from Claire Robinson, WEEKLY WATCH editor
Great cause for celebration this week. In what has been described as a "massive blow to the GM lobby", gene giant Bayer has withdrawn its GM maize from commercialisation just weeks after the Blair government said it intended to give it the first go-ahead for a GM crop in the UK. (HIGHLIGHTS OF THE WEEK - UK).
And Australia has also chucked a whopping spanner in the works of the biotech industry: four key states have all ruled out any large-scale growing of GM food crops (HIGHLIGHTS OF THE WEEK - GLOBAL).
Another heartening event is that the mainstream British press has caught on to the dismal truth about GM zealot Sir John Krebs and the UK's Food Standards Agency, which Krebs chairs. A brilliant article by Richard Girling in the Sunday Times skewers Krebs and the FSA to the dissecting table and shows no mercy (ARTICLE OF THE WEEK).
Please look out for an important Action Alert to stop the Americans contaminating their rice crop (which they export to all of us) with pharma rice (see US: PANEL OKS BID TO RAISE MODIFIED RICE, IN HIGHLIGHTS OF THE WEEK - GLOBAL). The time scale for responses is tight.
www.ngin.org.uk / www.gmwatch.org
HIGHLIGHTS OF THE WEEK - UK
HIGHLIGHTS OF THE WEEK - GLOBAL
ARTICLE OF THE WEEK
THE REST OF THE MONTH'S TOP STORIES
HEADLINES OF THE WEEK
HIGHLIGHTS OF THE WEEK - UK
+ BAYER BINS GM PLAN
In what The Independent described as a "huge blow" for the GM lobby, Bayer Cropscience is giving up attempts to commercialise GM maize - the only transgenic plant to have approval for widespread cultivation. Bayer announced that its maize variety Chardon LL had been left "economically non-viable" because of conditions environment secretary, Margaret Beckett, imposed when she gave it limited approval this month.
Bayer warned that the UK's tough GM regulatory regime could jeopardise the adoption of the technology. It said: "New regulations should enable GM crops to be grown in the UK - not disable future attempts to grow them". The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said: "We do not apologise for the fact there is a tough EU-wide regulatory regime on GMs."
Bayer's decision to withdraw the crop from the UK and other European markets means GM crops are unlikely to be grown in the UK until at least 2008.
BAYER CAN'T BLAME GOVERNMENT FOR GM MAIZE WITHDRAWAL
The Soil Association accused Bayer of being deceitful when they put the whole blame for their withdrawal of GM maize on the UK government. Peter Melchett, the Soil Association's policy director, said, "Bayer are blaming their withdrawal of GM maize from the UK on 'regulatory hurdles' imposed by the British Government. In fact they have been caught out by their own, inaccurate hype.
"GM companies have always claimed that GM crops need less chemical sprays. In the three-year farm scale trials Bayer's GM maize was grown with the use of one weed-killing spray. But Soil Association research in the USA and Canada had already shown that GM maize grown commercially needed at least two weedkillers. Indeed, GM companies in America are even selling branded mixtures of weed killing sprays to farmers growing their GM crops, so they can hardly deny that several sprays are often needed.
"Unfortunately for Bayer, the British Government took them at their word, and said that their GM maize could only be grown using one weedkiller. Based on experience in North America, Bayer know that won't work in practice. In these circumstances, its really not surprising that Bayer have withdrawn the GM maize, effectively ending the prospect of any GM crops being grown in the UK for the foreseeable future." http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=3133
COMMENT ON BAYER DECISION BY DR BRIAN JOHN OF GM FREE CYMRU
"We do not accept the Bayer line that the Government's lack of cooperation is the reason for this decision. The Government has been pro-GM from the beginning, and it was public pressure which forced Margaret Beckett - in her statement on 9 March - to promise very tight controls. The real reason for the Bayer climb-down is that grass-roots campaigners have attacked the science, the liability issue, the herbicide issue, the practicalities of coexistence, and the corruption of the whole GM enterprise with persistence and sophistication. No company can afford to operate in a climate of such unremitting hostility for too long.
"Make no mistake about it, this is a victory for democracy over an arrogant and insensitive biotechnology corporation and over a Government obsessed with a redundant and unwanted technology." http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=3127
+ BAYER SHARES DOWN
Bayer shares slipped 1.9 percent on news it planned to shelve plans to sell GM maize to British farmers because of tight government restrictions and on market rumours - denied by the company - of a convertible bond sale. Talk that insurer Allianz might cut its stake in Bayer further undermined confidence. http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=3134
+ COMMENT FROM JIM THOMAS OF THE ETC. GROUP, formerly a leading GM campaigner for Greenpeace:
No GM crops will be commercially grown in the UK for at least 5 years. Here's the magnitude of the victory:
At the end of 1996... we were reckoned to be barely a year away from widespread cultivation of GM crops (GM rape) all across the UK countryside. Monsanto was considering a merger with AHP to become the world's largest corporation. Some of the world's most powerful companies and one of the world's most powerful governments had remained steadfastly determined to get GM crops grown commercially in the UK throughout the intervening 8 years and it is raw, direct popular opposition that has nonetheless:
- removed GM from all human foods sold in the UK
- removed GM from pretty much all poultry and pig feed
- reduced no of GM field trials from over 300 locations per year to currently zero
- caused Monsanto to leave the UK and stop further breeding work here
- reduce the number of GM varieties seeking government approval for commercialisation to be reduced from 58 varieties down to a remaining 2 that have no chance of being legally grown.
