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In 2012 the EU halted British corporates’ sale of UK-licensed supplies of sarin gas ingredient to Syria

No laughing matter: arriving in St Petersburg to discuss the Syrian crisis, before this news broke

No laughing matter: arriving in St Petersburg to discuss the Syrian crisis, before this news broke


A reader has just drawn our attention to reports that, although Syria is one of only five countries who have refused to sign protocols against the use of chemical weapons, UK companies supplied sodium fluoride, with government–issued export licences issued in May 2010. The last British supplies of sodium fluoride reached Syria late that year.

Sodium fluoride is a ‘key ingredient’ in the nerve agent sarin, which scientists at the Porton Down proved – after testing items of clothing recovered from the scene – was used in the chemical attack on the outskirts of Damascus on August 21st.

govt bisThe Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) also admitted issuing licences for the export of sodium fluoride and potassium fluoride to Syria in January 2012 before revoking them several months later, following EU sanctions, but refused to say how much sodium fluoride was sold – or which companies were involved.

Professor Alastair Hay, a toxicology expert at Leeds University, told The Daily Mail: “The Government’s approval of sodium fluoride sales to Syria during a period when it was widely suspected the regime was stockpiling dangerous substances is deeply disturbing”.

One report quotes the view of intelligence expert Richard Kemp, a former member of the Government’s COBRA emergency committee, that these exports were ‘grossly irresponsible’.

mp richard ottawayMP Richard Ottaway, who chairs the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, said:

“Any sensible person would be concerned if an ingredient of sarin gas was exported from the UK to Syria”.

He thought that the issue should be brough before House of Commons Committee on Arms Export Controls.

Last word: “The Government is confident that UK export controls continue to be among the most stringent in the world.”


Royal Mail privatisation: Government yet again rewards multinationals for failure

This link was sent by a reader with the comment “Stupefait!“

The government has announced that Goldman Sachs, which has ‘sparked a great deal of controversy over its alleged improper practices’ – especially since the 2007 and ongoing financial crisis – and UBS, fined £940m for its role in the Libor rate rigging scandal – are to be the global co-ordinators and bookrunners of the Royal Mail privatisation.

The department for business, innovation and skills (BIS), which is in charge of the sale, refused to say how much the banks will collect in fees, but they will collect 1% of the flotation value.

A BIS spokesman declined to comment on the banks’ roles in recent scandals.


Media 19: Why is John Innes Centre ‘winning’ £6m for GM research headline news – but not Government’s £445m?

A month after the event, the BBC has announced Gates Foundation funding for John Innes’ GM research – but fails to mention that this is minute compared with the British government’s contribution:

A team of British plant scientists has won a $10m (£6.4m) grant from the Gates Foundation to develop GM cereal crops. It is one of the largest single investments into GM in the UK and will be used to cultivate corn, wheat and rice that need little or no fertiliser. It comes at a time when bio-tech researchers are trying to allay public fears over genetic modification. The work at the John Innes Centre in Norwich is hoped to benefit African farmers who cannot afford fertiliser.

News? With no reference to genetic modification, this funding was first tactfully announced a month ago on the Gates Foundation website:

“Purpose: to test the feasibility of developing cereal crops capable of fixing nitrogen as an environmentally-sustainable approach for small farmers in sub-Saharan Africa to increase maize yields – Date: June 2012”

To date it is not mentioned in the online news section of the John Innes Centre, which describes itself as ‘an independent, international centre of excellence in plant science and microbiology’. 

Why does John Innes describe itself as ‘independent’?

Its website clearly says that more than 50% of its income is from UK government sources, with the majority – for ‘strategic funding’ – from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council [BBSRC.]  It is now the Norwich base of the Sainsbury Laboratory.

Its total income was not found online, but in May this year the Minister for Universities and Science, David Willetts, announced substantial funding for the UK’s bioscience research base: John Innes Centre (JIC), Norwich – £42M   

BBSRC background 

BBRC’s website informs us that it is one of 7 Research Councils that work together as Research Councils UK (RCUK) – funded by the Government’s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). Its budget for 2011-12 is around £445M, and it supports around 1600 scientists and 2000 research students in universities and institutes across the UK. 

Taking lessons from Goebbels?

PCU deplores media manipulation, designed to downplay the governmental support and funding for a technology while it repeatedly claims that the public is gradually finding the growing and consumption of GM crops more acceptable.


For those new to the subject we recommend the GMO Myths and Truths report

Published by Earth Open Source, a not-for-profit organization, it was researched and written by Dr Michael Antoniou, reader in molecular genetics and head, Gene Expression and Therapy Group, King’s College London School of Medicine, London, UK,  Dr John Fagan, founder and chief scientific officer of one of the world’s first GMO testing and certification companies who earlier conducted cancer research at the US National Institutes of Health and Claire Robinson, MPhil, who has a background in investigative reporting and the communication of topics relating to public health, science and policy, and the environment.

Their summarised points are listed on a sister website.