It may well be dangerous – and it is about to enter our food chain
Genetically modified food is coming to Britain. Two applications for the approval of GM animal feed are reaching their final stages in Brussels. This will lead to their import into the UK, and into the human food chain. The 1998 moratorium put in place by the EU to prevent this is being broken.
One of these applications concerns Syngenta Bt 11 GM sweetcorn. It failed to get a majority vote in the EU agricultural ministers’ council but, following ministerial deadlock, it has now been approved by the commission itself (as Ukip might note). The second application is for Monsanto NK 603 GM maize, which is being introduced under the novel foods regulations. It also failed to get a majority vote in the EU’s scientific regulatory committee. Ministers will now decide and, if they don’t agree, the commission will take the decision.
The safety of GM food remains a very open question. And one is not encouraged when the guardian of our food safety, the Food Standards Agency, and particularly its chairman, John Krebs, is so strongly pro-GM. They naively rely on company data to prove the safety of GMOs, despite numerous reports which have revealed the dubious credibility of company studies. The FSA has also focused mainly on the safety of inserted GM material, and neglected the inherent risks of the gene insertion process itself, such as the production of new toxins and allergens.
This is a remarkable omission given that the GM process is so new. GM introduces genes from other species, even distant ones, which nature would never do. It also breaks up nature’s all-important sequencing of the genes. Making a GM plant thus involves breaking and joining the DNA at random locations. This leads to substantial scrambling of both foreign and host DNA, which can produce abnormalities in animals and unexpected toxins and allergens in food crops.
The genetic material of any species can be recombined and transferred in the lab. Genes and new combinations can be introduced into our environment and food chain that have never previously existed. Indeed, GM DNA is often designed to cross species barriers. Its structural instability enhances horizontal gene transfer and recombination, the very process that creates new diseases and spreads antibiotic and drug resistance.
Against this background it is almost incredible, but true, that there have been no peer-reviewed clinical studies on the human health effects of GM food. Instead, when the biotech companies manufacture a new GM product, they compare it with its non-GM counterpart in terms of nutrients, toxins and allergens, and if they allege it to be “substantially equivalent”, they deem it to be safe. Such an assumption would never be allowed in the regulation of pesticides or drugs. It is simply a device to circumvent direct trials of the effects of GM foods on human health, and ensures that GM crops can be patented without even animal testing.
In the tiny number of cases where tests have been carried out, the results have been worrying. A study in August 1998 by Dr Arpad Pusztai in Aberdeen found that young rats fed GM potatoes for just 10 days developed growth-like thickening of the stomach and intestinal lining. Could the overgrowth of the gut lining be a prelude to cancer? This was highly threatening to the biotech industry, but rather than pursue these questions, the research was closed down, and Pusztai vilified and hounded out of his job.
In a study at Newcastle University in 2002, volunteers were fed a single meal of GM soya. The GM DNA was found not to have been digested, as scientists had claimed it would be, but to have survived and transferred to the gut bacteria, which could compromise antibiotic resistance. In the US in 2000 many food products were accidentally contaminated with GM StarLink maize, and it caused allergic reactions in 50 Americans, some life-threatening. Recently in Germany 12 cows died after eating Syngenta’s GM Bt 176 maize, and the company paid the farmer compensation.
None of these results, which were rubbished by the scientific establishment, have ever been followed up by further research. Where research has been done, the results are sometimes suppressed. A study of GM Chardon LL maize, fed to cows at Reading University two years ago, has never been published, probably because the results were so unpalatable to the biotech industry.
The last word should go to the doctors. The BMA says: “There has not yet been a robust and thorough search into the potentially harmful effect of GM foodstuffs on human health”. The Medical Research Council believes more knowledge is needed of the effects of GM on metabolism, organ development, immune and endocrine systems, and gut flora.
It may well be dangerous – and it is about to enter our food chain
Article from The Times
The seismic shift in British attitudes to the European Union inevitably draws our relationship with the United States into focus too. There are two reasons for continuing to hug America close. One is the belief, that Tony Blair shares, that European and British politics is downstream of Washington, so the best way to influence events is to keep as close as possible to whoever is president.
Second we are so dependent on the Americans for our strategic defence capability that we have no alternative but to stay close. It is widely believed that we cannot fire cruise missiles or use our nuclear weapons or even operate our ballistic missile submarines without US permission. Both claims need to be re-evaluated.
On the first, any cost-benefit examination of the “special relationship” exposes how one-sided it has always been. In 1982, the State Department declined to support Britain over the Falklands until President Reagan intervened, and successive US governments turned a blind eye to IRA fundraising. As a counter to the blind adherence to the US line over Afghanistan and Iraq, it is claimed that Mr Blair persuaded the US to return to the UN for a second resolution over Iraq, but that was only because American troop formations were not yet ready.
As for the second claim, do we need access to US technical military sophistication and strategic thinking? The problem here is that Britain’s dependence can only intensify as the US funnels mega sums into reinforcing its military dominance. The choice is between accepting that subservience indefinitely or paying a short-term, albeit significant, price to secure greater independence. The long-term balance of advantage strongly favours the latter.
