from Kate O'Connell to Dr Vernon Barber of the NFU
Dear Dr Barber
I have been re reading your most recent reply and I honestly cannot decide whether you really are unable to see the point I am trying to make or whether you are purposely ignoring it. I must admit that I am beginning to think that all those in favour of biotechnology must be taking some sort of degree course specialising in avoiding direct answers to direct questions or that they have contracted an anti answer virus - because avoiding questions certainly seems to be a common complaint..
I am perfectly aware that you are not involved in insurance and I am not looking for you to answer questions on behalf of NFU Mutual. For some unknown reason you seem to be under the impression that I have some grievance or complaint against NFU Mutual for refusing to indemnify GM crops - and any problems arising from their cultivation or consumption. Nothing could be further from the truth. I fully support NFU Mutual in that decision - after all why should this company take risks that no other insurance company in the world will take? Why should NFU Mutual insure against losses arising from Gm crops when the companies producing those crops will not accept any liability for their own product? Why should farmers who are not growing GM crops pay increased premiums to cover those risks? My grievance, my very grave concern, lies with the fact that the NFU itself is promoting a technology that NFU Mutual rightly consider to be unacceptable risk.
You also seem to be under the impression that I am concerned about insurance for those farmers who are currently hosting the farm scale trials. Again, nothing could be further from the truth. Those farmers hosting the trials know full well what risks they are taking, and the problems that are likely to arise, including the risks they pose to neighbouring farmers, to their friends. The farmers undertaking the trials had a choice, to grow GM crops - or not. They chose to take the risk, they chose to take the money and to grow them. That is their choice - that is their risk - alone.
My concern is for the thousands and thousands and thousands of British farmers, both conventional and organic, who have chosen not to take that risk. My concern is for those farmers who have categorically chosen not to grow GM crops and who now find themselves in a position where that choice has been taken away from them. A position where they have no legal recourse if, or should I say when, those risks are realised and GM crops become a serious liability for them through cross pollination, recombination and so called 'accidental' contamination. These farmers, the vast majority of British farmers Dr Barber, are the ones the NFU has betrayed, and continues to betray through its refusal to insist that all outdoor growing of these crops is stopped immediately until either the companies accept full and unconditional liability or, preferably and more sensibly, until the technology is found to be so safe that every insurance company in the world will indemnify as a matter of course.
I think that this is pretty straightforward and I fail to see how you can continue to avoid the issue.
You say in your letter that 'There are certainly some problems with some GM crops in certain parts of the world. This has been largely caused by the rush to grow them'. An understatement to say the least, Dr Barber. You know as well as I do that those problems are increasing and becoming more serious on, virtually, a daily basis. And you also know that some of those problems are arising in the very same crops that we are growing here. Why are we bothering to trial them at all when we know that there are inherent problems? Why are we still in such a rush to grow them ?
You then go on to say that this is why the UK government entered into a voluntary agreement with the agri-food industry so that there is no commercial growing of GM crops in the UK until the end of the farm scale trials. Not so Dr Barber, the reason that this government entered into this so-called voluntary agreement was because there was so much public protest that it had no choice. The government and the NFU were perfectly happy for these crops to be commercialised three years ago and to deny that would be an out and out lie. Unfortunately, both the government and the NFU, are still perfectly happy, insistent even, that these crops are commercialised, and both appeared to fully support the introduction of GM maize to the seed lists last year. Again it was only massive public protest that prevented these crops from being commercialised. It was not the NFU -not the NFU at all - so please, do not continue to insult my intelligence by saying that the NFU is not in favour of commercialisation until the end of the trials.
How can you sit there and say that it is only after the trials are complete and GM crops commercialised, that insurance will become relevant? How can you say that and in the same breath say you support the majority of British farmers? It is a total contradiction of terms. Insurance, indemnity, the acceptance of liability is relevant now. Very relevant. What do you think is happening in those fields Dr Barber. Do you think the crops stand there and think " I am just a trial crop. I must not cross pollinate, I must not let my pollen blow in the wind, I must not let the bees land on me and fly to other crops?" Or do you think that a trial crop invents an invisible barrier around itself so it cannot escape? Do you think seeds sit in their silos saying " I am a GM seed. I must not go near conventional seeds" Do you think they jump out of the bag when they all get mixed up together? I am not sure which world the NFU is living in Dr Barber but it is certainly not the real world.
I live in a very rural area Dr Barber, my neighbours, my friends, are farmers and they are extremely worried about GM crops. Extremely worried. They have enough problems already - they do not want any more and they cannot take any more. They have very little left and they certainly cannot afford to afford to lose any more. Our farmers see the sense, the economic sense, in Britain being totally GM free and they see this whole new market being taken away from them. They are not been given a choice, Dr Barber, they see the betrayal.
Tell me something. Livestock is currently being slaughtered and incinerated by the hundred of thousands - to protect the agricultural export industry. Why is the NFU not demanding that GM crops are ripped up and burnt in the same way - after all they are just as much, if not more of a risk to our export industry? No one wants to buy GM crops - or conventional crops that are contaminated - especially with GM that is not approved for human use - which is mostly what we are growing. At least with foot and mouth there is always the fall back of vaccination - not so with GM crops - there is nothing to fall back on here Dr Barber, as you know full well.
I restate, even more strongly than before, that unless the NFU insists that all GM crops being grown in this country are immediately destroyed and gives its full and unconditional support for a moratorium, then the NFU, committing this act of utter betrayal, has totally forfeited the right, either now or in the future, to represent the British farming industry.