+ TAVERNE QUACKS FUREDI'S TUNE IN PROSPECT MAGAZINE
"Safety Quacks" by Lord Dick Taverne , chairman of the pro-GM lobby group Sense About Science, is not the first article he has penned for the political magazine Prospect. http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=3082
His last was co-authored with Sense about Science's director, Tracey Brown, a leading member of the insidious far-right (formerly far left!!!) LM network. Ellen Raphael - the only other staff member of Sense About Science - is also an LM-er.
"Safety Quacks" was ostensibly authored without Tracey Brown's assistance, but in the article Taverne draws repeatedly on "an important book by Adam Burgess, 'Cellular Phones, Public Fears and a Culture of Precaution' ". Burgess just happens to be Tracey Brown's husband and - guess what? - he is also part of the LM network whose members stick strictly to the ideological line of their chief theoretician, Frank Furedi.
Furedi and the LM-ers are waging a total war against what they see as the public's aversion to taking risks with new technologies like GM foods and reproductive cloning, and environmentalists who they portray as Nazi fundamentalists. Prior to their role as apologists for the biotech industry, the LM-ers served as apologists for war crimes in Bosnia and the Rwandan genocide!
For more about Sense About Science and how they have worked with elements in the UK's science establishment to manipulate the GM debate, see: 'Rotten to the corp', Science in Society 21, Spring 2003
More on LM
More on Tracey Brown
More on Taverne
+ BIOFUELS AND GM
GM companies are hoping that the rush for biofuels will mean large new markets for their products. It is probably not a co-incidence that two of the main crops for 'biodiesel' and 'bioethanol' are sugar beet and oil seed rape (OSR), two of the three GM crops in the UK'sFarm Scale Trials. GM trees are also a possibility for complex, very expensive and energy intensive technologies being developed to produce ethanol from wood (ligno-cellulosic processes), including poplar and willow for Short Rotation Coppice (SRC). - From a report focusing on the East of England - but variants on it are being considered world-wide. Read on at
+ MEACHER ON SEEDS OF DECEPTION
Read former enviro minister Michael Meacher's foreword to the new UK edition of Jeffrey Smith's book Seeds of Deception (Green Books tel 01803 863260) at http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=3131
"What is so exciting about this book is that it is no dry text of scientific exegesis - it positively fizzes with the human drama of the cabals and conspiracies behind the scenes which have littered the history of Big Biotech in its frantic efforts to get itself accepted. It is meticulously documented and powerfully written, somewhere between a documentary and a thriller.
"It reveals above all that GM is not some arcane issue about science or technology - it is ultimately about power. There are no consumer benefits from GM crops, the alleged benefits to farmers are deeply disputed, environmental and health testing has never been carried out, non-GM farmers are being put seriously at risk. So why is GM being pressed at all? The answer, set out painstakingly and frighteningly in this book, tells us a great deal about how power is exercised today - funding political parties and key individuals, networking around opinion-formers and decision-makers, and fixing strategic job swaps between the biotech industry and Government. And this is not just conjecture; plenty of examples are given which illustrate how secretive and malign these influences are.
"The main area of cover-up is undoubtedly the GM effects on health. It is a staggering fact that there have been virtually no clinical or biochemical tests of the impacts of eating GM foods on human health. Jeffrey Smith sets out, like a detective story, the unravelling of the L-tryptophan fiasco, the StarLink maize allergy mishap, and the cauliflower mosaic virus promoter hazard, as well as a host of other health risks, both predicted and unpredictable."
+ COMMONS FURY AS GM RULES BILL BLOCKED
"Weasel of the week award goes to Andrew Dismore, Labour MP for Hendon, who killed off the private members bill on GMs last Friday. This would have provided separation distances between crops, and compensation for farmers whose suffered losses from GM cross pollination. Gregory Barker, the Conservative MP for Bexhill and Battle, was halfway through his opening speech when Dismore called for the house to sit in private, an obscure device that requires an instant vote. Labour ministers and MPs failed to go into the lobbies, leaving the Commons inquorate [too few to make a vote valid]. The bill fell."
- John Vidal, "Eco sounding", The Guardian, March 31, 2004
GMWATCH comment: This follows something of a pattern. The Blair Government has never - since 1997 when they were elected - called a debate on GM crops. Every debate in Parliament has been called by backbench MPs raising concerns. Now even those debates are being blocked.
