Trading blows with industry front groups (30/7/2006)

Here - in reverse order - is an interesting exchange of views over the Labour Government's proposals for the "coexistence" of GM and non-GM crops, taken from last week's letters pages in The Guardian newspaper.

On one side there's the Director of the NGO GeneWatch UK, a Member of the European Parliament, and a food campaigner for Friends of the Earth. On the other, supporting the Labour Government's proposals, there's a spokesperson for the Agricultural Biotechnology Council (ABC) and the Chairman of CropGen.

Any equivalance that this might suggest is somewhat illusory. CropGen and the ABC are actually creatures of the biotech industry. Both appear to be entirely industry-funded, although CropGen does its best to be vague about this, and the ABC's spokesperson is even a Monsanto spin doctor!

Both these lobby groups are also run on a day to day basis by the same PR agency - Lexington Communications. Lexington was founded by a former chief media spokeman for the Labour Party.

Needless to say none of this is made apparent to readers of The Guardian, even though much of the debate below is about the nature of democracy!

Environmental changes to agriculture
The Guardian, July 27, 2006,,1830892,00.html

Vivian Moses (Letters, July 26) makes the usual claims for the safety of GM crops. Meanwhile, the industry is lobbying for the weakest possible liability laws should environmental harm arise from the use of GM crops. And they're getting the support of the Department of Trade and Industry.

When the consultation on implementing the environmental liability directive is published in the autumn the government is not even expected to include all sites of special scientific interest or all biodiversity action plan species within its scope. If farmland wildlife is harmed from the use of GM crops, it won't be the biotechnology industry paying to put things right. Dr Sue Mayer Director, GeneWatch UK

Democracy and the debate over GM food
The Guardian, July 26, 2006,,1830015,00.html#article_continue

Caroline Lucas's assertions (Letters, July 24) about GM crops cannot be substantiated. Approved GM crops would not be not bad for biodiversity nor pose any threat to human health. They may have been rejected by anti-GM campaigners but not by the UK public, who still cannot buy them in their stores. When people could choose GM tomatoes in 1995-96, they did so with enthusiasm.

Hosts of farmers round the world already benefit from this new technology; ours do not. Competition grows in agriculture as in every other activity - as subsidy regimes are forced to reform, our own farmers will face ever more competitive pressure in the marketplace from those who can and do use the best and most effective technologies.

A couple of years ago, a farmer friend of mine, writing about the legal import of GM fodder while the cultivation of GM fodder crops is banned in the UK, put it graphically: the UK government allows foreign agriculture access to British markets in the full knowledge that those agricultures use cost-saving technologies not allowed to British farmers. They call it the cautious approach. Others may call it the economics of the madhouse. I would call it treachery. Professor Vivian Moses Chairman, CropGen

I disagree with Caroline Lucas MEP about the planting of GM crops in this country. In publishing its proposals for the coexistence of GM and non-GM crops, the government has asked for the views and opinions of any interested party - hardly a subversion of democracy. Let us avoid any further subversion of democracy and ensure the debate on coexistence listens to the views of all people, not just those in the organic lobby, so that those farmers who wish to benefit from this technology are given the choice to do so.
Tony Combes Agricultural Biotechnology Council

Public betrayed over GM crops
The Guardian, July 24, 2006,,1827339,00.html

By admitting there can be no "safe" buffer between GM and non-GM crops, but giving GM the all clear (Report, July 21), New Labour has yet again ignored a clear weight of public opinion and led us down a dangerous path. Growing GM crops is bad for biodiversity and may pose a direct threat to human and wildlife health too. Millions in the UK just don't want to take the chance. And if GM farmers can't prevent the cross-contamination of neighbouring non-GM crops, then the commercial planting of GM crops spells the end for the booming UK organic industry, and will massively increase the demand for truly organic imports.

Just what was the point of holding the "GM nation" public consultation in 2003 if it is now going to ignore the clear result: that the majority were opposed to the growing of GM crops in the UK and that only 2% of people said they would be happy to eat GM produce. If the government allows commercial planting of GM crops it will be a subversion of democracy. Dr Caroline Lucas MEP Green, South-East England

The government says that it is acceptable for conventional and organic crops to contain 0.9% of GM material. This is the maximum "accidental" contamination allowed in food under EU GM labelling rules. If this level is exceeded, food must carry a GM label. But what is accidental? An independent legal opinion obtained by Friends of the Earth and other groups last year says that if coexistence measures are designed to allow routine GM contamination of crops of up to 0.9%, you are in fact planning to contaminate. If this is the case, then farmers would have to label the crop as GM.
Clare Oxborrow Food campaigner, Friends of the Earth


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