LUKE ANDERSON AT PUBLIC MEETING + transcript url
We’ve just put a full TRANSCRIPT on the ngin website of a PUBLIC MEETING on FARM-SCALE TRIALS of GENETICALLY MODIFIED CROPS held at BRISLEY VILLAGE HALL, NORFOLK in September 2000 at: http://members.tripod.com/~ngin/brisley.htm
It’s a good read. The speakers were:
Luke Anderson, author and lecturer
Dr Jeremy Bartlett, background in plant genetics
Richard Powell, Novartis Seeds
Dr Mike May, Institute of Arable Crops Research
We previously excerpted some pointed exchanges between Drs May and Bartlett
about science and spin. Below are some of Luke Anderson’s very well-received
contributions to the meeting.
Also to be found in the transcript is some interesting discussion of the winter use of glufosinate-ammonium (Liberty).
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Well, it may not have escaped your attention that the biotech industry share the same philosophy. Almost overnight in 1996 when the first shipments of soy arrived from the United States, more than 60% of all our processed food contained one or more genetically engineered ingredients. It was presented to us as a fait accompli - it’s here, it’s arrived, it’s going to be here to stay and you can do nothing about it. No public consultation whatsoever. In fact, in the United States the biotechnology industry organisation said they hoped that within 5-10 years some 90-95% of all plant-derived food will be genetically engineered.
We heard in May this year that Advanta Seeds had - there’d been a contamination
of their supposedly non-genetically engineered oilseed rape crop and that
last year and this year it had been planted on thousands of hectares across
Europe and in the United Kingdom. And not only that, but contrast
to the 50 metre barrier distances which our government requires around
these farmscale trials, they were actually growing this non-genetically
engineered seed 4000 metres, according to their records, 4000 metres away
from the nearest genetically engineered crop, and still there were quite
high levels of contamination. So it just shows how readily the cross
pollination, the gene transfer can occur. And these so-called mistakes
have been occurring not just in Europe and in the United Kingdom but all
around the world - countries such as Thailand and Australia, in Canada
and the United States etc.
So here we are. We’re being told first of all - by the way, cross-pollination, it doesn’t really happen you know, the seed industry established these barrier distances, they’ve known for years and years; they’ve got it down to a T; it’s incredibly pure, there’s almost nothing can happen - and then the government’s own tests show that actually a great deal of pollination can happen at these distances. I mean, just down the road from where I live, the government had the wisdom to plant a test site of genetically engineered maize right next-door to the country’s largest organic vegetable farm, growing organic sweetcorn, and he was told that if there was any evidence of cross-pollination that he would lose his organic status.
And so we asked the Government to stop this planting from going ahead, and they consulted with the Advisory Committee on Releases into the Environment, and ACRE said that they thought that at 275 metres the likelihood of cross-pollination was probably about one in thirty thousand kernels of the organic sweetcorn might have been cross-pollinated. Well, we thought that this was an extraordinary figure for them to have come up with. In fact, according to their Minutes, many of their members thought that this estimate was too high. And so we asked Jean Emberlin from the National Pollen Research Institute at the University of Worcester to just trawl the scientific databases, you know, something that was readily accessible and that the Advisory Committee could easily have done and see what she thought the estimates would’ve been. And she said that in a moderate to high wind speed, she thought it was more in the order of one in ninety three kernels (as compared to one in thirty thousand). So little wonder that people have not a great deal of faith in the supposedly independent Advisory Committee.
We hear that genetically engineered food is exactly the same as any other. And in fact this is the basis for international risk assessment of genetically engineered food. It was announced in the United States by the then Vice President Dan Quayle as quote “regulatory relief for the industry”. The US Congress was anxious that over-regulation would suffocate the young industry so they decided that unless a genetically engineered food were nutritionally different in a very major way, unless it contained genes from things like peanuts, which are already known to cause allergic reactions, there would actually be no need for safety testing. The theory was - genetically engineered food is ‘substantially equivalent’ to non-genetically engineered food - therefore it’s safe, therefore it doesn’t need to be safety tested.
