ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

30 June 2002

HONOURS FOR BIOTECH/SCIENTISTS DISMISS ORGANIC

Amusing to see Blair cast in the Observer piece (item 2) as part of the organic 'axis of influence' that extends into 10 Downing Street where "Tony and Cherie Blair are both converts"!!

Private Eye provides a more reliable guide to the real 'axis of influence' involving no. 10.

For the lowdown on all the organic slanderers, including the Food Standards Agency under Krebs: http://ngin.tripod.com/organic.htm

1. Private Eye - honours for biotech
2. Scientists dismiss farming's organic revolution

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1. Private Eye - honours for biotech

Source: Karly Graham <KarlyGraham@aol.com>
...
Private Eye 28 June - 11 July 2002 (no 1057)
Arise Sir Tim

Article begins:  The Queen's birthday honours gave the clearest indication where Tony Blair's sympathies lie.  Among the plethora of gongs for those in bombs or biotech, there was a single knighthood for a trades unionist.

[Private Eye then notes the knighthood for Tim McKillop of AstraZeneca.
Extract, after para on Arms:]

BIOTECH/DRUGS

Dr Gillian Samuels, European policy director for drug giant Pfizer, got a CBE. Dr Samuels lobbied hard to win the European biotechnology patents directive, which allows firms to copyright parts of existing living plants, animals and even people. Thanks to her, the EU now recognises bio-piracy.

Labour's commitment to biotech went beyond these shores too, with OBEs for Dr Alison Taunton-Rigby and Dr Sally Ryan, two biotech businesswomen in the US.

Former Monsanto director Dr Ryan runs Avant Immunotherapaeutics, a firm profiting from anthrax vaccine for American soldiers.  Dr Taunton-Rigby runs Aquila Biopharmaceuticals. Together they work hard in America's biotech trade organisations; and they told visiting British MPs how "alarmed" they were at the prospect of the "ill informed non-scientific debate" in the UK infecting America where the biotech industry has an easier ride.

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2. Scientists dismiss farming's organic revolution

Source: GM-ACT  Posted: Roger Mainwood <roger.mainwood@virgin.net>

Here is a curious piece from the Observer linked to no particular news item, other than another Prince Charles speech.

It claims "Scientists dismiss farming's organic revolution " and also that... a Soil Association insider "warns the organic sector not to dismiss the potential benefits of the biotech revolution".

There is also an unamed  "senior source from the Royal Agricultural Society of England" who has a pop at organic farming.

The are only two actual scientists named. One is the arch pro-GM, anti-organic Professor Tony Trewavas of the University of Edinburgh who we are all familiar with. [http://ngin.tripod.com/trewavas.htm]

The other is  Professor Michael Wilson, chief executive of the government-backed Horticultural Research Unit.

Prof Wilson has a track record of pro-GM spin and planned the closure of a highly regarded non-GM research centre according to http://members.tripod.com/~ngin/pants5.htm

If anyone wants to respond to this article the Observer letters page is letters@observer.co.uk

Roger

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Scientists dismiss farming's organic revolution

Prince Charles and the Blairs support green farming but critics say its methods are flawed
Is organic food worth it? Have your say
by Mark Townsend
The Observer , Sunday June 30, 2002

Prince Charles will issue a rallying call tomorrow for more British farmers to join the organic food revolution, in spite of warnings from scientists that consumers are victims of an 'economic sales gimmick' that is conning the public into paying up to 40 per cent more than they pay for conventional products.

In a speech at Britain's biggest agricultural show, Charles will recall a time when food production was dominated by family-run smallholdings offering fresh, local produce.

But an Observer investigation has revealed fierce criticism from scientists, who claim the movement is a con trick that is misleading millions of British consumers. According to influential experts, the central message of the organic food industry - that its products are better for us than conventional produce - remains unsupported by scientific evidence.

Even the Government's food safety watchdog, the Food Standards Agency, has failed to find evidence to substantiate claims that organic food is nutritionally superior.

Despite remaining a niche market - accounting for just 1 per cent of food and drink sales in the UK and only 3 per cent of agricultural land - the political influence of the organic sector is growing.

