Category Archives: GM foods

Why GM when there are known risks but no proven benefits?

Owen Paterson, the right-wing Tory hawk at Defra, has just delivered another forlorn call to the EU to surrender its principles and embrace genetically modified foods.   Why is he so opposed to the deeply entrenched view among the public in every EU country that they don’t want commercial interests messing about with their food unless there are clear, proven and overriding benefits in doing so?   Paterson said nothing new, but merely repeated 4 claims that have been made repeatedly before, namely that (i) GM will increase yields, (ii) will lower the use of pesticides and other chemicals, (iii) is a more efficient technology to reduce the impact of weather and disease, and (iv) is needed to feed the world as global population rises.   All of these claims are demonstrably false.
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Michael Meacher: You ask the questions

(From the Independent)
Labour leadership contender answers your questions, such as ‘Why not sell your flats to help fight against poverty?’ & ‘What’s your guilty pleasure?’
Published: 05 March 2007
Are you a socialist? What does that mean today? MIKE WOODBRIDGE, Brighton
Yes, I am. A socialist believes that while the market has its proper place, the fundamental principles underpinning society should be equity, social justice, equality of opportunity, and democratic accountability. Even where the market is a dominant force, socialists believe it should be regulated to ensure high environmental, social and labour standards.
Why, as a socialist, do you own so many houses? GARY BROWNE, Glasgow
As I have regularly stated in the register of Members’ interests, I own four flats. I have saved throughout my life, and put my savings into property. I don’t think [that] is contrary to socialism.
Given your views on poverty, why not sell some of your houses and give the money to charity? Or are you just another hypocritical politician? V AHMAD, Birmingham
I already give a significant amount to charity . I agree there is an urgent need to build much more social, affordable housing but selling my flats which are already occupied would not contribute one iota to that.
Isn’t it delusional of you to challenge Gordon Brown for the Labour leadership? MAURICE BURKE, Birmingham
No. There should be a contest because only an election enables us to debate the real policy issues. I also believe that members of the Labour Party should have the right to choose their own leaders. I believe, too, that as New Labour, of which Gordon Brown is perhaps the main architect, has moved continually ever further to the right, the mainstream majority of the party has been left disenfranchised and without a voice. It is not sensible to assume the results of any election before the electors have had a chance to deliver their opinion which may sometimes come as rather a shock to the chattering classes. Not too many people I guess expected David Cameron to come from behind and win the Tory Party leadership.
Don’t you think Gordon offers Labour the best hope of winning the next election? VALERIE EVANS, Cardiff
Have you seen the last two polls? Both put the Tories 11 per cent ahead, and one poll found that if Gordon was leader, the Tories would be 13 per cent ahead.
I am a Labour supporter, but I despair that Gordon Brown has been such a coward over the war, talks nonsense on ‘Britishness’ and seems so in love with Rupert Murdoch that he will hand the next election to Cameron. Do you agree – and if not, which bits do you disagree with and why? DAVE FISCHER, Sheffield
Cameron has certainly, at this stage at least, improved the Tories’ poll ratings, but not, I think, for the reasons you give.
A majority on the Labour left support John McDonnell and see your campaign as a spoiler which will only split the vote and stop a contest. Will you stand down if John has more nominations when Blair resigns? SUSAN PRESS, Calder Valley
There is no evidence whatever that a majority of people on the Labour Party left and the affiliated trade union movement support John McDonnell for leader. I have a great deal of respect for John, but I don’t believe he can get the necessary 45 nominations, whereas I believe I can. I am not splitting the vote, but rather giving the centre-left the chance, to run a candidate who can pass the nominations threshold. But I do agree that whichever of the two of us has the larger number of nominations, the other should stand down when Tony Blair resigns.
