Will the biotech companies ever give up on trying to sell Europe their genetically modified crops? Their latest PR man is the UK’s Minister for the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), Owen Paterson. His website (very bland and uninformative apart from his list of engagements) says he is “a passionate supporter of localism, free enterprise and less interference in people’s lives”. But he also loudly supports Monsanto et al, and wants all of Europe to grow and eat GM foods. I would say that thoroughly destroys any localism, interferes in the most basic way with our lives, and any enterprise is freely handed to big corporations that already have far too much power over people.
Paterson has had environmentalists tearing their hair out since he became Minister. As I wrote in Unnatural England, he’s promoted the destruction of buzzards and supports the killing of badgers. He’s also greatly in favour of fracking for shale gas regardless of the damage it would do. His statements on environmental matters display strongly-held views that are disastrous for the environment but kind to big business. To that end he will only look at the facts as presented by companies such as Monsanto.
He failed to persuade Europe that neonicitinoid pesticides (as produced by Monsanto et al) are good for bees; he said that the scientific evidence linking the decline in bee numbers to neonicotinoids was faulty; and that Europe should see the results of Defra’s own field trials. The UK Parliament’s environmental audit committee said the government was relying on ‘fundamentally flawed’ studies to push its case for preventing the Europe-wide precautionary ban of these pesticides. It turned out these studies were not peer-reviewed or published in any reputable scientific journal, merely published on Defra’s own website – for which the EU Commission critisised the British government.
Paterson’s online information is remarkably devoid of detail: he went to school and university; his family had a background of farming and leather; he went into the leather business; he is married, with children; he became an MP, and so on. No business interests or links of any kind are listed yet he is acting as cheerleader for the GM companies. And he made a small Freudian slip during his speech. He used the word ‘we’, as in “We have not come up with any evidence of human health being threatened by these products.” Just what Monsanto and Syngenta say.
On more than one occasion he has tried to persuade the public that we should all accept a diet of GM food and we stubbornly refuse to be converted. But his speech last week on the wonders of GM crops topped them all. He said he was ‘certain’ that GM crops are safer than conventional varieties because “These products go through the most rigorous system. It is extraordinarily closely regulated…” Do I hear hollow laughter from all those independent researchers into GM foods?
He went on: “…you have the biggest field trial in human history when you think of the colossal volume of GM material that has been eaten in all those countries growing GM food.” Sorry, Mr Paterson, but the biggest field trial in human history took place over millennia when the world was growing and eating organic food. And perhaps he hadn’t read, or was ignoring, the very recent Friends of the Earth Europe-wide study that found weedkiller residues in over 40% of human urine samples (glyphosate, the biggest producer of which is Monsanto).
Mistake after mistake was recited as fact, and faithfully reported by most of the rightwing media – except for the Daily Mail. Normally great supporters of all things Conservative, the Mail pulled his speech to pieces.
One of his most outrageous claims was this: “Over the last 15 years… every attempt to deploy Golden Rice (modified to boost Vitamin A) has been thwarted and in that time seven million children have gone blind or died.” The Mail struck that down with this riposte: “Earlier this year, the International Rice Research Institute, which is working on the Golden Rice project, denied reports that it was available for commercial planting, saying it has yet to pass safety tests or prove it could reduce vitamin A deficiency.”
The Channel4’s FactCheck Blog had this to say: “(Paterson) can’t claim that by not providing the rice the blindness and deaths have occurred, as we don’t know what would have happened had the rice been provided.” Health experts say the problem is a lack of Vitamin A, not Golden Rice – a problem solved by educating mothers how to feed their children on easily available foods containing Vitamin A.
Paterson claimed GM food was safer; “There is no substantiated case of any adverse impact on human health.” The Mail pointed out that: “In May 2011, independent doctors in Canada reported that toxins implanted into GM crops to kill pests were reaching the bloodstreams of women and unborn babies.”
Paterson claimed that GM was good for the environment. He said: “There is a very strong environmental case for GM. We can farm more efficiently, using new technology and using less land. It gives a wonderful opportunity to free up land for wilderness and forestry.” And presumeably for pheasant shoots as well, that being another of Paterson’s passions.
He said there is no evidence of GM crops harming the environment but ignored, among other problems, ‘superweeds’ that are resistant to the herbicides designed to kill them. Farmers across North America could have told him. Farmers could tell him too of the dangers of feeding GM to their animals, but as the biotech companies dismiss such evidence, so too will their mouthpiece. The Mail said the evidence showed real damage to the environment. Following GM crop trials in the UK, where fields had been heavily sprayed with a powerful weedkiller, the result was that it not only wiped out weeds, but also wild plants and insects.
He insisted that GM crops produce higher yields than conventional crops. He could ask Indian cotton farmers, the ones that haven’t committed suicide that is, after seeing their livelihoods ruined. And the Mail pointed out that recently published research showed that “increases in crop yields have been much greater in countries which have not adopted GM.”
