UK Minister Criticizes US Pressure
on Frankencrops

Michael Meacher: "We are not going to be bounced into this by the
[Michael Meacher is Britain's Environment Minister]

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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