24 September 2002
PHIL CHANDLER'S SPEECH AT BBKA CONFERENCE ON GMO-FREE HONEY
The following is the prepared text for the speech given by Philip Chandler, who attended the recent British Bee Keepers Association Conference on GMO-free Honey as the representative of Devon Bee Keepers Association.
BBKA, 20 September 2002
Managing Director, Wholesome Food Association
representing Devon Beekeepers Association
Mr Chairman, fellow beekeepers,
I would imagine that most of you have become aware of the issues surrounding the genetic manipulation of food and crops through your interest in beekeeping.
For me, it was the other way around. For about four years, I have been following closely the activities of the GM industry. I have also been actively involved in the campaign to defeat their repeated attempts to force their products into the marketplace against the wishes of the British public. Survey after survey has consistently shown that consumers do not want to eat GM food. For example, the 2001 Eurobarometer Survey revealed that 94% of Europeans want the right to choose whether or not they eat GM food and 71% donít want to eat it at all.
This very morning, Friends of the Earth released a survey, which shows that 63% of people questioned, who buy honey, want it to be completely free of GM materials.
During the last four years, I became more aware than I had previously been of the true importance of honey bees, not only to agriculture, but to the entire British ecological system.Most of you here are much more experienced as beekeepers than I am, so I will not presume to lecture you further on this subject.
However, I would like to remind you just how important you all are to the present and future health and well-being of our precious natural environment. Right now, you all here - plus a handful of dedicated campaigners - are all that stands between the likes of Aventis and Monsanto and their plans to dominate not only the agriculture of this country but also the food chain - from top to bottom - of the entire nation.
Without the co-operation of beekeepers, Aventis will not be able to persuade farmers to grow their GM oilseed rape.Because, without pollination by bees, their plants will produce lower yields than standard varieties and therefore farmers will have no interest in growing them. I suggest that this is the true reason that the biotech industry is so keen to persuade us that GM crops are harmless to bees, contrary to the opinions of many eminent, independent scientists.
I have spent a great deal of time during the last couple of weeks trying to discover if there is any published, independent, peer-reviewed research that demonstrates beyond reasonable doubt that GM crops are harmless to bees. I have spoken to scientists and I have spent a lot of time trawling the Internet for information. As a result, I can say with some confidence that there is no published research anywhere to be found.
Such research that has been done seems to show that GM pollen can indeed be harmful to bees. According to one French study, bees fed on GM pollen had a reduced life expectancy of up to 30%. They also had a tendency to lose their sense of direction and become unable to find their hive. I don't need to spell out to you what that would mean to the ability of a colony to thrive.
Many public and professional bodies have concerns about the safety of certain aspects of genetic manipulation. The British Medical Association, on 14 June this year, said: "In our report 'The impact of genetic modification on agriculture, food and health: an interim statement' (1999) the BMA stated that there should be a ban on the use of antibiotic resistance marker genes in GM food. The risk to human health from antibiotic resistance developing in micro-organisms is one of the major public health threats that will be faced in the 21st century. The risk that antibiotic resistance may be passed on to bacteria affecting human beings, through marker genes in the food chain, is one that cannot at present be ruled out."
If Aventis wish to convince us that their crops are really as safe as they claim, then they should produce the peer-reviewed, independent research to prove it. Mere assertion, especially by an industry notorious for being 'economical with the truth', is not enough.
The theme for this afternoonís debate is: "Is there an acceptable definition for GM-free honey? And if so, what is it?'
I would like to suggest to you that an acceptable definition of GM-free honey might be: "honey that is produced by bees hived at least 6 miles from known sources of GM pollen". We cannot be expected to test our honey for GMOs. Neither can we be expected to conduct surveys of the 100+ square miles of farmland within a 6 mile radius of our hives to make sure it is free from GM crops.
And I would further suggest that, rather than beekeepers being under an obligation to move their hives away from GM crops, the onus should be on the growers to ensure that they do not plant GM varieties within 6 miles of apiaries and there to be legal redress for beekeepers against growers who do not comply.
The biotech industry has consistently fought against any proposal to make them legally liable for any damage to the environment, to people or indeed to bees. It is time they were called to account. If they insist that their products are harmless, as they always have done, then they should have no objection to assuming responsibility for any damages caused by their cultivation.
Roger Holby, a beekeeper from Gloucestershire (is he present?), is quoted in today's Friends of the Earth survey as saying: "The results of this poll confirm what most beekeepers already know. Consumers want their honey to be GM-free. Beehives are already moved six miles from any GM test sites to reduce the risk of contamination - and the beekeepers foot the bill for this. Why is it that the biotech companies, who cause the problem, escape scot-free? If GM seeds are commercialised, customers will either have to accept GM contamination, or bee keepers in this country will be out of a job."
According to a report by the independent watchdog Corporate Watch, 'Aventis aims to use a combination of size, financial brute force and greenwash to force the widespread take-up of GM crops.'
This conference - grossly biased though it is - is a unique opportunity for beekeepers to voice their opinions and concerns about genetic interference with our food and our environment. It is an opportunity to stand up to the corporate bullies and to tell the government that we will use every means at our disposal to ensure that British honey remains GM free.
Finally, I would like to quote from one of my favourite writers and poets, a mid-western farmer by the name of Wendell Berry:
To put the bounty and the health of our land,
our only commonwealth, into the hands of people
who do not live on it and share its fate
will always be an error.
For whatever determines the fortune of the land
determines also the fortune of the people.
If history teaches anything, it teaches that.
Thank you, Mr Chairman.
Wholesome Food Association web site: www.wholesomefood.org
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