GM crops roll-out is blighted as MPs prepare to challenge No 10
Tuesday, 30 November 1999 00:00GM crops roll-out is blighted as MPs prepare to challenge No 10
By Geoffrey Lean, Environment Editor
29 February 2004
MPs are poised to reject the Government's plans to approve the growing of GM crops in Britain, just as ministers are preparing to announce them. The House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee, one of its two most powerful select committees, is putting the final touches to a report concluding that no modified crops should be cultivated commercially until more trials are carried out. This would delay their introduction until the end of the decade.
The MPs believe that the official trial of GM maize, which ministers are using to justify the go-ahead, is invalid and should be repeated. They want lessons to be learnt from North America, where genes from modified crops have contaminated organic and conventional produce.
Their report is due to be published at the end of this week, at the worst possible moment for the Government which is planning to announce in the next three weeks that it has given the technology its approval.
The timing of the report is explosive, as ministers are reeling from the leak of cabinet committee minutes 10 days ago. The minutes outlined plans for spinning the announcement to "wear down" public opposition to the technology. Downing Street officials are warning the Prime Minister there could be pitched battles in the fields during a general election campaign next spring.
Ministers last week let slip plans for a new period of public consultation on how far GM and traditional crops should be kept apart. This would give them an excuse to delay the planting of GM maize until after the election.
Pete Riley of Friends of the Earth said: "The Select Committee report is really going to put the cat among the pigeons and ruin the Government's plans to spin the announcement."
The report is by one of only two Commons committees mandated to examine policy across Whitehall. It has been deeply influenced by the discovery, first reported in The Independent on Sunday last October, that the maize trial has been invalidated by the banning of a controversial weedkiller called Atrazine, used on conventional crops.
The devastating effects of the herbicide ensured that growing conventional maize was more harmful to wildlife than cultivating the GM crop. However, with beet and oilseed rape, where Atrazine was not used, the reverse was the case. Ministers are using the results to justify going ahead with the modified variety, even though the banning of the chemical means they are no longer relevant.
The MPs believe approval should not be given until after new trails are carried out using the herbicides that replace Atrazine, and that these trials need to be run for at least four years.
They also believe ministers have not taken enough account of problems with GM crops in the US and Canada, where neighbouring crops have been contaminated and superweeds created.
In another blow for the industry, Bayer CropScience, which owns the maize about to be approved by ministers, has made the heads of its GM operations in Europe redundant.
Science and politics
Saturday, 22 December 2012 22:48
Science and politics need counselling, not a separation
The Guardian, 21 December 2012
*Brian Cox and Robin Ince say they're fighting for the status of science, but they're picking the wrong fight
A piece by Brian Cox and Robin Ince in the New Statesman has excited that corner of the Twittersphere concerned with things scientific. Their argument is that, because science has been twisted and undermined by politicians, there needs to be clearer separation between scientific truths and political values.
I think it's worth spending some time thinking about what's going on here. As corroborative evidence, I'd also like to submit Royal Society president Paul Nurse's recent anniversary address (pdf).
I welcome the recent involvement of Cox and Ince in a debate that has long been dominated by scientific grandees. They and Nurse are thoughtful people interested in the relationship between science and society, and they work hard to improve it.
Those of us who teach and write about science policy, the philosophy of science and the history of science can join a clichéd academic chorus of "it's more complicated than that". The historians can remind Nurse that scientists are not as sceptical of their own ideas as he would like us to believe. The philosophers can tell Cox and Ince that there is no single "scientific method". The sociologists can point out that Nature (oddly capitalised, as @green_gambit pointed out) does not speak for itself. And the policy wonks can wryly observe that advocates of "evidence-based policy" seem to forget their mantra when it comes to science policy.
Such rejoinders are healthy and important, but they miss a bigger point. Cox, Ince and Nurse are fighting for the status of science. They are standing up for science in the face of an imagined enemy. My problem with their rhetoric is that it is bad politics. They are picking the wrong fight and giving the wrong impression about science. Their aim is to boost the credibility of science, but the effect is the opposite.