'Their level of influence is completely disproportionate to the scientific backing; it is cleverly sold as a lifestyle package,' said one senior source from the Royal Agricultural Society of England, which is hosting the Royal Show in Warwickshire, where Charles will speak.

Critics point to an 'axis of influence' running from the Prince of Wales's country residence, Highgrove, to the heart of the organic lobby, the Soil Association, and into 10 Downing Street - Tony and Cherie Blair are both converts. Senior figures from the Soil Association have met officials from Downing Street half a dozen times and have had two meetings with Tony Blair, one at Chequers, the Prime Minister's country house.

A fortnight ago the Soil Association's director Patrick Holden and the charity's policy director Lord Melchett, a former Labour Minister and director of Greenpeace, met Ministers from the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to discuss support for the organic sector.

The Government is preparing a massive funding package for the organic sector. An action plan to be announced next month is likely to support a doubling of the UK's current organic production. Britain already has the fastest growing organic market in Europe, with the value of the market rising by 33 per cent from £605 million to £802m between 2000 and 2001. The number of organic businesses was up from 1,100 to 1,675.

But there is also mounting concern over the chemicals and residues allowed in organic produce. Professor Tony Trewavas of the University of Edinburgh's department of cell and molecular biology claimed that pesticides used by organic farmers are no less harmful than those used conventionally.

He questions why the organic lobby still permits the use of copper sulphate, which has been linked to liver damage in vineyard workers and is set to be banned by the European Commission after 2002; of rotenone, which has potential links to Parkinson's disease; and of BT spores, which research has shown causes fatal lung infections in mice.

Professor Michael Wilson, chief executive of the government-backed Horticultural Research Unit, said: 'The view of molecular scientists and biochemists is that the pro-organic lobby support their message with scare stories designed to scare the public and promote their products.

'To senior academic colleagues, that is crossing the line into unethical behaviour. If you stick to the science, organic farms produce lower yields and more pests and there is no evidence to substantiate their claims.'

One Soil Association insider suggests that the ethos behind the organic movement contains flaws. He believes the movement tends to rely on old science as opposed to recent technological breakthroughs and warns the organic sector not to dismiss the potential benefits of the biotech revolution. He also expressed concern about the price premium of organic food.

A spokesman for the Soil Association insisted that organic produce offers health benefits compared to conventional food, and was grown in a more environmentally friendly way.

A letter from Holden in last week's Grocer magazine states that an 'informed army of consumers who are prepared to pay more for high quality food' is one way to ensure farmers can escape from low produce prices.

Recently the FSA asked the Soil Association to back up claims that their produce offers more health benefits compared to conventional food. 'Their science didn't hold. They are selling it as a lifestyle and an awful lot of people will follow that,' said a spokesman.

The FSA will conduct an inquiry in the autumn into whether the organic sector should be allowed to claim its products represent a healthier option for consumers. Wilson, who has been asked to chair the inquiry, has £5m of funding to investigate all available science into the sector.

The organics movement is in danger of becoming a victim of its success and claims that supermarkets are squeezing margins for farmers as they attempt to drive prices down. Even its fiercest proponents warn that the 'chocolate box' image is under threat if multiples succeed in gaining complete control of the supply chain.

'We could end up being forced to compromise, end up cost-cutting and end up eroding the trust of the consumer we have built up over 25 years,' said Holden.

Britain's largest supermarket chain, Tesco, which has seen its organic sector boom from £33m to £240m since 1998 and forecasts it will hit £1bn by 2006, admitted that it is increasingly resorting to bigger suppliers to cope with demand. High consumer demand means more than 70 per cent of organic food is imported and fears are growing that some European produce may not match Soil Association standards.

Last month Germany's organic movement - which the government has placed at the centre of a radical new agricultural policy ­ was rapidly undermined when a cancer-causing weedkiller was found in organically-grown wheat.

The European Institute of Public Administration will today hold a conference designed to restore consumer confidence in organic foods, although organisers said no British groups have expressed an interest. Instead, the Soil Association will be mingling with Prince Charles among the throng of farmers, many of whom remain privately furious with the organic industry for claiming that their food is healthier.

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