ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network
25 August 2002


"The UK has the softest stance on GM in the EU, and is the only country where widespread GM crop tests are ongoing. " (from item 3)

1. Revolving door from DFID to agribiz
3. Bush baits Brussels over GM crops


1. Revolving door from DFID to agribiz

City diary by Richard Adams, Guardian City Pages
The Guardian (London) August 23, 2002

We should applaud when someone moves to pastures new, so let's hear it for Andrew Bennett, off to a new job next month as director of the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture.

This cuddly sounding organisation is in fact funded by biotech company Syngenta, the Swiss company heavily involved in genetically modified food, and its projects involve preaching the benefits of Syngenta's products to developing nations.

What's interesting about Bennett is that until taking Syngenta's bio-shilling, he was director of rural livelihoods and environment for Clare Short's Department for International Development, and an influential ministerial adviser.

At DFID, Bennett was a leading defender of the department's highly controversial support for the Vision 2020 project in India - which critics say will force huge upheaval (and GM crops) on the Andhra Pradesh region.

Bennett was harshly critical of a unflattering report on the project by two research centres, which led to DFID coming down like a ton of bricks on them.

Now, however, Bennett has left through the revolving door that runs from DFID to the agribusiness sector.


2. GM farm debate will be a sham, say experts

DAILY MAIL (London), August 22, 2002

PROMISES by the Government of an independent national debate on GM farming are a sham, say its own advisers.

 Ministers are trying to put the Central Office of Information in charge of the debate, rather than the independent Agricultural Environment & Biotechnology Commission. This has raised fears that publicity material and opinion polls will be skewed to produce a pro-GM result. Agriculture Secretary Margaret Beckett is also accused of rushing through the debate before the results of key farm scale trials are known. She is asking for a report on the national consultation to be on her desk by June next year.

 But the trial results - including their impact on the countryside - will not be known until July. Also, the agriculture department DEFRA has allocated just GBP 250,000 to the debate. The AEBC, which advises Ministers on GM, considers this too little to produce the necessary public information material, such as videos. Commission chairman Professor Malcolm Grant was asked by the agriculture department to head a committee directing the debate - an appointment expected to be rubber-stamped by the AEBC last month. However, it has now emerged this has been put on hold amid concerns about Government attempts to hijack the debate. A DEFRA insider admitted: 'The AEBC does not want to lend its name to anything which is not a genuine and independent attempt to assess public attitudes. 'I can quite understand why they are concerned that the public will be suspicious if a Government department like the Central Office of Information is put in charge. 'The COI is effectively the Government's spin machine. If it was put in charge, the results of any national debate would be tainted. 'AEBC members fear this debate will be a sham if the Government pushes ahead on the current lines.'

 Friends of the Earth GM campaigner Pete Riley said: 'The AEBC originally proposed that the Government should host an independently-run, wide-ranging public debate on GM crops and food to provide information for the Government when they finally decide on the commercialisation of GM crops in the UK. 'It now seems that a major Government agency in the shape of the COI is muscling in and the debate will be over and done with before the results of the farm scale trials are even published.'

 DEFRA said: 'The COI will just be a conduit for the AEBC, it will not be running the national debate.'

 A spokesman said there would be ample opportunity for the public to discuss implications of farm scale trials, even if the official debate process had ended.


3. Bush baits Brussels over GM crops

By Jason Nissé, The Independent (UK), 25 August 2002

The US government is to launch a trade war over GM crops in an attempt to force the European Union to back down in its tough stance against GM.

The Independent on Sunday has learnt that the US trade representative, Robert Zoellick, is putting in a complaint to the World Trade Organisation claiming that the EU moratorium on GM imports and crop-testing is a restraint of trade. His action is being backed by Monsanto, the US biotechnology group that has been at the centre of the development of GM crops.

It is frustrated by the byzantine structure of product authorisation in the EU, which has effectively stopped the development and testing of GM crops in Europe.

Under the existing structure seven EU states - France, Italy, Austria, Denmark, Greece, Luxembourg and Belgium - have joined together since 1998 to block all new product authorisations for GM oil-seed rape, maize, sugar beet and the like being imported from the US. Only US soya, which was approved prior to 1998, is allowed to be sold in the EU.

The European Commission has already admitted that this "de facto moratorium" on the import of GM products from the US, which has been in place since 1998, is probably illegal. It is planning to replace it with an updated, and likely to be tougher, general directive on GM products.

This will be discussed at an EU Council of Environment Ministers, due to be held on 17 October.

A source in the biotechnology industry said: "We are praying that Margaret Beckett [Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs] attends rather than Michael Meacher [the environment minister] as she is much more sympathetic to our cause and will stand up against the hard line taken in Europe."

The UK has the softest stance on GM in the EU, and is the only country where widespread GM crop tests are ongoing. This testing programme ran into controversy earlier this month when it emerged that the wrong seeds were planted at 14 sites being run by Aventis Crops Sciences, a subsidiary of the German chemical group, Bayer.

The 17 October meeting has been given extra spice by the intervention of the US. It has told the World Trade Organisation that the blocking of new product approvals on GM products is a restraint of trade, and wants sanctions brought against the EU. At the same time the WTO is considering a complaint by the EU, which says that US tariffs on steel also break international trade rules. The Bush government softened its steel stance late last week.

The action by Mr Zoellick has been seen by the GM crops industry as an about- turn by the Bush administration, which is far less sympathetic to the industry than the previous Clinton government. The US intervention, however, has not been entirely welcomed by the GM industry.

Paul Rylott, head of bioscience at Aventis Crop Sciences, said that "it may help to lance the boil in the short term" but that the EU was getting to the point where it would consider softening its stance on GM. "We'd prefer the debate to go forward with a consensus rather than being steam-rollered," he added.

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