The MP proposing the bill said afterwards, "Labour MPs and ministers have conspired to prevent the House of Commons even debating the matter. My Bill... was a common-sense approach to any new technology that carries risks as well as benefits. However, even such a sensible measure was clearly too much for the Labour Government." http://www.fwi.co.uk/article.asp?con=14222&sec=18&hier=2
HIGHLIGHTS OF THE WEEK - GLOBAL
+ US: PANEL OKS BID TO RAISE MODIFIED RICE
A sharply divided California rice industry has voted 6-5 to approve the nation's first commercial-scale planting of a crop genetically engineered to produce drug compounds. Ventria Bioscience of Sacramento plans to grow rice containing human proteins to be used in oral rehydration products to treat diarrhoea.
If Ventria stumbles - for instance, by allowing its rice to mingle with food rice - it would spell doom for the state's $500 million rice industry centered in the Sacramento Valley. "We are fearful," said Maxwell rice farmer Joe Carrancho. "If a mistake is made, the farmer is going to pay big time."
Because the industry panel who approved the rice called Ventria's proposal an emergency measure in deference to Ventria's spring planting schedule, there will be only limited public comment before a final decision is made.
The California Department of Food and Agriculture has 10 days to approve or reject the proposal. http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=3126
URGENT ACTION ALERT ON PHARMA RICE
Please send an ACTION ALERT e-mail to both the California Secretary of Food and Agriculture A.G. Kawamura and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger opposing the approval. Here is a link to this ACTION ALERT: http://www.thecampaign.org/alert_calif.php
You can either send the email provided, adapt it, or write your own. This action is open to people from any country since California and other US states export rice to the rest of us. If you live in the UK, you may like to point out that you will lobby supermarkets to stop imports of US rice on precautionary grounds, and that while it's still on the shelves you will boycott it and urge your friends to do likewise. You can also point out that such lobbying has been so successful in the UK that our supermarkets all claim to exclude GM ingredients from own-label products.
+ AUSTRALIA: GM CROPS ON HOLD INDEFINITELY AS ANOTHER STATE SNUFFS OUT CROP TRIAL
Plans to grow GM crops in Australia are on hold indefinitely after the NSW Government ruled out a 3000-hectare trial of GM canola. The decision is a major blow to chemical giants Monsanto and Bayer.
The British and Australian Prime Ministers, Tony Blair and John Howard, are amongst George Bush's staunchest allies but even they cannot deliver their countries over to the biotech industry. In the space of just over a week, four key Australian States have ruled out any large-scale growing of GM crops. Western Australia, the nation's biggest crop producer, started the ball rolling on Monday of last week. The following day Tasmania voted for a ban. Then on Thursday, Victoria said it would extend its moratorium on GM crops by four years, until 2008. Now it's the turn of New South Wales (NSW). The GM crop in question cannot be grown in other parts of Australia. http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=3130
+ GERMANY SAYS RESTAURANT FOOD MUST BE MARKED AS GMO
Restaurant and canteen food containing GMOs must be clearly marked when new rules on GMO labelling take effect in April, the German government said. On April 18 new European Union rules mean food on sale in shops will have to be labelled if it contains GMOs. Animal feed sold to farmers will also have to be labelled. http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=3134
+ ANGOLA REJECTS GM FOOD AID
Angola has rejected a 19,000-ton shipment of GM maize given by the US as food aid. Angola, a nation of about 14 million people, was ruined by the war pitting the government against UNITA rebels. About 1.5 million remain dependent on food aid, according to WFP figures. Angola receives up to 77% of its food aid from the US.
GM critics point out that if cash instead of tied aid were provided, as happens with most major donors other than the US, then Angola could simply buy part of Zambia's current 100,000 ton surplus - and thereby boost the regional agricultural economy. http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=3080
Following Angola's action, a series of articles were published in the world's media expressing surprise and consternation that Angola, like Sudan in the north and other southern African countries, is rejecting GM food aid. It's clear from the claims, and those who are quoted, that the articles originate with the UN's World Food Programme.
However, the WFP's surprise rings hollow given that Angola has been known to share the widespread concern of African countries over GMOs for two years now. http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=3124
+ US CUTS $400M IN WORLD FOOD FUNDING
The US plans to cut its funding of the United Nations World Food Program by 20 per cent, or almost US$300 million ($400 million), in the coming year, a food program official has said. http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=3126
+ INDIA: NEW ORGANIC BOOM
A report in the Financial Express of India says the Green Revolution, though it enabled the country to boost production of staple crops, has worsened soil health and degraded the environment through use of chemicals. The groundwater table has also been depleted. Experts who attended the national conference on organic farming for sustainable production which concluded in Delhi on March 25 gave a clarion call to "Go Back To Basics". This would involve a return to multi-cropping, on-farm organic manures, and other organic and biodynamic farming methods. http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=3122
+ INDIA: NO GM FOR CROPS SELECTED FOR ORGANICS
Indian agro experts are of the view that GM technology should not be applied to crops selected for organic farming, if the country is to take any advantage of the lucrative $36.89 billion global market for organic food. The global market for organic food has grown at the rate of 15 to 30 per cent annually in the last three years. Organic food gets a price premium of 20 to 30 per cent over non-organic food.
