Britain Denounces US
Pressure to Plant GE Crops
Meacher attacks US 'pressure' over GM
By Marie Woolf Chief Political Correspondent
The Independent, 19 August 2002

Michael Meacher reignited the row over genetically modified crops
yesterday, admitting that Britain was being pressed by the US to allow
commercial planting. However, the Environment minister insisted he was
"sceptical" of the benefits of GM and insisted: "We are not going to be
bounced into this by the Americans."

Any decision to open up commercial planting of GM crops would be based
on hard evidence, he said in an interview with The Independent.

Mr Meacher acknowledged that opponents of GM technology believed the
changes were being "steamrollered through", but insisted that the public
would be able to see all evidence on the impact of GM crops before
widespread planting went ahead.

Asked whether America was pressing for expanded GM production, Mr
Meacher said: "Well, you know there is. The Americans are very keen. The
amount of the prairies which have been cultivated with GM is colossal."

Mr Meacher insisted that he was "on the sceptical wing" of the argument
over GM. "Those people who do feel very strongly about it, to the extent
of going around ripping up crops, they may continue to do so

"But what I think many of them object to is the feeling that the
Government is steam rolling it through. There has been intense hostility
expressed in many quarters. However, it is fair to say there has never
really been a controlled and balanced debate."

The Environment minister's remarks are likely to inflame the controversy
over the Government's handling of the GM issue, which received a blow
last week when it emerged that trial crops have been contaminated with
unauthorised GM seeds since the trials began.

Mr Meacher acknowledged that the decision would be "sensitive" But, he
said: "We are not saying we have a little closed group of five people,
and we are going to take a decision and tell you in our wisdom what we
are going to do. We are going to tell you what the evidence is."

The Government's farm-scale trials may not give an accurate picture of
the impact GM crops may have on the environment, he admitted. "We are
talking about the impact on plants, on invertebrates, on birds, on
insects," he said. "It's, what, 100 sites each year? But if you have
general commercialisation you may get different effects over and above
what these isolated fields will show."

Some of the herbicides which would be used on GM crops if they were
grown in Britain could "wipe out" a whole swathe of conventional crops,
he warned.


DAILY MAIL (London) August 16, 2002
Frankenstein foods: Blair's great betrayal
As evidence grows of widespread GM crop
contamination . . .

Geoffrey Lean

DAY BY day, powerful new evidence mounts that GM crops and
food endanger health and nature. Yet the Government is growing ever more
determined to force the British public, literally, to swallow them.
Yesterday, fields in England and Scotland were found to be contaminated
with unauthorised GM material, containing illegal antibiotic genes. The
day before, news emerged of an American study showing that weeds became
hardier when they received genes from genetically modified crops,
confirming long- established fears that the technology would breed
'superweeds'. These alarms closely follow French research which
demonstrated that GM beets swopped genes with weeds far more readily
than had been thought. Only last month, a disturbing official British
study revealed that genetically modified DNA material from GM food was
getting into bacteria in the guts of people who ate it - something
advocates of the technology have repeatedly insisted was 'impossible'.
Yet none of these developments - nor a host of previous, equally
worrying findings - show any sign of deflecting Tony Blair and his
ministers. The Prime Minister, his Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Secretary Margaret Beckett, and his science minister, Lord Sainsbury,
all strongly support the controversial technology. Two weeks ago Mrs
Beckett announced a 'public debate' on whether to grow the GM crops. But
a senior official in her own department admitted the real purpose of the
'debate' was to 'dispel the myths that GM crops damage health and the
environment'. And a government minister privately acknowledged that the
decision to grow the crops had already been taken. But in the real
world, the dangers of the Government's obduracy become ever clearer. For
21 official GM seed trials, stretching over 244 acres from Dorset to
Aberdeenshire during the past four years, have been polluted by a
variety of GM oilseed rape that includes genes from antibiotics used to
treat human illnesses. There are fears that these genes could be
transferred to people, causing them to be resistant to treatment for
serious disease. (The antibiotic gene fragments are used as 'marker'
genes so that scientists know whether or not genetic modification has
taken place.) The industry has always denied such a transfer could
happen. But its denials have been seriously undermined now it is known
that GM genes can be transferred into bacteria in the human gut.