Why not use that photo of you on Blackpool beach (very Daniel Craig) for your campaign posters? CONOR MURPHY, Reading
Good try. At least it shows I’m healthy.
Do you think Blair should stand down now?STEVE HARRISON, Bolton
The sooner he stands down, the better.
Why did you vote in favour of the invasion of Iraq?DEAN PALMER, Norwich
I made the biggest mistake of my political life when I supported the war, on the grounds that the Prime Minister repeatedly gave chapter and verse about Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction and assured us that if only we knew all the intelligence available to him, we would have no doubts about the necessity for this action. I still find it deeply disturbing for democracy that a prime minister can so massage and fabricate the evidence in order to push through a preconceived war plan.
Do you think Blair lied to his MPs and lied to the country over Iraq?JEFF TERRY, Dundee
I think the highly selective manipulation of such evidence as there was, together with the highly prejudicial use to which it was put, was deeply dishonest.
You claim you were misled that Saddam had a WMD programme. Yet you say the West has no right to tell Iran not to develop nuclear weapons. Aren’t you being rather inconsistent over Iraq and Iran?JIM ROLAND, London NW11
No, these are two quite separate arguments. Yes, we were certainly misled over Saddam’s alleged WMD programme. While we should try to prevent Iranian nuclear weapons by negotiation and UN sanctions, we cannot say that nuclear weapons are indispensable for our own security, and then say Iran does not need them for their own security, especially when Iran (unlike the West) is surrounded by seven states which are nuclear-armed and some very hostile.
Do you truly believe that the US government knew about 9/11 but failed to prevent it?CHRIS QUIGLEY, by email
Clearly the US government did not know the precise time and location of the al-Qa’ida attack, but equally clearly there was a great deal of intelligence beforehand which, for whatever reason, it seems that they did not follow up.
You have suggested that the US government knew about the 9/11 attacks (which is pretty obvious I reckon, but fair play to you nonetheless). How complicit do you believe the UK Government was in 7/7? PAUL HUGHES, by email
Not at all.
Do you also believe that the FBI shot John F Kennedy, that Princess Diana was murdered and the US government has covered up the landing of aliens?BEN TROTTER, Cirencester
No. Such allegations are cheap and rather silly.
What steps will you propose to counter global warming? DR GEORGE BLAIR, by email
We should rapidly increase our use of renewable sources of energy (windpower, solar, and micro-generation in people’s homes). We should require the airline industry, like every other industry, to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions each year. We should increase vehicle excise duty sharply for gas-guzzling cars and use the proceeds to subsidise bus and rail, and smaller-engine cars. We should give each family a carbon entitlement which then has to be reduced each year.
How often have you flown in the past 12 months? FIONA MILLS, Edinburgh
Not at all.
You criticise the ‘Westminster bubble’ but said you spent the last two months talking to MPs about your campaign. Does this not show you have the same disrespect for people’s views as the rest of the Westminster bubble? MARSHA JANE THOMPSON, by email
I said that when people around the country come to vote, they may well take a quite different view of things from the inward-looking Westminster scene, and should be listened to. But I also extensively canvassed my colleagues in the Parliamentary Labour Party because they alone are the ones who make the nominations.
Why did it take you so long to announce your intention to stand for the Labour leadership when John McDonnell has been campaigning up and down the country for months?MAX MITCHELL, by email
I have been told that John McDonnell announced his candidature without consulting his colleagues. I thought it right first to consult extensively to confirm that my candidature would have the necessary range of support.
What are your guilty pleasures (apart from homeowning)?ALICE SHERWOOD, Tadworth
Wouldn’t you like to know! Dropping childish comments in the waste paper basket is one of them.
You always look a bit boring. Are you? ROB JACKSON, by email
No. Why? Are you?