The aim of US foreign and military policy is to preserve and strengthen unilateral American hegemony, while the aim of British foreign policy must be a stronger role for the United Nations in support of multilateralism and the rule of international law. Those goals clearly do not coincide, as we have recently seen most starkly over Iraq. Where they differ our bottom line must be British interests, not Washington interests. That requires that we keep open the option of supporting
UN or EU operations even if it conflicts with American goals, and therefore slowly but systematically develop a more independent technological base.
We should insist on significantly greater reciprocity. Despite Britain providing valued international support for the US in Iraq, the enormous contracts for rebuilding the economy have gone overwhelmingly to American companies, notably Halliburton. British territory is currently used exclusively for US purposes, whether at Fairford for the B52s or Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, but without any obvious quid pro quo. British intelligence data, primarily from GCHQ at Cheltenham, is made fully available to the US communications intelligence agencies, but with limited traffic the other way. The CIA often sits on the UK Joint Intelligence Committee, but MI6 does not sit on its top intelligence body. The Fylingdales radar station in Yorkshire remains an integral outpost of the Star Wars early warning system, and may well be upgraded to US specifications with little or no benefit to the UK. Most recently, Britain has agreed, shamefully, to extradite Britons to the US without even prima-facie evidence of guilt, yet the US refuses to extradite their citizens on that basis.
While negotiating the European constitution, Britain repeatedly, and rightly, asserted “red lines”. We should do the same in negotiating with the US over foreign and defence policy. We should be prepared to criticise the US more openly. That includes recent occasions when the US reneged on the Kyoto protocol, boycotted the International Criminal Court, refused to sign a nuclear test ban treaty, withdrew from the international bioweapons treaty and broke its promise at the Doha World Trade Organisation meeting to provide cheap drugs to counter epidemics in developing countries.
And we should determine the earliest point at which UK troops can be safely withdrawn from Iraq, not tamely accept US pressure to stay on to help to provide cover for the US occupation.
(This article originally appeared in the Independent on Sunday.)
The fact that Gordon Brown has agreed to “review” his plan to raise fuel duty by 2p per litre in September – and the consequent calling off of all but one of the planned fuel protests yesterday – has been greeted with sighs of relief all round. Thank heavens for that. We’d all prefer an issue ducked to an embarrassing row, wouldn’t we? But now Elliot Morley has popped up and, according to one newspaper, “shattered Labour’s fragile truce with the fuel protesters”. He says “A simplistic knee-jerk reaction to short-term petrol supply problems is not the answer.”
Well, good for him. The whole debate is taking place on the wrong basis. The issue is not merely the price to the car or truck driver (after all, the real cost of motoring has actually fallen in the past two decades), but whether petrol price policy should be driven by Middle East oil markets or by a looming global warming catastrophe.
There is now abundant evidence that global warming is proceeding fasterthan scientists had previously predicted. If we carry on down our present path, we shall treble the amount of carbon dioxide that we emit by 2100, to a level of 1,000 parts per million, twice what scientists regard as a safe level. Greenhouse gas emissions from cars and lorries are now the fastest-rising cause of global warming. Unlike the last time we were in this situation, at the truck drivers’ fuel protest in 2000, when the environment wasn’t even mentioned, it should now occupy centre stage. The Government should have the courage to make the case – squarely and without apology – that fuel duty is a key instrument in controlling carbon dioxide emissions.
The counter to this argument is that increasing petrol duty is politically unpopular. It will not even be effective: the number of cars around the world, especially in developing countries such as China and India, is set to rise exponentially. Second, greenhouse gas emissions from industry – notably a massive increase in coal-burning to fuel China’s increasing industrialisation – are growing rapidly. These will not be affected by Western transport taxes.
However, if the West (including eventually the US, by far the worst polluter) does not give a lead when we are the biggest offenders, countries such as China and India, with two-fifths of the world’s population, will not follow suit. So the utterly devastating consequences of global warming will simply be visited on the whole world more quickly. If we delay until climatic disaster is so intense that we are forced to take action in order to survive, it will be too late because scientists believe there is at least a 200-year lead time before measures taken now will begin to cut carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere.
But it does mean standing up to the vested interests, which the Government hitherto has not been good at, whether over tobacco advertising, promotion of unhealthy fast foods, airline subsidies or alcohol advertising. In the case of the transport lobby, it means sending out a clear and unambiguous message, whether for road traffic or air travel, that there are environmental costs that have to be paid for in full, not least to encourage the search for less damaging means of travel.
It is therefore a much, much bigger issue than whether or not to raise fuel duty by 2p a litre. Nor will pleading with Opec to increase production quotas have much effect when the output of member countries is already 10 per cent above the formal quota limits. What is needed is a long-term policy to escape the regular cycle whereby governments push billions of dollars into investing in alternative energy sources as oil markets tighten, only to allow such investments to dissipate as the oil crisis eases.
First, the Government should keep fuel duty steady in real terms, but make clear that it is adding a surcharge of, say, three per cent a year for environmental reasons. The extra proceeds should not accrue to the Exchequer, but should be invested in alternative, affordable public transport. Second, because the end of Big Oil is now in sight and steadily increasing demand will overtake supply by 2010-15 – pushing up the price of oil inexorably – a sustained multibillion pound investment in renewable energy is imperative. The eclipse of oil, the gradual rundown of coal and the phase-out of nuclear power, heralded in last year’s Energy White Paper, now need to be followed through in founding the new energy world order. That is the real lesson of the 2p debate.
6 June 2004