Royal Society is GM-free/Blair & co's thinking revealed (8/10/2003)

1.Royal Society is GM-free
2.Damage limitation - Blair & co's thinking revealed
3.Insurers refuse to cover GM farmers (The Guardian)
Leading companies liken risk to thalidomide and terrorism
4.Tearing Down Biotech's 'Berlin Wall'
1.Food for thought

Guess what? The restaurant at the Royal Society is GM-free. A catering manager at the bastion of the scientific establishment, which was upset last week when the Guardian revealed the results of the government's field trials before they had been published, was refreshingly candid: "We try to make sure that everything that comes into our kitchen is GM-free."
2.Damage limitation
How will the government react to the thumbs-down scientists have given to GM crop trials?
John Vidal
The Guardian, Wednesday October 8, 2003

Sometime over the next few months the government must decide whether to allow GM crops to be grown commercially in Britain. The decision will affect almost all areas of public life, espcially if, as expected, two of the three crops tested prove to be more harmful to the environment than conventional crops. So what might the thinking be behind the doors of No 10?

Tony Blair: We're in a mess. We've got to decide whether to grow GM crops, but our hands are tied by Europe, the public is hostile and (Michael) Meacher's dodge to give us time and see off the greenies has backfired. Remember, I'm not for or against them.

John Prescott (deputy prime minister): Ha, ha! Like heck you're not, Tony! Take the buggers on, I say, just like with the hospitals, the students and the anti-war mob. You're the only one who wanted GMs, but we're with you whatever you decide.

Margaret Beckett (environment): Up to a point, John. We've said so often that we would listen to all sides, we'd better be seen to do that.

Blair: Come again, Margaret?

Beckett: EU health and consumer commissioner David Byrne tells me that the field trial results mean we could have a case to reject GM without breaching EU rules. So that changes everything, and could get us off the hook. But in all conscience, as environment secretary, I can't recommend commercialisation. All my advisers say there's little benefit, and GM is just another sort of intensive farming with lots of unpredictables down the road. The trials actually told us nothing. I think we should announce more research and make it really hard for anyone to plant them.

Gordon Brown (chancellor): And then we'll all get stuffed by the World Trade Organisation saying we're restraining trade. It won't wash, Tony. Your own strategy unit says it can't find any reason to go ahead with them. It's going to cost me a packet to compensate more rich farmers, and that's not going to go down well. There's no market for them anyway, and only your friend Mr Sainsbury here says he'll stock them - and he'll change his mind when no one goes to his shops.

Lord Sainsbury (science): There'll be hell to pay with me. This is a resigning matter, Tony. We've backed you all the way, every way. We've told you Britain and the world needs GM. We've spent billions.

Blair: Look, will UK plc actually lose any business?

Sainsbury: Not exactly. The companies have all gone back to America or Geneva. But the universities will be outraged on principle, not to mention the Royal Society. It'll go totally barmy. Have my guts for garters, too. It can't believe we're even discussing this.

Jack Straw (foreign secretary): Washington is really vexed on this one, twisting arms, threatening us if we back off and promising investment if we say yes. If we say no, we'll be excluded everywhere. They want us to help them in the WTO courts. If we say no to growing them, you can forget any special relationship.

Patricia Hewitt (trade and industry): My advisers say we absolutely must avoid a trade war, because we'd lose. The GM companies have lots of friends who we believe will say they'll pull out too if we say no to GM. The WTO is going to rule in 18 months, and if it goes with Europe you can expect the US to go off in a huff and that's the end of the WTO. Then it's back to bilaterals and we lose all the advantages. We can't say no. 

Hilary Benn (development): And what about developing countries? If we say no, we can hardly expect them to plant the stuff. We'll look ridiculous round the world. I'll have the Commonwealth on my back. We can't argue that it's bad for the rich and good for the poor. And do we just write off all that research money that Clare [Short] bunged poor countries to promote them?

David Blunkett (home secretary): I'm worried about law and order. Your report, Tony, said that if we went ahead, we'd risk civil unrest. I've asked around and frankly, we can't stop the activists pulling the GMs up. They want to be arrested and go to court and have their say, and there's no damn jury in the land that will convict them. We'd need new laws to override their ethical defence. Saying yes would make me very uneasy.  

Geoff Hoon> (defence): Couldn't we say that we'll only grow them for food aid? Then perhaps we could send them to the troops in Iraq?

Alistair Darling (transport): Or have no register, so no one would know where they were being planted?

