaigned vociferously against oil companies and international mining firms. At Johannesburg he was credited with persuading the conference to adopt clauses for the regulation of big business.

 Juniper said the protest was prompted by a "surge of anger" against the Bush administration: "Almost everything the summit set out to achieve was ruined by Bush's delegation. They treated the conference with contempt so we returned the compliment."

 The summit was meant to draw up plans, with targets and timetables, to bring water, healthcare and education to the 3 billion people living on less than Pounds 1.50 a day, but failed on almost every count. A second group of protesters was led by Mike Green, of the California-based Center for Environmental Health. The CEH delegates smuggled in three large banners reading "Bush: People and Planet - not Big Business", which they started waving as Powell spoke. They were joined by Etienne Vernet, a French activist and founder of the Brazilain pressure group Open Future. UN guards confiscated the banners but the group carried on by chanting "Shame on Bush", a refrain taken up by some delegates. As the summit chairman tried to regain control, Powell told the protesters: "I have heard you. Now will you hear me?" At least two other groups, both from America, staged simultaneous protests. One of the loudest was from the Rainforest Action Network, based in San Francisco.

 Michael Brune, its campaigns director, led the heckling in one section of the hall while women activists, including Jennifer Krill and Alise Hoag, chanted from the other side. A fourth group was organised by Global Exchange, which campaigns for the alleviation of poverty. Many commentators mistook the protests as support for Zimbabwe because they came as Powell criticised President Robert Mugabe for bringing his people to the brink of starvation. Juniper and Green emphasised that this was coincidence. Powell provoked further furious heckling when he criticised Zambia for refusing to accept genetically modified corn as food aid.

 Among the loudest were cries of "bollocks" from several British protesters. He was attacked again when he referred to the Kyoto protocol on limiting greenhouse gases, which America refuses to sign. Powell's claim that the US was committed to solving global warming prompted jeers. "The American delegation refused to talk or to listen. This protest was the only way we could make our anger clear," said Green. Juniper added: "Bush can expect more of these protests unless they change their ways."

 HECKLER: Third World activist Etienne Vernet is escorted from the summit HELD: rainforest campaigner Mike Brune staged one of the loudest protests WALKOUT: Alise Hoag, left, and Jennifer Krill leave the conference in disgust
Pictures: Karel Prinsloo and Saurabh Das


6. EDITORIAL U.S. conscience is clear [shortened]

The Omaha World-Herald , September 5, 2002

Some African nations choose ignorance and death. .....As usual, it is the United States that stepped up to help these countries, not the well-fed European nations that are leading the mob against biotech crops. When that aid is refused by a president who would rather let his people die than believe the sweeping evidence that biotech grains are safe for the vast majority of people - well, the ignorance and callousness are just staggering. The United States can only offer. It should continue to do so. Sad as all of this is, the innocent victims of famine and ignorance are not on America's conscience. Reprinted from The Omaha World-Herald.


7. Chaos, Tragedy, But Globalisation Rolls On

Rowan Callick [shortened]
Australian Financial Review September 7, 2002 Saturday

Europe, using opposition to genetically modified foods as a convenient trade barrier aimed at the US, is providing massive funding for non-government organisations to oppose GM. As a result, countries are spurning precious food aid.


8. Starve for the environment

Andrew Bolt
Herald Sun(Melbourne) September 9, 2002

GREENPEACE'S mad fight against genetically modified food now seems to be killing children. It was bad enough that this multinational cult vowed last year to destroy trial plantings of "golden rice", believed to be able to save 50,000 children a year from going blind. Golden Rice has been genetically engineered to contain extra vitamin A, under a project funded by charities, and the seeds will be distributed free to poor farmers. But Greenpeace has seen Golden Rice only as a threat to its scare campaign against GM foods and opposed it, prompting the rice's inventor, Dr Ingo Potrykus, to accuse it of crimes against humanity. Well, now it gets worse. Greenpeace and other green groups have been accused of spreading their scare campaign to Africa, spooking several southern African nations -- including Zambia and Zimbabwe -- into blocking aid shipments of genetically modified corn, for fear they are "poison". That would be a jolly green thing to do, if it wasn't for the fact that there's a famine raging in these countries now and people are dying for lack of food, while donated GM corn sits locked up in local warehouses. This has appalled the head of the United States Agency for International Development, Andrew Natsios, who at the United Nations Earth Summit in Johannesburg last week went for the throat of Greenpeace and other green groups, who were there, too, spreading their reckless misinformation. "They are using big-time, very well-organised propaganda the likes of which I have never seen before," Natsios said. They "can play these games with Europeans, who have full stomachs, but it is revolting and despicable to see them do so when the lives of Africans are at stake". Natsios said the US was "not going to sit there and let these groups kill millions of poor people in southern Africa through their ideological campaign". But I wish it luck. When US Secretary of State Colin Powell tried telling the Earth Summit last week that the corn was safe, he was howled down by green delegates and their African dupes -- mostly despots, at that. I hardly need add that no person has ever got sick eating GM corn, which has been sold around the world since 1995. Nor has any credible health risk been proven from any GM food.

 But facts don't matter to green fanatics. This is about religion, and to "save" Mother Earth, it hardly seems to matter that poor people must die.

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