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Gove ‘pledges’ cheaper, unlabelled, gene-edited food in his Brave New World

At a time when apprehensions about low-quality food entering the country post Brexit are rising, the Times reports that Michael Gove, the environment secretary has announced that “Britain will lead an agricultural revolution with the use of gene editing”.

In July, after hearing scientific evidence that gene editing “causes many profound mutations and DNA damage”, the European Court of Justice ruled that food resulting from genome editing would be regarded as genetically modified, which is outlawed in Europe.

The Country Land and Business Association (CLA) is underwhelmed

Disregarding this science-based evidence, Gove pledged, at yesterday’s CLA meeting in Westminster, that scientists and farmers would be freed from this European court ruling. The first report seen however, makes no reference to this exciting prospect, whatsoever.

Genome editing, or genome engineering is a type of genetic engineering in which DNA is inserted, deleted, modified or replaced in a specific location in the genome (genetic material) of a living organism, unlike early genetic engineering techniques that randomly insert genetic material into a host genome.

Support from vested interests

Scientists in the industry, like the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, funded by the government’s Department of Business believe that the technique will lead to crops and animals with higher yields, resistance to disease and the ability to cope with the effects of climate change.

Emma Hockridge, head of policy at the Soil Association, urged the government to keep the UK aligned with the European court: “Scientific research has long shown that these new gene-editing technologies give rise to similar uncertainties and risks as GM always has. We have always been clear that these new plant breeding techniques are GMOs [genetically modified organisms] and therefore are banned in organic farming and food”.

Bloomberg reports that under the Trump administration, gene-edited foods don’t need to be labelled or regulated and that Zach Luttrell, a principal at industry consultant StraightRow LLC, sees gene-editing as a way to continue lowering costs. 





GM: Guardian & Gates Foundation promote the political/corporate agenda

guardian gates poverty

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.”

us embassy accra ghana

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:

superweeds 2bbc

  • 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. bt crops insect resistant (2013)

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”.

GM an English issue: Scotland and Wales are strongly GM-free

The EU decision to allow Member States to decide whether to cultivate GM crops will have to be agreed by the European Parliament. If it is adopted, most countries in the EU, including Scotland and Wales, will remain GM free. There are currently no GM crops authorised for use in the EU that can be grown in England.

One safeguard/deterrent: the European Parliament has inserted a new clause on the liability for damage caused by GM crops into this proposal and improves existing EU law by making it compulsory for Member States to implement rules that prevent contamination of the GM free sector.

Earlier Wales had proposed a liability regime which made the GM companies responsible for any damage – and the GM industry promptly said they wouldn’t allow their crops to be grown under such a condition.

Peter Melchett, Soil Association policy director, said: “In future a committed pro-GM Secretary of State like Owen Paterson could take the decision to make England a ‘GM country’, and once that decision is taken, and GM crops are established, it will be extremely difficult for any future Government to adopt a different position”.

He thinks that England would then risk getting a reputation as the GM centre of Europe; no doubt MP Paterson and pro-GM farming publications would celebrate this.

Farmers in both the US and Canada lost $100s of millions worth of exports when these two countries started growing GM crops and Peter Melchett points out that. in such a case, our farmers would lose export markets to the rest of Europe, and most of the rest of the world.

The EU’s Parliament magazine reports that Greens deputy Bart Staes was critical of the decision, saying that “It risks finally opening the door to genetically modified organisms across Europe, in spite of mass public opposition . . .The Greens will use all means at our disposal to prevent this wrongheaded proposal from entering into force . . . There are clear concerns that the opt-outs would not be legally sound and would be subject to legal challenges, leaving member states or regions isolated to defend their stance . . .

“There is also the clear and present danger of cross-contamination of crops, with the myriad of issues this poses.”