Well one of the interesting things about this is that when it comes to safety testing, the biotech industry is very quick to say it’s exactly the same, it’s no different from its conventional counterpart. And yet when it comes to the field of intellectual property rights however, they say ‘Well actually it’s unique, it’s different, it’s never existed before - therefore we deserve the right to patent it as a new invention’. And so thousands of years of plant breeding by countless generations of farmers have been hijacked in a very short period of time by the biotech industry, because with these patents they can demand exclusive monopoly rights to these genetically engineered crops.
We’re not just talking about single varieties, we’re talking about whole - for example, Monsanto in fact, first of all it was a company called Agracetus has a patent on all genetically engineered cotton - the whole lot in one block - that was quite a win, and Monsanto was actually one of the companies to complain the loudest that this patent lacked obviously an inventive step and it was too broad. But in the end the solution for Monsanto was to buy Agracetus and to drop the complaint. And in fact this consolidation - buying up seed companies, buying up biotech companies, is one of the key features of this whole debate. The five companies - Monsanto, Novartis, AstraZeneca, Aventis and Dupont that control pretty much 100% of the trade in genetically engineered seed also control 60% of the global pesticide market. Interesting to note when we’re told that this is being done to reduce the amount of chemicals being used. These companies don’t want to see you using no chemicals - they want to see you using their chemicals.
And so Aventis, the company behind the glufosinate resistant crops have actually increased their production facilities for glufosinate ammonium, production facilities in Germany and the United States and they expect increased sales of £560m over the next 5-7 years, in conjunction with the sale of these herbicide resistant crops. So they control 60% of the global pesticide market, and they also control 23% of the commercial seed market because they’ve been buying so many seed companies recently, which I think presents another interesting discussion in the, sort of, whole realm of choice. What choice are farmers going to have if there are fewer and fewer options for them to buy seed?
Speeding through, because I’ve only got a couple of minutes, you know,
this Feed the World argument, which the industry churns out again and again,
is clearly disingenuous. According the United Nations World Food
Programme, we are already producing enough food to feed one and a half
times the world’s population. Clearly if there was the political
will to feed people, we already could. And Monsanto articulated the
sort of the industry position in their 1998 advertising campaign when they
came to the UK. You might remember it in the weekend newspapers when
they said “slowing the acceptance of biotechnology is a luxury that the
hungry world cannot afford”. Well, it so happened that there was
a meeting of the United Nations Food and Agricultural organisation as these
adverts were coming out, and the delegates representing the African countries
there were so outraged at the statements being made on their behalf that
they decided to issue a formal statement of their own to the press, in
which I think they made their position fairly clear. And this was
signed by 24 delegates from 18 African countries. They said, I quote:
“We strongly object to the image of the poor and hungry from our countries
being used by giant multi-national corporations to push a technology that
we believe is neither safe, environmentally friendly nor economically beneficial
to us”. And they went on to say:
“We do not believe that such companies or such gene technologies will help us to provide the food needed in the 21st century. On the contrary, we believe that they will destroy the diversity, the local knowledge systems and the sustainable agricultural practices that we’ve been developing for millennia and that they will thus undermine our capacity to feed ourselves”.
So coming to these farmscale trials, these are being presented to us as the be all and end all, as Jeremy already described. And they’re not so much a scientific experiment, I would suggest, as a social experiment. Can we convince a sceptical public, through conducting some rather short-term trials that are going to tell us not very much about long term incremental effects on biodiversity, that this is going to answer all their questions and all their concerns. And in fact, as soon as anyone raises an object to these trials, we are shouted down by the Government and industry as being unscientific. Well… My time’s out. I would just like to pose one question because I frequently come to these meetings - these meetings, as they appear around the country, have been characterised by fierce local opposition. Would people representing the Government or Novartis seed, agree or accept some kind of provision whereby the local people could actually veto or allow the trials based on their decision, based on the information they’re able to access, and their considerations as to the economic impact on their crops or their livelihoods, be they farmers or just local concerned people? Is that something that you would welcome?