All three call for a separation between science and politics. Cox and Ince want "a place where science stops and politics begins". Nurse wants to "keep science as far as is possible from political, ideological and religious influence". But their own rhetorical tangles demonstrate just how hard this is.
Cox and Ince are right to say: "The loud criticism of climate science is motivated in the main not by technical objections, but by the difficult political choices with which it confronts us." But they are wrong to equate the rantings of climate change deniers as "an attack on the scientific method". To say such things only confirms the deniers' suspicions that science is trying to close off its discussions. Science is strong enough to withstand and benefit from scepticism, even if that scepticism is more disorganised than scientists would like.
Climate science cannot be separated from climate politics, and this is a good thing. Nurse laments that scientists are "only human". This is a good thing too. Many climate scientists are driven by a personal desire to describe and solve a big problem, and most of them are funded because their work is seen as politically important as well as scientifically interesting.
Moving along the litany of controversies involving science to GM crops, Nurse claims that the scientific consensus view is that regulatory procedures for GM crops "should be similar to those used for conventionally produced crop plants". Renewed enthusiasm for GM crops in the UK is seen as a welcome "return to the science". To my ears, those statements sound rather, well, political. As I have argued before, science never had one view on GM crops.
In the past few decades, the UK has seen greatly improved debates about science and technology. Successive governments have realised the importance of investing in science. They no longer pretend that science has all the answers. The lessons from controversies over GM crops and mad cow disease (BSE) led to what the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee called "a new humility on the part of science in the face of public attitudes". There are echoes of this in Nurse's speech. He admits that Climategate illustrated how important areas of science may have been too secretive. He says, "Scientists have to listen to the public." But such statements cannot disguise his distaste for public and political debate. He caricatures public opposition to GM crops as being based on mistaken unease about eating "food containing genes", downplaying serious public concerns about corporate control of the world's food supply.
Churchill was right to have argued that science should be "on tap, not on top". For Cox and Ince, this won't do. For policy, they call science an "adjudicator above opinion". But policy debates can rarely be reduced to questions of fact. Science cannot tell us what food to eat, nor can it tell us what to do about climate change. It can certainly help, but only if we understand its limits, its uncertainties and its politics.
Cox, Ince and Nurse want science to matter to politics and the public. But they are too defensive. Nobody is suggesting, as Cox and Ince fear, that we abandon science. Those who claim to fight for science, by shoring up the boundaries around science, retreat from political relevance, belittling science and damaging its public credibility.
(And please, scientists, don't point out that the Twittersphere can't have corners).
Jack Stilgoe teaches science policy at University College London
What the UK needs to do about food security
Sunday, 16 June 2013 21:16
1.Government committee sets out food security recommendations
2.Britain's new "peasants" down on the farm
1.Government committee sets out food security recommendations
Farming News, 4 June 2013
The UK government's International Development Committee today released a report on Global Food Security, in which committee members make a series of radical recommendations they say will contribute to ending hunger and poverty.
The MPs warn, amongst other things, against the overconsumption of animal products, feeding edible grains to livestock and using potential food crops as biofuels. Although farming industry groups have reacted strongly to the report, the MPs' recommendations are nothing new; food policy campaigners have been making similar recommendations for over a decade.
Sir Malcolm Bruce, chair of the International Development Committee warned on Tuesday, "There is no room for complacency about food security over the coming decades if UK consumers are to enjoy stable supplies and reasonable food prices."
He pointed out that two notable "shocks" or "spikes" in global food prices have impacted upon consumers in the UK (who are more insulated against such fluctuations) in the past five years. Price peaks in June 2008 and February 2011 "hurt many parts of the UK food industry and strongly undermined the global fight against hunger," according to Bruce and his fellow parliamentarians.
In addition to making recommendations that livestock are reared in extensive systems, on grass, and that consumers reduce their intake of animal products, the Commons committee called for a Government-backed campaign to reduce household waste; in contrast to developing countries, where the majority of waste occurs early in the food chain, in "Western" cultures retail and household waste, which occurs further down the supply chain and is associated with consumerism, presents much more of a problem.