Dr Gautam Kalloo, deputy director of ICAR, exploded the myth that organic practices generally lead to a lower yield. He said, "Our field experiments have shown that certain crops respond exceptionally well to organic practices. Organic farming in sugarcane has resulted in an increase in yield by 25 per cent. We should select crops for organic farming with a view to boost our exports in dollar terms. Crops like Basmati rice, soyabeans, cashewnuts, medicinal plants, spices, tea, coffee and select fruits and vegetables should be taken up for organic farming." http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=3122
+ MONSANTO CLAIMS ITS GM COTTON BOOSTS YIELD AND PROFIT!
Monsanto is claiming in its home-town rag, the St Louis Business Journal, that a study it commissioned in a joint venture showed that its GM cotton in India boosted both yields and profit over traditional cotton last year. Monsanto said, "Net profit was 78 percent higher than with traditional cotton."
These claims stand in stark contrast to reports from Indian government bodies and other independent sources of the total failure of the GM cotton crop. Examples from a press article:
"Reports are pouring in from different parts of the country of a 'failed' or 'unsatisfactory' harvest of the first commercial transgenic Bt cotton crop."
"...it is unfit for cultivation and should be banned in the State." - panel set up by the State of Gujarat government to evaluate the performance of Bt cotton in the State
"Bt cotton has totally failed" - State of Andhra Pradesh government team which evaluated the performance of Bt cotton
+ CONVEYING A FALSE SENSE OF NEED, URGENCY AND SAFETY
"Multilateral institutions and U.S. policy makers are in the pockets of those who stand to gain from GM foods - the corporations. Massive corporate expenditures on public relations are creating a false sense of need, urgency and safety concerning new technologies.
"Just one biotech industry consortium, the Council for Biotechnology Information, has a $250 million war chest which has helped it place ads promoting biotechnology on television and in the print media. The key arguments being used in this pro-industry publicity blitz are green washing - 'biotech will create a world free of pesticides,' poorwashing - 'we must accept genetically engineered foods if we are to feed the poor in the Third World,' and hope dashing - 'there are no alternatives.'
Read on at http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=3083
(Taken from Voices from the South: The Third World Debunks Corporate Myths on Genetically Engineered Crops
+ GM PLANT TRACKS LANDMINES - UNDER CERTAIN CONDITIONS
A curious article by The Observer's science correspondent, a well-known GM supporter, reports on "a row among activists and charities" over a GM plant said to be able to detect landmines. However, the only person he quotes in support of the project is the chief executive of Aresa Biodetection, the Danish company developing the plant.
We never learn who are the "activists and charities" that apparently think this unproven system -- which only works
*if the GM plants are sown by low flying aircraft in soil devoid of other vegetation
*if the mines are not planted too deep, and
*if the mines are not sealed in plastic cases
-- is "vital in dealing with the world's land mines".
+ GREENPEACE ACTIVISTS OCCUPY GM CROP FIELD
Around 40 Greenpeace activists have occupied a field in northern Switzerland - site of the country's first outdoor trial of GM wheat. The protesters are calling for the experiment in Lindau near Zurich to be scrapped, claiming it poses a risk to the environment.
From industry's point of view, what better way to squash European opposition to the introduction of GM wheat than to irreversibly contaminate the home-grown crop? http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=3089
ARTICLE OF THE WEEK
+ WHY THE WORLD HEALTH ORGANISATION LAUGHS AT BRITAIN'S FOOD STANDARDS AGENCY
Probably the best (and certainly the longest!) article ever written on Sir John Krebs and the Food Standards agency he heads was published in the Sunday Times on 28 March.
"The World Health Organization laughs at it. Consumer organisations rail at it. Environmentalists despair over it. MPs ridicule it. Even the Women's Institute is unhappy.
"In the eyes of many who ought to be its allies, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has been worse than a disappointment. To people who care about what they eat, and who believe that the UK's official food monitor should have a wider duty than to certify the harmlessness of chemical additives, it has been the kind of friend that makes enemies unnecessary. It loves GM. Hates organics. Exalts science to the position once occupied by gods. Pays no more account to public opinion than it might to the clucking of a hen."
"The man at the top is the agency's chairman, Sir John Krebs, a distinguished zoologist with a specialism in bird behaviour. He is above all a man of science, whose opinion of GM protesters, organic-food producers and their customers is like that of a medieval pope for the Muslim hordes."
"In an otherwise generous appraisal of the agency's work in its first three years, the Consumers' Association awarded it one mark out of 10 for its performance on GM. In March last year, together with the National Consumer Council and Sustain, it wrote to Sir John Krebs in terms that left little room for misunderstanding. The FSA's stance on GM, it said, 'while claiming to be impartial, is anti-consumer and biased in favour of GM technology'.