When asked by the Daily Mail he said (with some hesitation) that he would be happy to feed a GM tomato to his family, not that one tomato shared between his wife and three children would go that far. But when the Mail contacted 17 government ministers, none of them would own to being comfortable with GM food. They also found that all the restaurants in the Houses of Parliament have had a ‘no GM food’ policy for quite some years. Customer choice rules, even in Westminster, despite government ministers wanting the public to eat the foods they refuse to.
This constant dishonest pressure on the public from people like Paterson to accept something they do not want must stop. It is dishonest because their ‘facts’ are at the least unproven, and at worst, untrue. Nor do they really care about feeding the world. If they did, they’d stop the waste of so much food and ensure people had equal access to what the earth can provide. This is all about giving the biotech companies control over the world’s food.
Why do I personally care so much about stopping GM food? I live in a rural area of great natural beauty. There is a strong organic presence here, in local growers, producers and shops. The village is full of gardeners. We grow our own vegetables and fruit. And we love our environment. My own garden is full of weeds. I call them wild flowers. They plant themselves, helped by the birds. They grow happily among the ‘cultivated’ plants and they provide a rich environment for bees and all the other pollinating insects. I don’t want this rich celebration of natural life turned into the kind of wasteland that comes from growing GM crops and the accompanying heavy use of pesticides and herbicides.
This garden, this land, is my home. I value every tiny flower and fly. This is their home too, and they are important. If I’m honest, I have to admit they have a more important place in the cycle of natural life than I or any human does. If anything has to disappear from this beloved countryside, it should be Owen Paterson.
Lesley is a lover of animals, campaigns and writes on war/peace, climate change and the environment. She is the former editor of Abolish War. Read other articles by Lesley.
Britain is to push the European Union to relax restrictions on the licensing of genetically modified crops for human consumption amid growing scientific evidence that they are safe, and surveys showing they are supported by farmers. The Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson, is expected to use a speech next week to outline the start of a new government approach to GM to ensure Britain “is not left behind” in agricultural science.
The move comes as 61 per cent of UK farmers now say they would like to grow GM crops after a disastrous 12-month cycle of poor weather that is expected significantly to reduce harvest yields. Senior government officials said that ministers are increasingly concerned that the potential moral and ethical benefits of GM are being ignored by costly and bureaucratic licensing regulations.
With one-twelfth of global arable land under GM cultivation they have privately warned that Britain faces being left behind in an important technology that has the potential to improve crop yields, help the UK’s agricultural industry and provide benefits to human health through vitamin fortification.
Government sources added that GM also had applications beyond food including the potential to combat diseases such as ash dieback and in developing new medicines.
“The point about GM is not simply about food production,” they said. “There are wider potential environmental and economic benefits to the technology both in the UK and internationally.
“What we want to do is start a dialogue within Europe on GM based upon the science.”
Ministers are hopeful of building support in Brussels for a change of heart on GM, with Germany seen as a key swing voter. However, any attempts to relax the rules could face opposition from countries such as Poland which in April became the eighth EU member state to ban the cultivation of GM crops.
Mr Paterson is said to believe that Britain should take the lead in moving the debate on from the knee-jerk reaction against GM for much of the last decade.
The move comes as a poll of over 600 British farmers found a considerable shift in their stance toward GM in the past year, with nearly a third saying they would be more likely to grow GM crops if it were legal now than they were 12 months ago – about half of them a “lot more” so.
On top of the advocated benefits of improving yields and cutting down on costs such as pesticides, the increasingly extreme weather has concentrated farmers’ minds on the need to guard against climate change.
“The weather has definitely had an impact,” said Martin Haworth, director of policy at the National Farmers Union. “Farmers are becoming more and more aware that climate change doesn’t mean a gradual rise in temperatures but rather a stream of extreme weather events. GM technology is one possible way of mitigating this.
“Last summer was disastrous for potatoes, for example. The potential for growing potatoes resistant to blight has had an impact on some farmers’ attitudes,” he said, adding that farmers were “very frustrated” at not being able to grow GM crops.
One of the survey’s respondents said they wanted to grow GM crops because “the terrible weather in the past two years has meant that yields have been down and the cost of fertiliser and pesticides have been rising ever since”.
GM crops can be engineered to grow faster, increase their resistance to weeds, pests and pesticides, produce extra nutrients or survive harsher weather conditions. They are created by taking genes with beneficial qualities from other organisms and injecting them into the plant. A gene from bacteria found in soil has proved particularly effective at warding off pests from cotton plants, for example.
But while they are widely grown in North and South America, GM crops are effectively banned in the UK and Europe where they are considered on an extremely strict case-by-case basis.
Since the first GM food was produced in 1994 – a delayed-ripening tomato, which had a longer shelf-life – the EU has granted just two licences to cultivate GM crops, neither of them grown in the UK. One was for plants engineered to resist corn borers and the other for a starchy potato used to make paper.
