Westminster rolling out the red carpet for GM

July 2013

Owen Paterson
By US Department of State [Public domain]
via Wikimedia Commons
The Westminster plot to push GM crop development centre-stage in the UK has moved forward once more [1].

In June, Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson, gave a speech to the scientists at Rothamsted Research [2] where GM crops are major focus.

The speech was about the Government's policy of “Making the food and farming industry more competitive while protecting the environment”.

To do this, the Minister explained that he wants the UK to become the best place in the world for research into agricultural science and technology, including GM. “The Government wants to roll out the red carpet for potential researchers and developers”. He ended on the need for a “constructive, well informed and evidence-led” discussion to change the public's negative opinions on GM, and invited the scientists to “play their part”, adding “I'll back you all the way”.

Nothing more needs to be said about Paterson's GM pep-talk, because it consisted of over 80 rousing paragraphs in which every possible sound-byte ever issued by the pro-GM lobby over the last 17 years was repeated in some form: not a single original idea or justification was put forward. 

COMMENT In fact, if you're not up to speed on the history of biotech industry sound-bytes, the transcript of Paterson's speech provides an excellent summary. Look out, for example, for the use of 'assessment' as if it is some kind of proof of safety, rather than a bit of head-scratching over whatever information has been made available, or the diversions into UK-irrelevant topics such as GM cotton and GM 'golden' rice.

What's more interesting is the bigger picture of Westminster's GM strategy now emerging through the mists.

The current plot kicked off one year ago in June 2012. An informal, behind-closed-doors meeting was arranged by the industry-funded, Agricultural Biotechnology Council (ABC). Attendees invited included key pro-GM ministers such as Science Minister, David Willetts, and MP George Freeman [1B], representatives of the big three biotech companies, Monsanto, Bayer and Syngenta, agri-chemical giant BASF, the European association for biotech, Europabio, and the National Farmers' Union.

No media attention accompanied the event, but the minutes were later obtained through a Freedom of Information request. These revealed the key elements of Westminster's GM push we're now witnessing. For example, the agreed action for a clear position to take to Europe has emerged as a call for the UK to 'go it alone' on GM [1D]. For example, the agreed action to work with industry, has unfolded as a blatant Government PR exercise on the biotech industry's behalf. Paterson's rallying call to the Rothamstead Research scientists was to gain their help in actioning a clear response to anti-GM groups.

One key action agreed at the meeting deserves further scrutiny, because it suggests the ABC's cosy meeting may actually have been a UK follow-up to earlier events.

The meeting called for a better on the ground presence in Africa. GM crops aimed at Africa received several special mentions in Paterson's speech. Has our Government got wind of the profits to be made in developing novel crops for Africa, despite their rejection by the home market?

Back-track to the G8 Summit in May 2012, during which President Obama announced the formation of the New Alliance for Food Security & Nutrition.

The New Alliance is a 'partnership' between African countries and the private sector. Its aim is to lift 50 million people out of poverty over the next 10 years. Private companies have submitted Letters of Intent of their investment in the scheme, and six African countries have accepted 'frameworks' which seems to mean they have agreed deals with multinationals in return for promises of aid from the G8 nations, including Britain. The deals are with companies such as Monsanto, Cargill, Dupont, Syngenta, Nestlé, and Unilever.

Investigative journalist, George Monbiot, describes the New Alliance, as an apparent “whitewashing” of the G8's policies in Africa, “pushing African countries into agreements which allow foreign companies to grab their land, patent their seeds and monopolise their food markets”.

A major promoter of the New Alliance is singer Bono's ONE campaign, which calls on supporters to “join the fight against extreme poverty”.

Noting the extent to which Africans themselves, and especially poor Africans, seem to keep getting written out of the plan to lift them out of poverty, Monbiot became suspicious.

He observes that although ONE claims to work on behalf of the extremely poor, its board is largely composed of multi-millionaires, corporate aristocrats and US enforcers; indeed, there are only two African members, both financial high-flyers. A recent book published about Bono suggests he has, without any kind of mandate, assumed the role of spokesperson for Africa and is now using that role to provide “humanitarian cover” for western leaders with their own agenda.

If all this sounds like scepticism bordering on paranoia, it's worth looking at who's paying the piper.

ONE's primary funding comes from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation whose efforts to force GM into developing countries and its focus on Africa have previously been noted [3]. The Gates' Foundation has a large share-holding in Monsanto. The UK is already tapping into Gates' Foundation funds to promote GM crops for 'sustainable intensification' of agriculture, and, during his Rothamsted speech Paterson just happened to mention that, also in 2012, the Gates Foundation provided a grant of £6.4 million to the John Innes Centre for the development of GM cereals.

OUR COMMENT


The plan for a 'better on the ground presence' in Africa courtesy of GM crops is well-underway and suberbly-funded. However, NGOs trying to participate in Paterson's “constructive, well informed and evidence-led” discussion on GM have been stone-walled.

The minutes of the cosy meeting suggested that money be spent on “education” with “more focus on plants and biotech on the syllabus at all levels”. Will we see school biology becoming school biotechnology, and universities offering a choice of degrees in genetic manipulation or genetic manipulation? Speak up now for real discussion, real education, and real research on GM.

Also speak up for Africans: they need to be given a real voice before the 'partnership' of foreign commercial parasites conspires to drain the life out of them.


Background:

[1] If you haven't been following the curious case of the Westminster/Paterson plot, check out
A. A FAIRY TALE FOR CHRISTMAS - December 2012
C. WESTMINSTER'S PRO GM PUSH - January 2013
E. WHEN NON-NEWS IS BAD NEWS - April 2013

[2] “Rothamsted (est. 1843) is an independent scientific research institute and the longest running agriucltural research station in the world. We receive strategic funding from the BBSRC to develop innovations to benefit our health, farming and the environment ... Scientists from Rothamsted Research are conducting a controlled experiment to test wheat, genetically modified to repel greenfly and blackfly, which could help reduce pesticide use and promote sustainable agriculture in the future.” - www.rothamsted.ac.uk

[3] NO SILVER BULLET, EXCEPT GM - December 2011

SOURCES:
  • Rt Hon Owen Paterson MP speech to Rothamsted Research, 20.06.12, https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/rt-hon-owen-paterson-mp-speech-to-rothamsted-research
  • Guy Adams, The Frankenfood Conspiracy: Secret summit where slick lobbyists for bio-tech giants seduced Tory Ministers into changing their tune on GM food, Daily Mail 22.06.13
  • Claire Robinson, Frankenfood bias, Letter to the Editor, Daily Mail, 27.06.13
  • Monsanto Meets Ministers to Push Return of GM Crops to Britain, GM Freeze Release, 26.10.12
  • Paterson Sings from GM Industry's Hymn Sheet, GM Freeze Release, 20.06.13
  • George Monbiot, Bono can't help Africans by stealing their voicewww.monbiot.com 17.06.13, Guardian 18.06.13
  • Background on The New Alliance for Food Security and Nutritionwww.one.org
  • New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, www.usaid.gov

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