MPs in the development committee said a campaign to tackle this should include "national targets to curb food waste within the UK food production and retail sectors, with clear sanctions for companies that fail to meet these targets." They said current global trends towards more meant and dairy consumption are "unsustainable."
Biofuels are detrimental
Echoing European policy makers, who have called for curbs on rapid growth in the biofuels sector, made possible by EU funding, the MPs were highly critical of agricultural biofuels. Expressing concerns over the environmental and social impacts of these fuels, MPs warned "agriculturally produced biofuels are having a major detrimental impact on global food security by driving higher and more volatile food prices."
They added that EU targets requiring 10 per cent of transport energy to be drawn from renewable sources by 2020 are likely to cause dramatic food price increases and urged the UK and European governments to revise renewable fuel obligations to specifically exclude agriculturally-produced biofuels.
Commenting on the biofuels issue on Tuesday, Sir Malcolm added, "Biofuel crops not only displace food crops but are in some cases providing energy sources that are potentially more damaging to the environment than fossil fuels. So while we recognise that refining the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation will make it harder for the UK to meet current EU obligations, the relevant target does not kick in until 2020 so there is nothing to stop the UK from revising the RTFO now to exclude agriculturally-produced biofuels."
Angry reaction from industry groups
Although recommendations resulting from the Global Food Security report tie in with similar advice issued by EU and UN policy makers in recent months, industry leaders in the UK reacted strongly to Gordon MP Bruce's counsel.
NFU chief livestock adviser Peter Garbutt contested the calls to cut meat consumption; he added that red meat forms "a traditional part of the British lifestyle and is enjoyed by most of the population."
Making the case for meat production, Mr Garbutt continued, "The UK livestock sector plays a crucial role in sustaining some of the nation's most beautiful and treasured landscapes as well as being the bedrock of rural communities. Almost 60 per cent of farming's uplands, which is dominated by livestock, is designated as National Park or areas of natural beauty. The reality is that if red meat consumption falls dramatically there would be a very real risk of the most valuable environmental assets being abandoned."
Though he too has come in for criticism from uplands farmers, in his latest book, environmentalist George Monbiot claims that reducing livestock production and "rewilding" areas of the UK would provide many benefits for the environment and wider human society.
International issues and support for small farmers
On an international scale, the Committee expressed concern that large corporations are buying up massive areas of land, enclosing them and preventing access to local communities, which often includes driving smallholders off land they previously tended. Although the MPs said the issue was mainly a problem in developing countries, a recent report revealed similar patterns of enclosure also exist in Europe.
Having expressed concerns over the fate of smallholder farmers in the face of 'land-grabbing,' the development committee backed this model of farming as one that will play a key role in feeding a growing global population and in reducing rural poverty. MPs called for more funding to be directed into supporting the formation of inclusive farmer organisations, co-operatives and agricultural extension services, particularly those aimed at women.
Commenting on these issues Sir Malcolm added, "Farm extension work went badly out of fashion decades ago in the aid sector, but should now be expanded… Smallholders and large commercial producers all need an enabling environment with adequate training, investment in roads, storage and irrigation infrastructure. They also need new skills and methods with which to improve the resilience of their cultivation systems in the face of climate change, a challenge already making it much more difficult for farmers in many communities to decide when to sow, cultivate or harvest their crops."
2.Britain's new "peasants" down on the farm
Claire Provost and John Vidal
The Observer, 16 June 2013
*A determined generation of young smallholders hope to reclaim the British countryside from the grip of corporate food giants
[Image caption: Smallholdings should be the dominant face of farming in Britain, says the Land Workers' Alliance]
The English peasantry may have officially died out in the Middle Ages, but a new breed of small-scale farmers who live off a few acres and celebrate life on the land have been accepted to join the world's biggest peasant organisation.
