ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network
Date:  13 March 2001


ngin comment:  Excellent response from Kate at Gaia to NFU. it concludes that the NFU is acting like:

        "A union which protects the interests of the biotech companies and which pushes
         farmers, real farmers to the brink of extintion.

         "We stand by our press release, Dr Barber and we will take any appropriate action
         that we can to protect the British farming industry and the rural communities that
         depend on it."
*  *  *

Dear Dr Barber

I am pleased that you have received a copy of the press release and that you have taken the time and trouble to reply.  Your comments raise some interesting points that I would like to address.

You say that insurance cover does not as yet extend to GM varieties - which at present are considered non-conventional.  I was under the impression that the biotech companies, regulators - and the NFU - considered these crops to be substantially equivalent to their non- GM counterparts and that there were no additional risks attached to them.  If this is true then they should therefore be just as insurable as their non GM counterparts.

The conclusion I draw from NFU Mutuals refusal to insure against these GM crops is that there are considerable risks attached and  that they are therefore not substantially equivalent.  This would mean that the biotech companies and regulators have persistently lied about their safety,  and that these crops should not be grown in the environment either on an experimental or
commercial  basis until those risks are fully assessed and the crops considered to be safe enough for NFU Mutual to indemnify.

You then state that this situation would relate to non GM crops that were not yet used in normal commercial farming practice.  There are 2 major points to clarify.  Firstly, as you state later, over 100 million acres of these crops were grown on a commercial basis last year alone.  In my opinion ,100 million acres means that these crops are used in normal farming practice.

The second point is that during my recent conversation with many local farmers one thing has become very clear.  Not one of those farmers recalls ever having seen a similar clause relating to non - GM crops.  I would therefore appreciate copies of all previous policies which confirm that this type of clause is common practice.  If it is as common as you say then I trust that you will be
able to readily access this information and forward it to me in the next few days.

I have to strongly disagree with your opinion that what NFU mutual appear to be doing in their document is to warn farmers of this normal uninsured risk so that they can be sure that their growing agreement with the company concerned gives them the protection they may need.  Only a handful of British farmers are taking part in these trials, and they are receiving quite lucrative benefits for hosting them - yet this document is being issued to the thousands and thousands of British farmers who are not growing GM crops.

What of these farmers whose livelihoods are threatened by GM contamination through cross pollination, gene-transfer, loss of market, depreciation of land value etc? These farmers have no growing agreement with any company - so who is going to protect their interests?  The government say it is not their responsibility, SCIMAC say it is not theirs, and the biotech companies absolutely refuse to accept any liability at all.

Where does that leave our farmers Dr Barber?  The NFU has consistently promoted this technology both to the public and to its members yet it will take no action to protect its
members interests.  This is a  despicable, arrogant and treacherous  state of affairs.

This all seems perfectly reasonable to you and hardly warrants the comments we have made in our press release? I disagree Dr Barber, in fact the more I look at the whole situation the more I think that our press release understated the appalling attitude of the NFU and the current situation as a

We are well aware that the farm scale trials are a government-funded programme - another example of wasting taxpayers money.  British agriculture is the same as any other business - it relies on its customers for its success and its profits - yet the NFU persists in promoting a technology that its customers do not want.  There is no point in hoping the consumers will
change their mind about GM, or that the market will be so flooded that there will be no choice.  There are an increasing amount of countries refusing to grow these crops - if we cannot buy British we will buy from elsewhere.  What of our farmers interests then?  Will they all be growing GM crops they cannot sell, will we see farm gate prices drop to an all time low as in the USA and
Canada, will we see more of our farmers go out of business, or so driven to distraction that even more take their lives?

We are not opposed to using genetic science in agriculture Dr Barber, but we are opposed to its misuse and abuse, which is what we have now.  Why is the British NFU so determined to alienate British farmers from consumers by associating them with entrenched support for an unmarketable technology? Why damage the application of science in agriculture by associating it in the
public mind with a hazardous technology? Why not support instead more intelligent applications of genomics and biotechnology that are already making genetically engineered crops look an outmoded liability?  And why Dr Barber is the NFU not taking advantage of the world market for GM free produce - and ensuring that all British produce is GM free.  There is no doubt that this would be in your members interests.

Why are we really having the farm scale evaluations? You say the 'intention of which is to assess the bio-diversity effects of growing GM crops in a normal farming manner.'  A normal farming manner is what they have in the USA and Canada - millions of acres of different GM crops grown side by side.  Not a field here and a field there.  This is not normal farming practice.  To look at the effects on bio-diversity and the agricultural industry all we have to do is look at what is happening in the countries where it has been grown on a commercial basis. And what do we have Dr Barber?  What is happening in the USA and Canada?

Triple resistant canola - instead of decreasing pesticide use farmers are having to resort to more toxic chemicals such as 2-4D - the very chemicals they were trying to avoid in the first place.  Insect resistance increasing at an alarming and unforeseen rate.  Market prices dropping to all time lows, extremely serious problems with marketability, with dozens of countries refusing to buy American soya, maize and canola.  Court cases increasing daily over contracts , lack of segregation, total inability to segregate, increasing costs, decreasing profits, contamination of conventional food, supermarkets and producers withdrawing food off the shelves due to
contamination, and with the Starlink debacle contamination with a crop unapproved for human use.  The list is endless.

Is this what the NFU sees for Britain?  Is this the NFUs vision for British agriculture, is this the way forward to protect the interests of our farmers?

The Canadian NFU has first hand experience of the many problems arising from the commercialisation of GM crops.  So serious are those problems that the NFU in Canada is now calling for a morotorium.

Unless the British NFU learns from the Canadian experience and insists on an immediate halt to the growing of GM crops in this country then it forfeits its right  to call itself the National Farmers Union.  Perhaps it could change its name - the BFU would be more appropriate.  The Biotechnology Farming  Union.  A union which protects the interests of the biotech companies and which pushes  farmers, real farmers to the brink of extintion.

We stand by our press release Dr Barber and we will take any appropriate action that we can to protect the British farming industry and the rural communities that depend on it.

Yours sincerely

Kate O'Connell
The Gaia Trust


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