"'Our main criticism is of the FSA's website, entitled "GM public debate". The content is biased, failing to address issues currently facing UK consumers and selective with the information chosen to be included. In many cases, what are set out as "basic facts" give a one-sided view. The FSA's decision to take a prejudicial view towards GM will affect its credibility and undo the good work it has done in other areas. The information appears to have little to do with the desire to have a meaningful debate; rather, it is a defence of the government's approach'.
"Nor was this the only stinger in Sir John's postbag. Only a week earlier, another group of signatories, including the National Federation of Women's Institutes, the Food Commission, Soil Association, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and the health union, Unison, had blazed away in very similar terms. 'There is a strong consensus amongst consumer and environment organisations that the published views and statements of the FSA and its Chair are indistinguishable from those of the pro-GM lobby and do not properly represent public health and consumer interests.' Most bruising of all for a man of science, the WI group attacked not just the perceived prejudice of the website but the validity of its research. It deplored the agency's 'willingness to rely on unpublished or confidential corporate data that is neither independent, nor peer-reviewed nor available to the public'.
"They might as well have saved their ink. Over a long weekend the very next month, an FSA 'citizens' jury' heard witnesses from interested parties - environment and consumer groups, scientists, GM companies, food manufacturers and supermarkets - and delivered its verdict. GM crops, it said, should not be grown in Britain. The following day, the FSA issued a press release: 'FSA citizens' jury says GM foods should be available to buy in the UK.' This was true: a nine-strong majority of the 15 'jurors' had decided British shoppers should be able to buy imported GM foods if they wanted them; but all 15 were unanimous that the crops should not be grown here. Not only was this not thought worthy of a headline, it was not even mentioned in the text."
"The FSA was out of step not only with British public opinion but also with the rest of the EU. Alone among European nations, the UK argued against the European commission's proposal for compulsory labelling of GM 'derivatives' - ie, ingredients such as soya oil, whose provenance is not detectable in manufactured products. Alone, too, it wanted the entire thrust of labelling policy reversed - for GM products to count as the norm, and for the rest to be labelled 'GM free'. It lost the argument, but only after it had spent vast amounts of time and energy justifying its position (it insisted that the law would be unenforceable). It is this that frustrates people who support the FSA's ultimate aims and objectives, but who find themselves forced into opposition. 'Time spent arguing that extended labelling can't work,' says Sue Dibb [senior policy officer of the National Consumer Council, member of FSA consumer committee], 'could have been spent making it work.'
"In the end, the agency just looked out of touch. UK food manufacturers and retailers, being more sensitive to the public mood, are careful to keep GM ingredients off the shelves; and the labelling of GM derivatives will be a legal requirement from April 18. The UK government, meanwhile, doggedly trundles forward in its determination to impose GM crops, come environmental hell or the high water of public hostility.
"If anything exceeds Krebs's enthusiasm for GM, it is his loathing of organics - another area in which the scientific high ground is claimed by 'conventional' (ie, chemically dependent) agriculture. Krebs is very fond of the scientific high ground, and scathing of the media bias he descries on the lower slopes. In the autumn of 2000, he was one of a number of scientists invited by the Royal Institution and the Social Issues Research Centre (SIRC) to draw up new guidelines for journalists reporting on science and health. 'As chair of the Food Standards Agency,' he said at the time, 'I feel that people in our society should have access to accurate and balanced information about food safety and nutrition in order to make sensible decisions about what they eat. I very much hope that with these guidelines we will reduce the distortions and sensationalism which so often are associated with stories about what we should or should not eat.'
"The guidelines themselves were largely unexceptionable, though the irony of that 'balanced information' was not lost on aficionados of the FSA website. The odd eyebrow was raised, too, at the involvement of the SIRC, whose website appears even more violently anti-organic than the FSA's own.
'It was inevitable,' it says, 'that when Sir John Krebs first punctured the myths surrounding organic food, he would become a target for both personal abuse and zealous attempts to prove him wrong.' Oddly, this is the first sentence of a piece which itself is larded with personal abuse, and which zealously attempts to prove wrong the author of a Soil Association report on the nutritional value of organics. 'No journalist,' it complains, 'seems to have explored the credentials of [the author] Shane Heaton. If they had bothered to do so they might have been more concerned about his so-called "results".' And the damning evidence from Heaton's background? That he trained with the Institute for Optimum Nutrition, whose 'founding patron was Linus Pauling - the man responsible for the now discredited idea that massive doses of vitamin C are effective in preventing colds and other ailments, and even cancer'.
"What it neglects to add is that Pauling was a double Nobel laureate (Chemistry, 1954; Peace, 1962) and an unlikely vehicle for a 'guilt by association' smear. This leaves the SIRC and, by association, Sir John Krebs, ducking the ricochets. Is this the standard of scientific objectivity it wants to impress upon the media? If even a Nobel laureate can be wrong, then how can scientists continue so arrogantly to proclaim their own infallibility? And if people are to be judged by the company they keep, what about the SIRC's own food-industry funding, and its association with a commercial market-research company? What about the FSA's warm embrace of officials who thought it good practice for animal protein to be fed to cattle? If this is scientific objectivity, then you might as well hand editorial control of Nature to the editor of the Daily Mail."
