Friday, October 20, 2006

GM crops consultation fraud

New Labour has tried, and failed, repeatedly to introduce commercial, genetically-modified crop growing in Britain. Opposition from environmental groups, shoppers and organic producers have thwarted the government so far. But just in case you thought the government had given up, think again. Today is the deadline for responses to a "consultation" paper which proposes that GM crops can "co-exist" with non-GM crops in the British countryside.

Michael Meacher was once the government’s environment minister, so he should know what’s going on. He was blunt: "This consultation is the government’s latest attempt to back the GM industry over the wishes of the British public." Which brings us to the real forces at work here – giant biotech corporations like Monsanto, who are desperate to enter the European market. So far, the EU has acknowledged the widespread opposition and made it difficult to grow GM crops on a commercial basis. New Labour hopes to change that. As Friends of the Earth's GM campaigner Clare Oxborrow said: "Government proposals for rules that allow GM crops to be grown alongside conventional and organic crops are a thinly veiled attempt to introduce GM crops through the back door. Allowing routine, unlabelled, GM contamination of conventional and organic crops is not only unacceptable to the public, it is legally flawed."

Early this month, FoE had to take legal action to force the government’s Food Standards Agency - surely they need to change their name - to issue new advice to British retailers on illegal GM rice that found its way on to supermarket shelves. A leaked memo had revealed that the FSA had earlier told retailers that it did not expect them to test for contamination, or to remove any contaminated rice from their shelves. This followed the announcement by US authorities that unauthorised genetically modified rice grown experimentally in the US had contaminated long grain rice supplies.

In the hands of agribusiness corporations, GM is a mechanism for increasing the power and control of business over food production at the expense of small farmers, organic production, consumers and the developing world. The corporations are not overly-concerned about the long-term effects or repercussions as GM crops interact with other organisms. The fact remains that transgenic modification is certain to have unpredictable results, because of the nature of the process. While GM is a source for profit making rather than helping to meet people’s needs, risk-taking and the distortion of field trial results remain the norm. None of this will stop New Labour, the corporations’ friend, from distorting the latetst "consultation" and trying once more to smuggle GM crops into Britain.

Paul Feldman, communications editor

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