Tessa Jowell (culture, media): It would get out. It always does. No, we must be transparent. Besides, we've got all that precious rural heritage stuff. Why can't we just say no?

Blair: Because we can't ignore the big picture, Tessa. A lot hangs on this. What about election implications?

Beckett: If we said yes tomorrow, the first crops would be ripening perhaps in 2005. Bad timing, I'd say.

John Reid (health): Well, I can't see why we want to go ahead. Surely our line is to push healthy foods, like organics, not more ruddy intensive farming that has led us into this problem in the first place. The only buggers who are going to profit will be the big farmers we are meant to hate. I say no. Or at least make it too difficult for people to grow it. 

Beckett: I'm thinking we should find a way out. How can we say we want sustainable farming and GM? Can't we just be practical and ethical? We might even get some votes.

Prescott: Well, Tony?
Blair:  Damn.
3.Insurers refuse to cover GM farmers
Leading companies liken risk to thalidomide and terrorism
Paul Brown, environment correspondent
The Guardian, Wednesday October 8, 2003

Insurance companies are refusing cover for farmers considering growing GM crops or for conventional farmers anxious to insure against GM contamination of their crops.

The main farming underwriting firms likened the idea of insuring against the dangers of GM to the situation with asbestos, thalidomide and acts of terrorism. Some had a total exclusion clause so that any damage which might be associated with GM crops, even arson of farm buildings, nullified insurance claims.

All the companies surveyed by Farm, a group campaigning on behalf of small farmers, felt that too little was known about the long-term effects of these crops on human health and the environment to be able to offer any form of cover.

NFU Mutual, the company closest to the farming community, told Farm: "NFU Mutual will not indemnify the insured in respect of any liability arising from the production, supply of, or presence on the premises of any genetically modified crop, where liability may be attributed directly or indirectly to the genetic characteristics of the crop.

"In particular, no indemnity will be provided in respect of liability arising from the spread or the threat of spread of genetically modified organism characteristics into the environment or any change to the environment arising from research into, testing of, or production of genetically modified organisms."

The decision not to take on GM risks is another serious blow to the government's plans to introduce crops next year. A report from the Cabinet Office earlier this year said unless conventional and organic farmers are guaranteed full compensation for losses it would be an open invitation to those opposed to GM crops to destroy them before they flowered and contaminated neighbouring land or crops.

Robin Maynard, the national coordinator for Farm, said: "When insurers quantify GM crops in the same category as thalidomide, asbestos and terrorism, no thinking farmer should risk their business and public reputation by taking on this unproven, unwanted and unnecessary technology.

"If government and the biotech companies dispute the judgment of the professional insurers, perhaps they will offer unlimited cover to the few farmers willing to risk growing GM crops. In addition, for both farmers and consumers, they need to guarantee, what the insurers believe isn't possible, that GM crops can be grown without contaminating the crops of the majority of farmers who want to remain GM-free."

Other companies were as adamant as NFU Mutual that they did not want GM business. The Agricultural Insurance Underwriters Agency, which places business with Norwich Union/Sun Alliance, has an exclusion clause for liability arising from GM crops and said it did not anticipate any change in that position because it had no idea what the long-term effects might be.

Rural Insurance Group, which places business at Lloyds, puts GM crops in the same bracket as "acts of terrorism". The insurer said it had no track record upon which it was willing to base risk assessments.

BIB Underwriters Ltd, with AXA Insurance, has a set exclusion clause which has been amended over the past year.

It said it would turn down any policy that has any association with GM, which would include farm buildings and property insurance as well as public liability.

The reason for this is that along with the problems of cross-contamination, the company envisages problems associated with arson or vandalism due to anti-GM protesters.
4.Tearing Down Biotech's 'Berlin Wall'

EXCERPT: "Proponents of GM crops claim that public fears over GM risks are exaggerated and way beyond what is justified by 'scientific' risk assessments. But that is exactly the type of situation where attractive highly profitable insurance business can be done. Yet the insurance sector is deliberately avoiding such business. Why? It seems clear that they are well aware that the science is immature and that the assessment of GM related risks may be operating well beyond the capacity of science to identify them in advance of their widespread use. It is that scientific immaturity which goes to the heart of the debate and concern about GMOs. Why are we unwilling to recognise that reality politically when the de facto actions of commerce and industry confirm that internally they recognise it economically?"
Tearing Down Biotech's 'Berlin Wall' - 4 May 2003

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