Former UK environment minister stood up for his beliefs
We are sad to hear the news of the death of Michael Meacher MP, a former UK environment minister and a lifelong staunch friend and ally of campaigners critical of GM crops and foods.
Michael often challenged Tony Blair’s government on GM crops. When Blair wanted to forge ahead with GMO cultivation in the UK, Michael forced the government to pause and arrange farm-scale scientific trials. These found that GM crops were largely more damaging to the environment than non-GM crops, due to the herbicides used on them.
Michael went out of his way to help GMWatch and GM-Free Ireland when their websites were targeted by the Canadian government employee and co-author of the notorious “wormy corn” study, Shane Morris. Morris’s study purported to find that consumers preferred GM sweetcorn to non-GM, but omitted to mention that the non-GM corn appeared to have been prominently labelled “wormy corn”! Morris took exception to GMWatch’s calling the study a “fraud” and attempted to shut down the GMWatch and GM-Free Ireland websites using legal threats.
Michael wrote to the UK High Commissioner for Canada protesting against Morris’s use of “heavy-handed libel threats” against the websites.
You can read more about the story here:
He will be much missed.
Michael Meacher: an environment minister who stood up for his beliefs
The Guardian, 21 Oct 2015
* The late Labour MP fought Tony Blair and Gordon Brown on environmental policies – saving the administration from political embarrassment
Michael Meacher was a remarkable environment minister because for six years, at the start of the Blair government, he almost single-handedly fought to defend the natural world from road-building, the first generation of GM crops and rampant industrialisation.
While junior environment ministers usually accept the Treasury or No 10 line without question, “the Meach”, as he was widely known, stood up to Tony Blair and Gordon Brown and possibly saved the administration from political embarrassment by urging caution at key moments.
His first task was to extricate Blair from the potential embarrassment of introducing GM crops. Blair had been persuaded by David Sainsbury, the head of a large food multinational, that GM crops were the future and posed no danger to consumers. But with public opinion strongly against them, Meacher defused the debate by negotiating a three-year moratorium during which further tests were done. By pleading caution, he gained the trust of both hostile environment groups and wary consumers.
He was widely disliked in No 10 and was denied a cabinet position, but he survived in the environment job possibly because Blair feared that he would be a dangerous backbencher with scientific credibility.
My colleague, the environment correspondent Paul Brown, wrote in 2002: “The prime minister’s impatience with Michael Meacher, the only minister who urges caution and is seen by No 10 to stand in his way, became public when Mr Blair tried to drop his environment minister from the team attending the Earth summit in Johannesburg in 2002. After public protest John Prescott, the deputy prime minister, reinstated him – but it was not the first time Mr Meacher and Mr Blair had crossed swords.
“During the mini-reshuffle brought about by the resignation of Stephen Byers from transport, Mr Blair tried to push Mr Meacher into a less high profile post. It is said that Mr Meacher threatened to resign from the government altogether rather than be moved.”
When he finally left government in 2003, Meacher became a strong voice for environment protection, urging government and personal action on climate change, which he grasped as the most important long-term issue of the time.
But he will be remembered especially for steering through the “right to roam” legislation, which surprised and delighted ramblers and Labour backbenchers even as it infuriated landowners by promising a statutory right of access to 1.6m hectares (4m acres) of open countryside in England and Wales.
The commitment, which was explicitly linked by Meacher to the memory of the late Labour leader and keen fellwalker John Smith, reassured many Labour MPs who had feared Blair would be swayed by pressure from the powerful countryside lobby to abandon a principle close to party’s heart since its inception.