The importance of early warnings

September 2011

Questions over GM maize.
Photo © Greenpeace / Martin Langer
The 'Precautionary Principle' entails identification of risk, scientific uncertainty and ignorance, and involves transparent and inclusive decision-making processes (Freestone and Hey, 1997).  It is a primarily a tool for policy decision, but must impact on the scientific research agenda.  It is the scientists, not the policy-makers who are in a position to identify risks, to pinpoint uncertainties and unknowns, and to provide the basis for communication.  Thus, it is of key importance that scientists take responsibility for the anticipation of problems.


September 2011

The Government's new e-petitions, which allow the public to create and sign petitions online, got off to an interesting start.

Twenty per cent of the early e-petitions to the House of Commons were calls for a re-instatement of the death penalty in Britain. One such petition got more than 2,000 supporters, while a petition opposing the restoration of capital punishment had over 3,000 signatures.

Unless or until GM foods kill a large number of people, and the biotech bosses are made to take full responsibility, the existence of the death penalty has no bearing on the GM issue.

User-friendly veg

September 2011

... and fruit...

Fruit n Veg
Photo by /charlene on Flickr

Up until now, the biotech industry has been busy inventing GM crops attractive to farmers and the food-processing industries. The end-consumer was expected to eat whatever this trio chose to give them, and health be damned.

Interestingly, there's a sea-change in the offing.

Slip-sliding around responsibility

September 2011

Photo © Greenpeace / Eric De Mildt
Over the years, Monsanto has repeatedly sued farmers alleging they have stolen the company's intellectual property by saving GM seed. The Company has admitted to filing lawsuits against farmers from 1997-2010, settling out of court with 700 others for an undisclosed amount. Because wind, animals and agricultural activity can spread pollen and seed, farmers are vulnerable to genetic pollution, followed by a crippling biotech law suit.

The Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT) has filed a complaint challenging Monsanto's patents on GM seed, which are the entire basis for its law suits.

Which way is the world swimming?

September 2011

... With or against the tide?

Wir haben es satt  - 39
Anti-GM protest in Berlin
Photo by cephir on Flickr

After decades of using its huge muscles to block GM-food labelling worldwide, the US has suddenly stopped swimming against the international tide (see GM LABELLING MILESTONE IN US – September 2011).

At much the same time, BASF Plant Sciences decided to pull the plug on GM development in the EU. BASF is a major GM seed developer and has been the only company to be successful in recent years in getting EU approval for a new GM crop (see EU TO CULTIVATE HOT POTATO – GMFS News Archive, May 2010). Since GM foods are just too controversial in Europe, BASF forged ahead with GM potatoes for industrial starch supply. One such potato, 'Amflora', is in the ground and another, 'Amadea', is in the pipeline. However, the GM potatoes were immediately banned in several EU Member States. Clearly, BASF has found even non-food GMOs more trouble than they're worth.

GM labelling milestone in US

September 2011

Photo by brdavid on Flickr
“If you put a label on genetically engineered food you might as well put a skull and crossbones on it.” (Norman Braksick, President of Asgrow Seed Co., a subsidiary of Monsanto, quoted in the Kansas City Star, 7.03.94) 
“The Achilles heel of Monsanto and the biotech industry is consumers' right to know.” (Ronnie Cummins, of the Organic Consumers Association, 27.07.11)
Something very major slipped into the global GM-regulatory arena in July 2011.

After two decades of discussion and American intransigence, the Codex Alimentarius Commission has produced guidance on the labelling of GM food. The final text states that “Different approaches regarding labelling of foods derived from modern biotechnology are used”. The words look innocuous, but they mean that any country wishing to adopt GM food labelling may do so.