THE REST OF THE MONTH'S TOP STORIES
+ UK: GM MAIZE APPROVED BY BLAIR GOVT, SUNK BY WELSH ASSEMBLY, KILLED BY BAYER
On March 9, UK environment secretary Margaret Beckett announced the UK government's approval of the first GM crop to be commercialised in the UK, Bayer's Chardon LL maize. The government's decision flew in the face of the results of the GM public debate and of the unanimous advice of its own Environmental Audit Committee.
The Audit Committee had been unimpressed by the trial of the GM maize, which had only come out as better for wildlife than the non-GM maize because the non-GM crop had been sprayed with atrazine, a herbicide so toxic it's now been banned in the EU.
In a carefully contrived operation to upstage the Environment Audit Committee report, on the day of its publication, a paper authored by pro-GM scientist Prof Joe Perry (an active member of Scientists for Labour, affiliated to Tony Blair's Labour Party) was rushed online by Nature. The paper claimed to show that even with the ban on atrazine, the GM maize would still be marginally better for wildlife.
Because only four fields had not been sprayed with atrazine-type chemicals, the paper was highly speculative and had to largely draw on data from fields which had been sprayed with the banned chemical in order to make predictions about what would happen in fields where such a chemical would not be used!
see Bogus Comparison in GM Maize Trial
Another conveniently timed announcement (also on March 9) by the British Medical Association (BMA), in a U-turn from its previous sceptical stance on GM, said, "there was no reason not to go ahead with commercial planting of GM maize". The source quoted was Sir David Carter, chairman of the BMA's Board of Science - and member of the pro-GM lobby group Sense About Science!
But in an extraordinary victory for democracy, on 24 March Carwyn Jones, the Welsh Assembly's environment minister, conceded that he would not add Chardon LL maize to the National Seeds List without the authorization of the Assembly through a free vote. The minister has a UK veto on the listing of GM seeds, and on this matter he gave up his delegated powers and agreed to follow the majority wishes of Assembly Members (AMs), which are overwhelmingly anti-GM.
However, both the UK govt and Welsh Assembly decisions were superseded by Bayer's decision on 31 March to withdraw Chardon LL from commercialisation (see HIGHLIGHTS OF THE WEEK - UK, above).
+ BLAIR GOVT FORCED TO REVEAL SECRET MEETINGS
In a victory for freedom of information, the parliamentary ombudsman has forced Tony Blair to reveal his meetings with commercial lobbyists. Ann Abraham, the ombudsman, has found No 10 guilty of unjustifiably keeping secret contacts between ministers and commercial companies who are seeking to influence them.
Downing Street has been compelled to admit that a Labour donor met the prime minister at a sensitive time when he was seeking to win a lucrative contract from the government. Dr Paul Drayson, head of the BioIndustry Association (motto: "Promoting UK Biotechnology") who donated GBP100,000 to Labour, provoked controversy when the government awarded his company PowderJect, without any competition, a GBP32m contract.
+ UK: SYNGENTA IN RETREAT
Syngenta has withdrawn its herbicide tolerant sugar beet 'Pacific' from the UK seed listing process. This means that of 58 GM plant varieties that have begun the UK national seed listing process since 1994, only 4 varieties (less than 7%) now remain in the process. Those varieties that remain are a token single plant variety for each crop.
+ UK/NZ: GOODBYE PPL THERAPEUTICS
Ailing biotech icon PPL Therapeutics, the company which helped clone Dolly the sheep, has announced it is to go into liquidation.
+ WAMBUGU CLAIMS SWEET POTATO CATASTROPHE A GREAT SUCCESS!
Here's a funny thing. Back in January a Kenyan newspaper reported that three year trials to test the GM sweet potato developed by Monsanto with the support of USAID, ISAAA and the World Bank, had shown it to be a failure and that it had even been outperformed by conventional sweet potatoes. The project's failure was also prominently reported in New Scientist, and it has also been referred to in other articles, including one in The Guardian.
Now, two months after the original piece appeared, up pops the Kenyan scientist, Florence Wambugu, who was recruited by Monsanto and USAID to front the project, claiming that far from being a complete dud as reported, "the GM sweet potato has been a resounding scientific success"!
In her press release and statement Wambugu makes no reference to the New Scientist piece but instead attributes criticism of the project to "what anti-GM activists are saying". As neither the Kenyan paper, the New Scientist nor The Guardian appears to have been asked to publish corrections, or even to have received letters disputing their reports, it is reasonable to ask where on earth the normally highly vocal Dr Wambugu, ISAAA and Monsanto have been for the last two months.
We checked with the journalist who wrote the New Scientist piece that nobody had contacted them to say the story was wrong. Nobody had. He also told us that he had received no reply from Dr Wambugu to his request for a comment prior to publication.
Perhaps this has been a case of alien abduction? Obviously, it couldn't be that it has taken two months for Dr Wambugu to come up with this story?!
