The Minister for GM hype

November 2013

NP Ghana 15_lo
CC photo by CIAT on Flickr
Conservative MP, Zac Goldsmith, has dubbed Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson, the UK's “Minister for GM Hype”. 

Goldsmith describes Paterson's recent well-broadcast comments on the 'wicked' campaigners who voiced concerns about GM 'golden rice' [1] as “staggering”, and his suggestion that anyone has died because of their actions as “grotesque”.  Indeed, Goldsmith backs up his remarks with a concise summary of all the main issues surrounding the vitamin A producing rice, and concludes that
“Without the success story, GM relies on hype”. 

Importantly, Goldsmith points out that there's currently a world-wide shift away from GM crops.  India has just placed a 10-year moratorium on planting its first GM food crop due to safety concerns, Mexico has banned the planting of GM maize to protect its indigenous germplasm, Peru has a 10-year moratorium on GM cultivation and import, Bolivia has committed to stop growing any GM crops by 2015, China announced last year a move away from GM in favour of sustainable, high-yield non-GM development, America may soon have to start back-peddling on GM due to rising public awareness and repeated demands for labelling, and GM in Europe has always been a non-starter (so much so that both Monsanto and BASF have withdrawn pending requests for GM approval and halted further GM development in the EU). 

So, what's behind Paterson's GM push?  Goldsmith doesn't suggest an answer, but there's one salient aspect he doesn't touch on. 

Consider that:
  •  One of Paterson's most vociferous team-members, Mark Lynas, has been busy promoting GM in Africa [2].
  •  Several GM lobby groups, including the notorious 'International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotechnology Applications', persist in exploiting food shortages to roll out GM maize in resisting African countries (the latest being in Kenya).
  • Despite the complete failure (and subsequent withdrawal) of Monsanto's insecticidal maize, MON 810, in South Africa, the GM crop is being pushed into the rest of the continent.  By a seeming sleight-of-hand, MON 810 has become part of the 'philanthropic' Gates Foundation / Monsanto funded 'Water Efficient Maize for Africa' (WEMA) project.  By donating the MON 810 technology 'royalty-free' to WEMA, GM maize is due to be rolled out in Kenya and Uganda while Mozambique is in the process of changing its biosafety laws to accommodate GM cultivation and Tanzania is under pressure to remove its strict liability laws which would make Monsanto responsible for any damages arising (Note that 'royalty-free' seed will still be expensive seed).
Our Environment Secretary, it seems, has identified a burgeoning continent-wide market for GM crops where the ground is already being prepared by a like-minded team with a lot of cash and few scruples. 

Many African countries are certainly facing food shortages and need help.  However, 'help' in the form of imported GM crop surpluses from the other side of the world serves only to destabilise local economies, disrupt trade between African countries, and undermine local agriculture.  Adopting an expensive, uniform and limited, technical fix will benefit the biotech industry but not the people of Africa: as Goldsmith says

 “GM has never been about feeding the world, or tackling environmental problems.  It is and has always been about control of the global food economy by a tiny handful of giant corporations.  It's not wicked to question that process. It is wicked not to”. 

So, what's the answer to Africa's food problem and its vulnerability? 

The UN's Association of the UK has described an outstanding success story in Africa which could provide a lesson.   

It all started with the World Agroforestry Centre asking farmers in Cameroon what they would like to see in their agriculture. 

“Their illuminating and unexpected request was for the chance to reintroduce and cultivate the indigenous trees that used to provide fruits, nuts, leaves, medicinal products etc. when they were hunter-gatherers before the destruction of forests and woodlands” [3]. 

It seems, that the agricultural 'progress' in their area had, in reality, led to spiraling and self-reinforcing land degradation, poverty and social deprivation.  Twenty years on, the rehabilitation of the agro-ecosystem, diversification and a return to cottage industries have resulted in “spectacular” social, economic and environmental benefits.   


The sad truth is that, in the African context, GM can't deliver societal benefits, nor stable economic benefits, nor (despite being 'designed' for the job) environmental benefits. 

Now that the awareness of where Gates, Monsanto, Lynas and our Minister for GM Hype are heading, it's time to stop the GM express.  It would be wicked not to. 

You have a representative in Westminster: a word in his or her ear questioning what Britain is trying to do to Africa will do no harm. 


[1]  THE GOLDEN RICE BLAME GAME - November 2013

[2]  WHEN NON-NEWS IS BAD NEWS - April 2013, and,

       Jonathan Matthews, Biotech ambassadors in Africa, Spinwatch, 6.08.13

[3]  Post-2015Development: Africans Show the Way, Institute of Science in Society Report 30.10.13


  •  Zac Goldsmith, Owen Paterson: the minister for GM hype, Guardian 24.10.13
  • Charlie Dunmore, Monsanto to withdraw EU approval requests for new GMO crops, Reuters, 17.07.13
  • Monsanto EU GM Crop Withdrawal Welcomed with Caution, GM Freeze Press Release, 18.07.13
  • Haidee Swanby, Monsanto's failed SA GM Maize pushed into rest of Africa, African Centre for Biosafety, 24.10.13
  • International Roundup on Africa, Thin Ice, Issue 30, July 2013
  • Beth Buczynski, Mexico Bans GMO Corn, Effective Immediately, Care2 Make a Difference, 16.10.13
  • Monsanto's failed SA GM Maize pushjed into rest of Africa, African Centre for Biosafety,, 24.10.13

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