Secondly, in terms of the environmental effects, similarly very little, if any, actual ecological monitoring is taking place. If you look at the trials that are taking place in this country, the National Seed List trials for example, they don’t really ask ecological questions. They’re very basic questions, such as, you know, is it maintaining it’s stability etc. And even then we’re seeing that in many cases it’s not. That’s part of the problem with genetic engineering is there can be a range of unpredictable effects as Professor Richard Lewontin, who’s Professor of Genetics at Harvard University, quote: ‘We have such a miserably poor understanding of how an organism develops from it’s DNA that I would be surprised if we don’t get one rude shock after another’. While the latest edition of Nature Biotechnology explained what one of these effects of unpredictability might be. They found that when the genetically engineered oilseed rape, herbicide resistant oilseed rape which has got a promoter - that’s a kind of a switch that helps the new gene to be switched on inside the new crop, that comes actually from the Cauliflower Mosaic virus - when that crop, the genetically engineered crop, was infected by the Cauliflower Mosaic virus, it affected the herbicide resistance gene so that it wasn’t expressed any more. And the crop was no longer resistant to herbicide. That’s one effect of something that can happen.
And similarly we’ve heard about these tens of thousands of acres of
genetically engineered cotton which failed and Monsanto had to pay millions
and millions of dollars in compensation payments ? something which we‘re
not told very often. And yet we’re also hearing that, OK so in a
period of climatic stress for example when it’s hot, the genetically engineered
crop might not function, you know, might be affected. And yet we’re
seeing trees, which have a lifetime of about you know, say for example
about a hundred years, potentially being commercialised in about two years
time. So how do we know what kind of range of different temperature
extremes or other kinds of stresses that tree might be subject to and therefore
the way that it could express the new genetically modified, you know whatever,
construct over the life-span of that tree? There’s so many questions
that aren’t being asked. These insect resistant crops for example
which are being planted on millions of acres ? we’re already seeing insect
resistance developing in the target insect populations so, is this really
a sustainable long-term solution when you’re seeing insect resistance building
up after just two to three years?
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Second thing is that I think people are already volunteering to take part in the trials, and we’re seeing them being pulled up all around the country, and the third thing is that we’ve got a winter oilseed rape that’s going to be planted here, with a chemical being used, glufosinate, which hasn’t actually received approval from the Pesticides Safety Directorate to be used in this time frame. Between September and May it’s actually prohibited to use this chemical because it leaches into groundwater and because it’s toxic. And so what is the point in going ahead with taxpayers money with farmscale trials of a crop resistant to a chemical that’s not actually been allowed to be used in that time frame?
R Powell Yes exactly…
[laughter & talking]
…no, no question of that. Novartis, Novartis products are GM free.
Ovaltine - GM free.
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The second point is the feeding the world stuff. I mentioned earlier the United Nations World Food Programme says we’re already producing enough food to feed one and a half times the world population, yet we’ve got one in seven people in the world suffering from hunger. Now the causes of hunger are, of course, like I said before as well, political. They are fact that Third World Countries are crippled by Third World debt, for example. According to the World Bank and OECD statistics, from 1997, for every dollar that was given in aid to Third World countries, they paid back $6.32. Which works out at $836.2 million every day, just over a third of which was servicing their interest, as Louis da Silva, head of the Brazilian Workers Party said: the third world war’s already started ? it’s got as its main weapon interest, more deadly than the atom bomb, more shattering than the laser beam.
And so under the International Monetary Fund, these countries, in order to service their debt, have to gear their agricultural systems towards growing export crops so that we can have luxury vegetables all year round. So you’ve got the appalling situation where countries like Brazil by the mid 90s for example was the world’s third largest food exporter - and yet 70 million Brazilians can’t afford enough to eat. In Ethiopia during the 1984 famine, you’ll remember the images, Live Aid, all the rest of it, all the starving people, well actually some of their best agricultural land that year was being used to grow linseed, cotton seed and canola to feed livestock in Europe, as well as exporting fruit, meat and vegetables. So that’s something that needs to be tackled if we’re going to feed people.