According to Wambugu's story, the 3 years of field trials weren't really testing the GM sweet potato, they were just a way of testing the extent of the problems faced at a very early stage in the project.
This is also extremely curious because it was originally said a finished GM sweet potato would be available in 2002!
For more on this, see http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2946
For the Wambugu article, "Kenyan Genetic Scientist Defends GM Sweet Potato" http://www.truthabouttrade.org/article.asp?id=1474.
+ SUDAN: US CUTS OFF FOOD AID
According to testimony made by USAID to a Committee of the US House of Representatives, as of March 7 USAID has stopped all further food aid shipments to Port Sudan because the Government Of Sudan has asked that US commodities be certified free of GMOs.
+ US: VERMONT PASSES LAW TO MAKE GM FIRMS LIABLE FOR CONTAMINATION
Vermont Senators voted unanimously on March 10 to support the Farmer Protection Act (S.164), a bill to hold biotech corporations (and not farmers) liable for unintended contamination of conventional or organic crops by GM genes. http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2870
+ HAWAII: COFFEE INDUSTRY UNITES AGAINST GM
In another sign of burgeoning resistance to GM in the US, Hawaii's coffee growers have united in a call to stop GM coffee being introduced into the state. A joint letter and resolution opposing the growing and field or greenhouse testing of GM coffee has been sent to the Hawaii Dept of Agriculture from all of Hawaii's coffee growers. http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2896
+ MONSANTO RAISES IDEA OF US-ONLY GM WHEAT RELEASE
Monsanto is discussing with the US wheat industry whether it should be held to its promise not to release GM wheat in the US unless it can simultaneously market it in Canada. Monsanto told officials from wheat growers and wheat marketing organizations that it was facing stiff opposition to its GM wheat in Canada. The company raised the possibility of "alternative strategies" to the simultaneous U.S.-Canadian release it has pledged to the wheat industry for more than a year.
US wheat growers do not want Monsanto's GM wheat introduced only in the US. They fear foreign buyers opposed to GM foods would shift their purchases to Canada, the United States' top competitor for hard red spring wheat sales. http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2903
+ USDA WORLD SURVEY SHOWS WORLD DOESN'T WANT GM WHEAT
Results of a new US survey of global attitudes toward GM wheat indicate widespread opposition or uncertainty about imports if the product were to be approved for commercial sales. Some major grain-importing countries would refuse to buy GM wheat if it became commercially available, or are uncertain of their reaction, according to the survey by the US Dept of Agriculture.
The survey also found that key countries such as Japan and South Korea might refuse non-GM wheat from a country if it approved just one variety of GM wheat. http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2898
+ OPPOSITION GROWING TO GM WHEAT, SAYS CANADIAN WHEAT BOARD
World wheat buyers are increasingly opposed to GM wheat, says the Canadian Wheat Board, one of the world's largest wheat sellers. The CWB, which has a monopoly on wheat and barley exports from Canada's main Prairie growing region, said buyers of 87 per cent of its wheat in the 2002-03 marketing year required guarantees that the wheat was not genetically engineered. That's up from 82 per cent two years ago.
The CWB's 10 highest volume markets all required the guarantee, including Japan, Mexico, Britain, Italy, Indonesia and Malaysia, as well as domestic millers. http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2949
+ US STATE DEPT USES TAXPAYER DOLLARS TO PROMOTE GM
The US government has launched a new website about GM crops as part of a taxpayer-funded project to promote such crops worldwide. http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2895
+ MEXICO: GM CORN INVADES
Amanda Galvez, head of the Mexican government's interagency group on biosafety and genetically modified organisms, said a federally sponsored study had confirmed instances of massive gene transfer. http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2889
for the report Maize and Biodiversity - The Effects of Transgenic Maize in Mexico http://www.cec.org/maize/resources/chapters.cfm?varlan=english
+ PHILIPPINES: CHILDREN SUFFER FEVER AND VOMITING AND HORSES ARE DYING
More on the worries about the impact of Bt corn in the Philippines http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2815
+ GM GIANTS DIG INTO ASIA'S RICE BOWL
Control over rice, Asia's staple food, is steadily passing into the hands of transnational corporations that are based far away in Europe and the United States and that use unfair patents and genetic modification of food, security experts have warned. http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2887
+ NEW WITCH-HUNT UNDER WAY
Prof Terje Traavik's research showing health dangers of GM foods and crops (http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?ArcId=2712) was bound to raise the usual hackles after it was announced at Kuala Lumpur.
Predictably, some of the criticism of Traavik's work has hinged around his public announcement of his findings prior to peer review and publication. This, you will recall, was also a key criticism deployed by the biotech brigade to vilify Dr Arpad Pusztai after he went public with his results prior to publication.
It seems that the biotech industry and their pet scientists are the only ones who have the right to tout unpublished (and even imaginary) results.
See Terje Traavik's explanation of his decision to go public with his results, in the interests of precaution and the public interest, prior to peer review at
LACHMANN CHIEF WITCH-FINDER?