You don’t want GM foods? Too bad

So, according to the Government, we are to have GM crops commercially grown in Britain from 2009, and if you don’t like your food being GM contaminated, too bad. That’s the clear message of Defra’s latest consultation paper proposing absurdly small separation distances between GM and other crops, a voluntary system of compensation for ruined non-GM farmers, and permission for GM crops to be grown at secret locations (rejecting a public register of sites as sanctioned by EU law).


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Defra is sowing the seeds of poor farmers’ destruction

The claim by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) that it has not altered its policy on genetically modified terminator technology – used to sterilise farm-saved seeds, thereby protecting corporate seed sales – does not stand up to serious scrutiny. The Defra policy, published on February 21 in advance of the meeting later this month of the eighth conference of the parties to the UN convention on biodiversity (CBD), calls for a case-by-case assessment of terminator crops. It differs significantly from what I approved in 2000.


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‘I’m also a believer in the cock-up theory’

Michael Meacher courted much controversy with his ‘difficult’ questions about 9/11 and the war on terror, but, he tells Matthew Tempest, he is absolutely not a conspiracy theorist
Matthew Tempest
The Guardian
Since losing political office as Tony Blair’s environment minister, Michael Meacher has been saying – and writing – some controversial things.
Not Robin Cook controversial (“the weapons inspectors should have been given more time”); not Clare Short controversial (“the post-war reconstruction was mishandled”); but really controversial: “why weren’t F16 jets scrambled quicker on September 11? What is the truth about the mysterious MI6 unit Operation Rockingham which ‘liaised’ with UN weapons inspectors? What was the role of the Pakistani intelligence services in the murder of journalist Daniel Pearl?
These are not the sort of questions that are designed to aid one’s ascent up the greasy pole of a political career. Quite the opposite. Not only are they difficult to answer, they burst the bubble of etiquette and respectability at Westminster and get one labelled with the career-suicide stamp of “conspiracy theorist”.
Not surprisingly, this is the first thing the now backbench MP for Oldham West and Royston wants to get off his chest when I meet him in his south-London home.
“I am absolutely NOT a conspiracy theorist. I am anything but paranoid. I have an extremely rational belief in systematically collecting the evidence and seeing where the facts and the documents take you.
“However, conspiracies do occur, but that would be a last-resort explanation rather than a first. I am also a believer in the cock-up theory.”
Since writing an article for the Guardian last September, detailing unanswered questions about the events of September 11 2001 and the predetermination of the US to go to war in Iraq, Meacher has faced a torrent of abuse and derision beyond that borne by most mainstream politicians.
The US embassy in London dismissed the article as “monstrously offensive” and Meacher as not being “serious or credible”, while many journalists found his arguments unconvincing and even deranged.
Despite this, Meacher is unrepentant about airing his concerns. “That analysis has been confirmed. In the past nine months [his unanswered questions] have proved both logical and correct. I’m not aware of a word that has not been accepted.
“Indeed, some of it has been confirmed – for instance, Paul O’Neill’s account of his time serving Bush, where he reveals that Iraq regime change was a priority from day one of the administration.”
For the record, Meacher believes the biggest mysteries surrounding 9/11 were why more effort was not put into catching the hijackers beforehand, why fighter jets were not scrambled from US Andrews airforce base 10 miles from Washington until the Pentagon had already been hit, and why little or no effort was made to catch Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan.
The Senate’s Kean commission into 9/11 finds a confused chain of command on the day, but confirms that while the Pentagon was hit at 9.38am, planes from nearby Andrews were only scrambled at 10.38am, a few minutes after the vice-president, Dick Cheney, had authorised shooting down hostile planes. Planes from Langley airbase were already in the air, but had not received orders to shoot down hostile aircraft.
Curiously, for a man who seems out on a limb in British politics, Meacher hasn’t yet seen Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, which provides similar succour to his theories, especially concerning the US military’s semi-detached efforts in and around Tora Bora, the al-Qaida stronghold in Afghanistan where Osama bin Laden was believed to be hiding.
“Oh I must see it!” he declares, when told that it backs him up on several counts.
Meacher says his postbag was “95% supportive” after his initial article in the Guardian. Probably as a result of its attendant publicity, he was asked to write the foreword to a new US book entitled: The New Pearl Harbour: Disturbing Questions about the Bush Administration and 9/11.
He’s quick to intervene: “Writing a foreword does NOT mean I agree with everything in it. It is an unconventional book which says things which deserved to be listened to and have an airing.
The book suggests that there may have been explosives inside the World Trade Centre before the attacks – does he believe that?
“Well, I’m not a technical expert and I have no idea and I just don’t know.
“But it’s a worthwhile thing for the Kean commission to examine even if it’s just to disprove it. After all, there were two previous bomb plots against the Twin Towers, and bombs would alter the whole concept of what happened on 9/11, but that should have been up to Kean to look at.”
More recently, Meacher wrote another high-profile piece in the Guardian demanding to know the truth about Operation Rockingham, an intelligence cell mentioned to the intelligence and security committee by weapons expert Dr David Kelly the day before his death.
Meacher alleged, on the basis of the evidence of former weapons inspector Scott Ritter, that the previously unheard of unit was designed to spread misinformation about Iraqi WMD capabilities.
On page 90 of Lord Butler’s inquiry into intelligence failures over Iraq is a five-paragraph explanation of Operation Rockingham, calling it a briefing and liaison unit for the Unscom inspections. Meacher believes the explanation is there as a result of his probing.
“It’s a pedestrian few paragraphs, but I’ve seen it and I’m glad it’s there and it shows that they’ve taken it [the article] on board. I believe it [Rockingham] had a key role in seeking to handle intelligence to provide the ‘right’ material for its political masters.
“Obviously that will be denied, and I’m not expecting Butler to prove it, but I suspect the reason that they felt the need to include it [the explanation] is because of the article.”
In all of this, it’s easy to forget that Meacher in fact voted for the war. As a minister at the time, the alternative would have been immediate resignation.
“I voted for it because I believed what the PM said. He reeled off weapons inventories, and I presumed that this must be reliable.
“In fact, I’ve long called for military interventions for humanitarian purposes [he wrote a pamphlet on the theme as far back as 1991], but there would have been no legal basis for that, and the ‘humanitarian’ reasons for the war have only been used retrospectively.”
His high-profile and well-informed campaign against GM crops since being sacked from the environment post in 2003, as well as his difficult questions over 9/11 and the Bush administration have led some senior Green party officials to hope he could be persuaded to jump ship, and become the first ever Green MP in Britain.
“Never, never, never, never, never,” he chides. “I respect the Greens. In fact, I respect the Lib Dems and I respect Respect, but there is no question of me switching.
“I’ve always been a mainstream politician, and I shall die Labour.”
There doesn’t, thankfully, seem much prospect of that yet, as Meacher boasts of having lost weight since losing office, and “feeling fitter and more energised than I have ever done”.
No chance of this 64-year old quitting parliament at the next election, then?
“Not only shall I fight the next election, I could go on for another 10 years yet!”