Jyoti Fernandes and other members of the newly formed Land Workers' Alliance were in Jakarta, Indonesia, last week for a global meeting of La Via Campesina, a movement of more than 180 peasant organisations which together can boast 200 million members in more than 80 countries. The alliance is the movement's first membership organisation in England and Wales.
Fernandes, 39, is part of a wave of self-proclaimed English "peasants" determined to stand up for smallholders and reclaim the countryside with an alternative vision of what the future of UK agriculture could look like. "Food and farming aren't just about market economics and just getting people calories in their body; it's got this huge social and cultural dimension to it," she says.
Western definitions of "peasant" are mostly pejorative, suggesting "a member of a class of low social status that depends on agricultural labour as a means of subsistence". But many of the 70 people who set up the alliance in March are young, highly educated and committed to a life on the land. They expect membership to grow to several thousand.
Fernandes and her husband live at Fivepenny Farm, a highly productive 20-acre Dorset smallholding, producing vegetables, herbs, meat, eggs, and cheese and generating its own electricity from small wind turbines and a set of solar panels. They sell directly to consumers at the weekly market in nearby Bridport.
"People have to be pretty creative to move to the land," says Fernandes, who has long campaigned to change planning laws so that making a living off the land is easier. "People who have a lot of money and want to live in the countryside with a farmhouse can outcompete at an auction any day people who want to do a land-based farming industry. The countryside isn't just this picture-perfect place for people to go and retire to. It needs to be a living, working countryside."
So what do small farmers in south-west England have in common with peasant farmers in Africa or India? Fernandes says the lives of her counterparts in poor countries are similar to hers: "They say, 'Oh, you're a farmer too, so what do you have?' and I say, 'Well, I've got two cows and I milk them every day, and I've got chickens,' and they say, 'Oh, I've got cows as well,' and we talk about that and who is looking after the cows while you're away. The practical realities of life are pretty much the same – you get up in the morning, you milk the cows, you have to do something with your milk,"
"Farming has caught the imagination of a new generation of young people who are particularly politically aware," says Ed Hamer, who has a small market garden in Chagford, Devon. "Growing food is a very positive reaction to what many see as problems of globalisation. One objective is to address the lack of representation of small farmers here in the UK."
Simon Fairlie, a smallholder and editor of the Land magazine, adds: "There hasn't really been an effective organisation in Britain representing small farmers – and there is a need for it. Agricultural extension facilities were abolished under Thatcher, and today there's no acknowledgement in government that there are people doing this and that they could use support. Large-scale farming can produce the food, but so can small-scale farming, but with less machinery and more human interaction. And there are people who want that lifestyle."
As members of La Via Campesina (literally "the peasants' way"), people in the new alliance share the idea of "food sovereignty", which insists on the right of people to produce for themselves and their communities and rejects corporate control of the food system. They say this has growing resonance in the UK, where less than 1% of people work on the land but increasing numbers of young people say they want to farm. "It might be for political reasons, or it might just be that they don't want to sit behind a computer all day. It might be people who were disenfranchised in school. Whatever it is, they're going into agriculture because they believe in it," says Fernandes. "Food is really becoming an issue at the front of public consciousness.
"I think people are really realising what we lose when we lose a good, healthy food culture. And instead of constantly fighting a system that's bad, we want to create positive alternatives … How can we take the right steps so that in 50 or 60 years we have enough people [in Britain] engaged in agriculture with enough skills and enough access to land and resources to be able to provide the food we need? We want to show that smallholdings can be productive."
Patrick Mulvany, chairman of the UK Food Group, says the alliance may serve as a "lightning rod" for growers, gardeners, small farmers and others looking for alternative food systems in England and Wales (the Scottish Crofting Federation is already a member of La Via Campesina).
"To have a group in England is wonderful. At the moment, the [farming] debate is dominated by NGOs and policy wonks. These people, instead, are spending most of their time growing," he says.
