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Former Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Owen Paterson [right] once again trots out tired myths about the virtues of genetic modification of crops.
He is said to be assisted by his brother-in-law, Viscount Matt Ridley, a genetic scientist who is a visiting professor at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) in New York which has received funding from Monsanto and Novartis. His long-term support for the technology, first highlighted in a ‘civilian’ September 2012 speech at the Rothamsted Research facility, inviting GMO innovators to take root in the UK, was followed by his DEFRA appointment.
Minister Paterson, in partnership with the Agricultural Biotechnology Council, financed by GM companies Monsanto, Syngenta and Bayer CropScience, frequently lobbied the EU on the desirability of GM crops. Last April he refused a Freedom of Information Act request to supply details about meetings between the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the GM industry trade body. He had to leave DEFRA, having extolled Britain’s shale gas reserves, ‘an unexpected and potentially huge windfall’, and mishandled the summer floods and badger culls.
He then set up a think tank UK2020. Millionaire-founded, it steers clear of direct funding from GM industries but vigorously promotes the technology at events such as last year’s South African agricultural biotechnology media conference, hosted by ISAAA which receives donations from both Monsanto and Bayer CropScience.
Murdoch’s Fox News: “the most anticipated and feared papal document in recent times”
Farming Weekly Online reports the thoughts of Pope Francis on GMOs and pesticides, voiced in the draft of this major environmental document. He has called for a “scientific and social debate” on genetically modified foods that considers all the information available. He highlighted “significant problems” with the technology that should not be minimised, such as the “development of oligopolies in the production of seeds” and a “concentration of productive land in the hands of the few” that leads to the “disappearance of small producers”.
Brian John commented: Religious leaders — of all faiths — have been very slow to enter this debate, partly because they have been put under intense diplomatic pressure by the GMO /agrichemical industries and by the US and other governments.
The GMO industry, and its acolytes, bang on all the time, quite cynically, about GMOs being needed to “feed the world” in a future full of uncertainties – nonsense of course.
The Pope’s intervention at this stage is of vast significance.
Tags: Agricultural Biotechnology Council, Bayer CropScience, DEFRA, Genetically modified foods, GM Crops, Murdoch’s Fox News, Novartis, Owen Paterson MP, Pesticides, Pope Francis, Syngenta, UK2020, Vatican, Viscount Matt Ridley, Windscale
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The Guardian with support from this wealthy foundation appears – yet again – to be addressing the needs of already wealthy biotech companies – with Africa in its sights.
The US embassy in Accra held a roundtable on biotechnology this month, as a Plant Breeders’ Bill is pending; it was described by Duke Tagoe, of Food Sovereignty Ghana, as a closed-door discussion. He adds, “We are deeply worried about what seems like an imposition of genetically modified foods on the good people of Ghana without any meaningful public discourse, compounded by attempts to stifle any opposition.”
The US embassy refused to comment.
Former EPA scientist Doug Gurian Sherman, who holds a doctorate degree in plant pathology from the University of California at Berkeley and conducted post-doctoral research on rice and wheat molecular biology at the USDA laboratory in California, and many others remind us:
“We produce enough food. Poverty and marginalization prevent access. Genetic engineering is used mainly in livestock feed crops and biofuel crops that are not useful to those who need more, or more nutritious food”.
In his report to the UN Human Rights Council, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier de Schutter, acknowledges that hunger is caused not by low food stocks but by poverty and emphasizes that agriculture must not compromise its ability to satisfy future needs by undermining biodiversity and the natural resource base. Governments are advised to provide: “. . . strong support to small-scale food producers, based on the provision of public goods for training, storage and connection to markets, and on the dissemination of agroecological modes of production. In addition, measures should be taken to develop local markets and local food processing facilities, combined with trade policies that support such efforts and at the same time reduce the competition between the luxury tastes of some and the basic needs of the others”.
Corporate–friendly media point out the advantages of genetic modification, but fail to discuss what Dr Gurian Sherman calls the ‘opportunity costs’ of that approach which include:
- Herbicide resistance (above, BBC report & video: US giant ragweed, weeding by hand): “Over 99% of biotech crops are immune to herbicides, more commonly known as weedkillers. That has led to hundreds of millions of pounds more of herbicide use, tens of millions of acres of herbicide resistant weeds, and a new generation of resistant crops that will greatly increase the use of older, riskier herbicides. http://www.nature.com/nbt/journal/v31/n6/full/nbt.2597.html (2013)
- Insect resistance (above): see Field-evolved resistance to Bt toxin Cry1Ac in the pink bollworm Pest Management Science
- Diversion of funding from conventional plant breeding which continues to outperform genetic engineering in all regions, at much less cost per trait.
Dr Gurian Sherman summarises: “Large corporations that dominate development of genetically modified crops have produced only a very few commercial successes — despite close to 30 years of effort.
Is the current proportion of genetic modification simply a drive to increase profits? Peter Melchett of the Soil Association has another view. He thinks that the current push has more to do with:
- the threat to the US market for GM crops (from consumers though demands for labelling, and farmers dissatisfied with GM crops performance),
- threats in the EU (the start of a move away from GM animal feed, and some key EU countries maybe going for a total ban on GM crops if the rules change over here),
- and negative news about GM food production in Russia and China.
He ends: “So in my optimistic way I see the PR campaign as defensive, and a sign that we are making real progress! In the UK we just saw an extremely pro-GM Environment/Agriculture Secretary of State sacked, and in the EU a new head of the EU Commission elected who seems fairly sceptical about GM”.