The following email suggests the kind of witch-hunt that marked the Pusztai affair may now be under way, this time with Traavik as the quarry. In the former instance, apart from Dr Pusztai's gagging and sacking, there were allegedly attempts to obtain data by underhand means, and according to the editor of The Lancet, threats were made against him in an effort to prevent Pusztai and Ewen's research being published. The man named by The Guardian as having threatened the editor was Sir Peter Lachmann FRS. More about Sir Peter is available in the directory at www.gmwatch.org
Note that Terje Traavik's second point in his email is prompted by Lachmann's apparent (mistaken) belief that Arpad Pusztai had been made scientific director of Genok, the Norwegian Institute of Gene Ecology, a position actually held by Terje Traavik.
THE TRAAVIK EMAIL
To: Arpad Pusztai and Susan Bardocz
The Pres of the Royal Norwegian Academy of Sciences, prof. Lars Walloe, rang me up yesterday and warned me that Peter Lachmann was out hunting.
He had contacted Walloe and wanted him to take action with me:
1. Because of the Kuala Lumpur talk etc.
2. Because we had made Arpad scientific director of Genok (sic!).
I explained to him that we proudly had included Arpad in our KL [Kuala Lumpur] delegation, but otherwise I neither knew I was sacked, nor that Arpad was out for my job.
For a piece contributed by Arpad Pusztai to the Spiked Online debate on public perception of risk concerning GM foods, see http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=3072
+ DODGY DEALS AND IRRESPONSIBLE CARE
A document leaked to Greenpeace has revealed the secret plans of the American Chemistry Council (of which Monsanto and Dow are members) to trash anti-pollution laws in California. The internal memo, a proposal from PR firm Nichols-Dezenhall, outlines tactics such as the creation of phoney front groups and spying on activists to undermine pioneering laws that protect the environment. http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2901
+ BIG PO (SON OF PRAKASH) STRUTS HIS STUFF FOR BIG NORM
Prakash, Avery & co. are busy milking Green Revolution pundit and pro-GM scientist Norman Borlaug's 90th birthday - and how!
Rohan Prakash - Big Po
EXCERPT FROM THE NORMAN BORLAUG RAP (THANK YOU, NORMAN)
[To listen to the song (MP3):
For a picture of the artist: http://rohanraps.bravehost.com/]
Norman Borlaug, you may be
the greatest man in history.
Using science and your brain
to stamp out hunger, woe and pain.
Creating new varieties
of plants with new technologies.
You're the man we look up to.
That is why we're thanking you.
But then some people started to panic,
telling the farmers to go organic.
Technophobes started making a mess
of Norman Borlaug's great success.
Green groups thought they found the cure
in stinky piles of cow manure
Our thanks to all of you who have donated to GM WATCH. For those who have not yet contributed, you can donate online in any one of five currencies via PayPal, at http://www.gmwatch.org/donate.asp OR by cheque or postal order payable to 'NGIN', to be sent to: NGIN, 26 Pottergate, Norwich, NR2 1DX, UK. We appreciate your support.
HEADLINES OF THE WEEK: from the GMWATCH archive
31/3/2004 Bayer deals blow to GM crops - "huge blow" to GM lobby
31/3/2004 Blair loves Borlaug / Bayer have only themselves to blame
31/3/2004 GM furphy / Dear friends... love jim
31/3/2004 The monster is shackled! / a history of GM activism in the UK
30/3/2004 Bayer bins GM plan for UK - blames Beckett
30/3/2004 Campaign of pressure orchestrated against Angola
30/3/2004 Pharma rice for US/US cuts $400m in world food funding / Japanese want US to reject GM
29/3/2004 Angola Rejection Of GM Food Row / Uganda stirs GM anxiety
29/3/2004 Biofuels and GM / Wasting Time in a Cul-de-Sac
29/3/2004 Organic farming: A new boom in India
28/3/2004 'Safety Quacks' - Taverne quacks Furedi's tune in Prospect
28/3/2004 Astroturf's "Southern Missionaries" preaching biotech
28/3/2004 GM plant tracks land mines - under certain special conditions
28/3/2004 Ten reasons why farmers are concerned about GM crops
28/3/2004 Why the World Health Organization laughs at Britain's Food Standards Agency
27/3/2004 GM Cotton Increases Yields And Profits In India, says Monsanto commissioned study
27/3/2004 Highland GM battle inspires Indians
26/3/2004 Commons Fury as GM Rules Bill Blocked / 'GM crops are good for us' - NOT!
26/3/2004 Greenpeace activists occupy GM crop field
25/3/2004 GM maize sunk by Welsh Assembly / Pressure grows to stop GM in Scotland
25/3/2004 GM PR spreading falsehoods down-under
25/3/2004 More on Traavik witch-hunt + Pusztai on risk aversion
25/3/2004 THE WEEKLY WATCH number 65
FOR THE COMPLETE GMWATCH ARCHIVE: http://www.gmwatch.org/archive.asp