Apart from that, Europe’s exposure to GM products has been confined to imports of genetically modified animal feed, while much of the meat, eggs and milk comes from animals that have been reared on engineered grains.
Science Minister David Willetts said that controls on GM crops should be weakened to make it easier for Britain’s farmers to grow them.
“We believe that GM crops can help make agriculture more efficient and also just as importantly more sustainable, by, for example, reducing the use of pesticides and the use of fossil fuels,” he said.
“There are just too m any 21st-Century technologies that Europe is just being very slow to adopt… one productive way forward is to have this discussion as part of a wider need for Europe to remain innovative rather than a museum of 20th century technology,” he added.
A European Commission analysis of 130 research projects carried out by 500 groups over 25 years concluded in December 2010 that there is “no scientific evidence associating genetically modified organisms with higher risks for the environment or food and feed safety than conventional plants or organisms”.
However, the evidence is not conclusive and the technique continues to be highly controversial. Opponents to GM crops argue that it is far too early to conclude that the technique is safe – including many farmers, with a quarter saying they would not cultivate them under any circumstances.
They are concerned that adopting GM crops could foster stronger pests, diseases and weeds as their foes evolve to adapt to engineered plant and that the injected “rogue” genes could cause problems by spreading to other plants.
The report was conducted by Farmers Weekly magazine and the Reed publishing group and commissioned by Barclays.
Bayer get stung by bees, we hope it hurts
Well I never, here’s some good news! If you use social media, you’ve probably seen people sharing and signing petitions about bees. If you’re Owen Paterson, you might have turned bright red and stamped up and down while pooing yourself a little bit every time you came across such a post, but more on this later.
A few days ago, the EU banned the use of neonicotinoids in pesticides, thanks to a large amount of global public pressure. Although it sounds like a race of aliens hailing from Sirius intent on smoking all the fags on earth, it is in fact a nicotine based pesticide, pushed by international drug dealers Bayer and developed by Shite, I mean Shell, in the 1980s.
Amazingly, or not surprisingly, depending on how cynical you are (probably very, if you’re reading this), nicotine makes a shit pesticide, as it takes more nicotine to kill a fly than a rat. It’s easy to see how this might have been an oversight. ‘Doctor, it seems nicotine is actually useless at killing insects, but great at wiping out birds and other mammals’.
You think they might have stopped there, but apparently Bayer thought they were half way to a solution: If it already kills everything else, then just refine it so it kills insects better too. I can now see why some of these people are the highest paid in the world. They certainly deserve it for their innovative and ‘blue sky’ thinking.
So, after the standard pharmaceutical industry practice of rigging a few clinical trials they were good to go. Unfortunately for them, proper peer reviewed trials were conducted in response to public and political pressure, and proved that neonicotwatiside was in fact very harmful to bees, who are rather important when it comes to, well, anything growing really Bayer, YOU FUCKING TWAT.
Yes, I can call Bayer a twat, because corporations are legally recognised as people – just like Owen Patterson. And yes, this is why Mr Patterson was having to change his pants on a regular basis. When the vote was made at the EU to ban this stuff, first the Great British Isles abstained, and then responded with a flat out no. I can’t for the life of me imagine why, but I’m sure it has nothing to do with Twat Patt receiving massive financial or gratis benefits by certain industries who wanted this crap peddled, and that he was merely acting in the best interests of the British people in his view (from inside Bayer’s’ sphincter).
It’s a good job it’s banned, because over in the US, this wonderful substance is wiping out all sorts of indigenous life, with what remains to be moved onto reservations and have attack helicopters named after them. The great thing is, if you live in the US, that neonicunticle or derivatives are being reviewed by the relevant US body, but they expect this to take until 2016, when everything will be dead.
This brings us on to the next slice of good news. As you might have noticed, crack dealers of the world, or ‘Big Pharma’ as they prefer to be called, are anything but the cuddly teddy bear such a name implies, and are quite happy to bribe, lie and cheat their way to getting new chemicals or drugs to market no matter how potentially dangerous they might be. This is an area that has been a real concern to Doctor and journalist Ben Goldacre, and he wrote a book about it: Bad Pharma. It’s an eye opening read, and caused quite a backlash from the pharmaceutical industry – especially in regards to the rigging of trials, but progress is being made. GSK actually signed up to ‘alltrials.net’ a site which aims to make sure that all clinical trials are public knowledge so they can be peer reviewed, and we know what happens when things get peer reviewed, they get banned if they’re full of shit and going to kill things.
So, we do seem to live in a world full of morons at the top, money grabbing corporate shit-swimmers, papers that promote devolving into club wielding cavemen and so on, but despite all that we can make a difference. Positive change can and does happen – we just need to give it a push. I’m not sure what’s come over me, maybe it’s because the sun’s out.. If you want to learn more about transparent clinical trials, click here and sign the petition. Oh, and although the EU banned neoneoneoeneoprick, it’s only for 2 years, not permanently. Sorry, the cynic won over in the end, and yes, twat is my word of the day.