Although none of the polluted crops will have been eaten
by people, this 'very serious breach of regulations', as
the Scottish Executive puts it, casts the gravest suspicion over the way
the trials are being conducted. Yet the Government is planning to cite
the trials as proof that growing GM crops is safe, so it can proceed
with their commercial cultivation. In fact, even if there are no more
incidents, the trials will prove nothing of the kind, for they are not
even designed to test the greatest danger to the environment: the flow
of genes from GM species into weeds and other crops. And it is a very
real danger.

Research at Ohio State University showed that wild
sunflowers (seen as a weed in the U.S.) became much
stronger and more prolific - producing 50 per cent more
seeds - when they were crossed with a GM sunflower. A
French study, at the University of Lille, discovered that
GM genes from beet grown in similar field trials
transferred to weeds, while genes from the weeds found
their way into the GM crop, reducing its yield. A massive
EU study in March showed that some GM crops bred with conventional ones
'at higher frequencies and greater distances than had previously been
thought'. For good measure, it found that the three GM crops now being
grown in field trials in Britain - sugar beet, maize, and oilseed rape -
posed the greatest danger. The Government's own official wildlife body,
English Nature, has reported that, in Canada, pollen from GM oilseed
rape had 'travelled far' to create superweeds - and that it was
'inevitable' that the superweeds would emerge in Britain, too, if the
rape was grown here. Superweeds would eliminate many of the advantages
claimed for GM crops. They would require increasing doses of
weedkillers, far outweighing the reductions that the industry claims
would be gained by growing herbicide-resistant crops. And they would put
at risk the increases in yields claimed by GM advocates.

Despite the accumulation of Pastoral protest: Greenpeace members attack
a field of genetically modified maize alarming evidence, those who
oppose GM foods - including Prince Charles, who said in June that the
crops 'pose an acute threat to organic farming and to all those
consumers who wish to exercise a right of choice about what they eat'
- are disregarded. A month earlier, Brussels bureaucrats
tried to suppress another EU study as too ' sensitive'. It concluded
that organic farming would be forced out of business if GM crops became
widespread because GM genes would contaminate organic crops. And English
Nature says that 'contamination is almost impossible to prevent unless
the crops are very widely spread'. This already seems to have happened
in Mexico, where GM grain imported for food has been sown illegally. The
genes have spread so widely that scientists found evidence of GM
contamination on 95 per cent of the indigenous crops it examined in the
states of Oaxaca and Puebla. A senior Mexican official told me that he
believes it is now 'too late' to save non-GM agriculture in his country.
This poses huge dangers for farming across the Earth, for Mexico is the
world's greatest maize nursery, home to hundreds of varieties that have
long been conventionally interbred to produce improved strains.
Presumably Mr Blair knows at least some of this, for he has admitted
that there were 'genuine and real concerns' about gene contamination.
The increasing worries about the effects of GM foods on health should
give him even greater grounds for reflection. Even the Royal Society,
one of Britain's main advocates of the technology, has admitted that GM
foods could one day damage health. The public has forced GM foods off
some supermarket shelves by refusing to buy them. But the Government
steadfastly refuses even to acknowledge this. In a recent briefing to
MEPs, it claimed that 'GM is very far down the list of consumer
considerations with regard to food'. This is as wrong as it is arrogant.
Mr Blair should learn a lesson from the other side of the world, where
GM issues dominated last month's New Zealand general election. For
Britons will not easily forgive a government that so scandalously
persists in ignoring the mounting warnings about a technology that they
have so wisely come to fear.

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