MAANDELIJKS NIEUWSOVERZICHT 77
Thursday, 11 February 2010 11:57
FDA clears way for GM salmon
Saturday, 22 December 2012 22:41
1.Consumers Union Says FDA Assessment of GE Salmon Is Flawed and Inadequate
2.Obama Administration Snubs Risks, Moves Forward With GE Salmon Approval
TAKE ACTION: Tell FDA: Do Not Approve Genetically Engineered Salmon!
1.Consumers Union Says FDA Assessment of GE Salmon Is Flawed and Inadequate
Consumers Union, December 21 2012
Yonkers, NY - Consumers Union, the advocacy and policy arm of Consumer Reports, criticized the Environmental Assessment (EA) of the Aquabounty genetically engineered salmon released today by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), as flawed and inadequate.
“The EA states that the FDA has found that the salmon is safe to eat. However, we are deeply concerned that the potential of these fish to cause allergic reactions has not been adequately researched. FDA has allowed this fish to move forward based on tests of allergenicity of only six engineered fish - tests that actually did show an increase in allergy-causing potential,” stated Michael Hansen PhD, Senior Scientist with Consumers Union. “Further, there have been no safety testing of fish grown in Panama, where Aquabounty intends to raise the salmon. The health and safety of fish can be affected by growing conditions.”
“We are also concerned that FDA puts great weight, in their finding of ‘no significant impact’ on the fact that the engineered salmon would be sterile females. However FDA indicates that only 95 percent of the salmon may be sterile, and the rest fertile. When you are talking about millions of fish, even one percent comes to thousands of fish. Moreover, perhaps even more important, the fish at the egg production facility in Prince Edward Island, Canada would obviously not be sterile - otherwise they could not produce eggs,” Hansen states.
“We are further concerned that consumers will in many cases not have any way to avoid this fish if they want to. While salmon is required by law to be labeled as to country of origin in supermarkets, this does not apply to fish markets or restaurants. While in supermarkets consumers could avoid fish from Panama, where this salmon will be grown, they will not have this ability when eating out or buying at a fish store,” Hansen said.
2.Obama Administration Snubs Risks, Moves Forward With GE Salmon Approval
Center for Food Safety, December 21 2012
*400,000 public comments, 40 Members of Congress ignored;
*CFS calls proposed approval of first ever GE animal “premature and misguided”
Center for Food Safety sharply criticized today’s U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) announcement releasing an Environmental Assessment (EA) on the controversial AquaBounty AquaAdvantage® transgenic salmon. The FDA action is widely viewed as confirmation that the Obama Administration is prepared to approve shortly the first genetically engineered (GE) animal intended for human consumption in the face of widespread opposition.
“It is extremely disappointing that the Obama Administration continues to push approval of this dangerous and unnecessary product,” said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director for Center for Food Safety. “The GE salmon has no socially redeeming value; it’s bad for the consumer, bad for the salmon industry and bad for the environment. FDA’s decision is premature and misguided.”
The FDA decision ignores calls from more than forty members of the U.S. Congress who have repeatedly urged FDA to conduct more rigorous review of environmental and health safety, and halt any approval process until concerns over risks, transparency and oversight have been fully satisfied. The public filed nearly 400,000 comments demanding FDA reject this application. Additionally, more than 300 environmental, consumer, health and animal welfare organizations, salmon and fishing groups and associations, food companies, chefs and restaurants filed joint statements with FDA opposing approval.
AquaBounty claims that the company’s process for raising GE fish is safer than traditional aquaculture, yet documents released by the Canadian government show that a new strain of Infectious Salmon Anaemia, the deadly fish flu which has been devastating fish stocks around the world, contaminated their Canadian production site. This information was not included in the FDA’s review and hidden from the public. Many additional long standing concerns regarding impacts to wild species and the environment raised during a Senate hearing last year remain unanswered in the latest FDA review documents.
“We need a robust regulatory system that puts environmental, human health, economic and animal welfare risks first,” said Kimbrell. “Putting a GE animal on the path to consumer use without proper safeguards and with no mandatory labeling requirement proves that the system FDA has in place gives us none of that.”
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