We also need to tackle landlessness. The fact that 8 out of 10 farmers in central America don’t have access to enough land on which to feed their families and yet you’ve got huge areas of land going unused either because commodity prices are too low or held for land speculation. And yet, all of these solutions to hunger are not politically very savoury in a global corporate capitalist economy because it’s all about power relationships. And, you know, it’s in our interest to maintain power relationships through economic systems which keep the Third World at their knees so that we can support our totally unsustainable lifestyles. So, yes we could feed the world if we wanted to. The argument that some kind of biotechnological panacea is the best or even a necessary way to solve this just diverts attention from the real causes of hunger. And I think that this is actually criminal.
Yes, the second thing is it’s not surprising that the industry and governments aren’t willing to accept the value of truly sustainable agriculture systems because they empower communities to feed themselves and it’s very difficult to make money out of that. And yet they’re incredibly successful. 223,000 farmers in Brazil, for example - they’ve doubled their yields of corn and wheat with sustainable agricultural techniques. 45,000 in Guatamala and Honduras - they’ve tripled their yields of corn. It’s encouraged re-migration back out of the cities. I could go on, example after example. And yet what we see actually being promoted by Government, for example the United States government jointly together with Delta & Pine Land, a company which already controls more that 70% of the cotton seed market in the United States, is a development of the Terminator technology which has not, contrary to public rumour, been dropped. The only thing that happened is that Monsanto couldn’t afford to buy Delta & Pine Land and then made a lot of publicity out of it. The United States Dept of Agriculture is still going ahead with this technology. It’s prime target - it genetically disables the plant so it’s incapable of producing fertile seed - and USDA freely admits the prime target is second and third world countries - 1.4 billion farming households depend on farm-saved seed - and the prime purpose, to increase the competitiveness of US based seed corporations. So if we look at what’s actually going on, it’s not about feeding people, it’s about profit.
Well, there’s nothing wrong with profit. If the village shop doesn’t make a profit, it’s not
Anon I don’t think
he was talking about profit, he was talking about greed.
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There is a DETR leaflet at
the back which will explain precisely what these trials are for.
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And that’s not really the point that supermarkets can test for it. The fact is that these crops could, you know for example, they could be de-tassled before pollen is being released. Male, sterile varieties could be being used. Are they taking these precautions? No they’re not. They’re using varieties which do produce pollen, which are cross-pollinating other crops. And then you’ve already let the cat out of the bag, you know, these are living organisms. What are you going to say - whoops I’m sorry? You know, that’s what Advanta are saying - whoops I’m sorry. Monsanto are saying with the cotton - we are just hearing in Greece they are destroying, what 9,000 hectares or acres of cotton because that was ‘accidentally’ mixed up. And everywhere around the world it’s being ‘accidentally’mixed up. And then people are just going to be told, well I’m sorry - it’s too late now, you’re just going to have to accept it because it’s everywhere and it’s inevitable. So what’s really going on here? The fact is that people aren’t getting any choice.
So right the way through, whether it’s at European level, at the government level in this country, or indeed in our local communities, it seems there is very little regard for what people actually think. And there’s a great deal of complacency in those companies that are behind the trial because they’ve already - they’re already sitting in the positions of power. They already know that this is going ahead. GeneWatch produced a report just a couple of days ago about how Monsanto’s actually placing people, or helping to place people, on key international regulatory bodies. So they’ve got the whole thing stitched up. And the last thing they want is this minor irritation called The Public to stand in their way. Well I would encourage you to certainly stand in their way if you so choose. And just to remember as well, we hear a lot of talk about direct action and about, you know, eco-terrorists and all the rest of it. Well the biotech companies are certainly taking direct action by planting these genetically engineered crops, and releasing them into the environment. [applause]