GM food is heading for your fridge

It may well be dangerous – and it is about to enter our food chain
The Guardian
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.

Public health warning: our leaders’ seduction by science is dangerous

Public health warning: our leaders’ seduction by science is dangerous
This article originally apeared in The Times
We have reached an extraordinarily odd situation in the saga of genetic modification. The public continues to reject it, the supermarkets will not stock it, the industry itself has pulled out of GM cultivation, but the Government is still keen to go ahead. Why? Tony Blair said recently: “It is important for the whole debate (on GM) to be conducted on the basis of scientific evidence, not on the basis of prejudice.” But being mesmerised by science is at best short-sighted and at worst disingenuous.
Science quite often gets things wrong. Biologists initially refused to accept that power stations could kill fish or trees hundreds of miles away in Scandinavia; later the idea was universally accepted. Scientists did not originally agree that chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) were destroying the ozone layer; but when the industry — ICI and DuPont — abruptly changed sides in 1987, ministers and scientists soon lined up with them. The Lawther working party roundly rejected that health-damaging levels of lead in the blood came mainly from vehicle exhausts, only to find that blood-lead levels fell 70 per cent after lead-free petrol was introduced. The Southwood committee of BSE scientists insisted in 1989 that scrapie in cattle could not cross the species barrier, only to find by 1996 that it did just that.
Much more subtle, and more serious, is the manipulation of science for wider political or commercial purposes. Scientific conclusions don’t usually emerge innocently as an individual’s inspired discovery, but out of a process dependent on financial pressures.


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You reap what you sow

Biotech giant Bayer has halted GM cultivation in Britain because of flawed trials and financial risk. If only the government was so wise, says Michael Meacher.
The Guardian
Why did Bayer do it? The company’s decision to pull its genetically modified Chardon LL maize so soon after the British government authorised its cultivation is a huge setback for the industry and a major embarrassment for the prime minister’s championship of GM.
Bayer said the conditions imposed by the government were too restrictive – richly ironic when the government is leaving no stone unturned to get GM crops approved and grown in Britain. Ministers had already gone out of their way to wave through GM maize following the farm-scale evaluation (FSE) trials, even though the trials’ conclusion did not justify the go-ahead.
The government’s decision was flawed on several counts. No valid conclusions can be drawn from these trials because the weedkiller atrazine was used on almost all the conventional maize – a highly toxic chemical with damaging side effects which is now banned EU-wide. Any tests based on atrazine as a comparator are now irrelevant. New trials with a new chemical are needed; the government, however, disagrees.


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