Science in Society Archive

Scientist Resigns
‘GM Dialogue’ Naked PR for Industry

UK regulator Food Standards Agency must be held to account for ignoring incontrovertible evidence of harm and persisting in promoting GM food to the nation at taxpayers’ expense Dr. Mae-Wan Ho

Dr. Helen Wallace, director of GeneWatch UK resigned from UK Food Standards Agency’s Steering Group for GM Dialogue in a strongly worded open letter to the chair [1], exposing and condemning it as a naked “PR exercise on behalf of the GM industry”  at taxpayers’ expense, £500 000 to be precise.  

Through freedom of Information, she learned that the FSA met with the industry group the Agricultural Biotechnology Council (ABC) in September 2009 to discuss a “GM public engagement programme”, and in October, the ABC wrote to the FSA stating that “abc welcomes the opportunity to provide suggestions on the individuals and groups that would add value to the FSA GM engagement Steering Group.”  And while it supports the activity and understand the importance of the initiative,  it believes  “GM must be presented as an option within the wider context of food security as part of a solution to feeding a growing population.” The industry also suggested edits to a draft FSA report to the Food Strategy Task Force, which claims that lack of demand and rising costs will drive out non-GM feed supplies, and GM and non-GM feed should no longer be segregated. In a subsequent report, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and the FSA supported the industry’s line that ‘zero tolerance’ of unapproved GM crops in the EU threatens food supplies.

Not surprisingly, the background materials provided to the Steering Group by the FSA claim that “current problems with the supply of non-GM soya mean that over the next 12 months retailers and food manufacturers will need to consider whether they can sustain their current GM-Free stance” and: “The Government has recommended that discussions take place in the wider context of global food supply to take account of the long term security of global food production and changing food prices.” FSA has persistently refused to allow debate on the role of GM in feeding the world.

In her letter, Wallace pointed out that FSA’s policy note – which took six months to produce - does not suggest the public should be in any way consulted about plans to allow the contamination of feed shipments with unauthorised GM, or about the lack of labelling for meat or dairy products derived from animals fed on GM feed.

She notes that the same industry PR strategy is being implemented by market research firm, Ipsos-MORI, which states in its bid to run the dialogue that the Ipsos Mori Reputation Centre has been working with a “multi-national Agro-chemical and seed company” and its advertising agency since 2009 “to develop concepts which link agribusiness with important global issues (such as climate change, water scarcity, deforestation etc) and position the company as a positive force”. It warns that campaign organisations could “try and hijack the [dialogue] process to ensure GM food does not get a chance to be reintroduced into the UK. The danger is that anti-GM campaigning could take place in the absence of any ‘defence’ except from industry who will struggle to be credible”.

“This seems a shockingly one-sided view for a company bidding to run a dialogue”, Wallace wrote. “In reality, there is no shortage of GM-free feed supplies, although the US company Monsanto is reported to be attempting to restricting the access of Brazilian farmers to conventional (non-GM) soybean seeds.”

In response to Wallace’s resignation, Peter Melchett, Soil Association Policy Director,  called on Lord Rooker, Chair of the FSA [2], to stop wasting money trying to promote the old government’s and Tony Blair’s “obsession with getting the British public to like GM food.”

GM agriculture and food is definitely not the solution, it is not even part of the solution, but the problem itself (see my recent Foreword to the publication from Remin University in Beijing, China,  GM Food Angel or Devil [3] for a succinct summary of evidence on the ecological disasters and serious health threats that has come to light. The GM meltdown has continued with new devastating research results released [4-5] Scientists Reveal Glyphosate Poisons Crops and Soil and Glyphosate Tolerant Crops Bring Diseases and Death;
SiS 47}. The FSA must be held to account for willfully ignoring incontrovertible evidence on the serious threats of GM agriculture and jeopardizing the food security and health of the nation. 

Article first published 01/06/10



References

  1. Open letter from Helen Wallace to Chair of Steering Group, 26 May 2010, http://www.genewatch.org/uploads/f03c6d66a9b354535738483c1c3d49e4/resignation.doc
  2. Soil Association Press Statement, Letter from Peter Melchett to Rt Hon Lord Rooker, Chair , Food Standards Agency, 27 May 2010, http://www.soilassociation.org/News/NewsItem/tabid/91/smid/463/ArticleID/395/reftab/57/t/Helen-Wallace-resigns-from-FSA-s-steering-group-on-GM/Default.aspx
    http://bit.ly/bcTaD3
  3. Ho MW. Foreword to Yimen. GM Food Angel or Devil? Remin University Press, Beijing, 2010.
  4. Ho MW. Scientists reveal glyphosate poisons crops and soil. Science in Society 47.
  5. Ho MW. Glyphosate tolerant crops bring diseases and death. Science in Society 47.

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Helmut LUBBERS Comment left 1st June 2010 16:04:30
[kindly review my English, and arguments if required!] It is important to point out in simple language, that even the "elites" can understand, that: Even IF GMO crops would produce higher crops yields, a. This would require higher plant nutrients inputs. But soil fertility and fertilisers are a finite and diminishing resource. Theoretical higher crop yields will therefore be made impossible by resource scarcities. b. This would require ever higher crop yields, in line with population size increases. There is no guarantee whatsoever that Genetic Modification would achieve continuing higher yields. c. This neglects all existing dangers and proven negative effets on health and the environment. The harm to people and nature outweight any short-term advantages for some players by far. d. This disregards the fact that more people need more space and resources, not only food. As the world has overshot its carrying capacity for humans, the solution cannot be feeding more people but stopping population growth. Therefore the argument "GMOs to feed future populations" amounts to unscientific propaganda. Helmut Lubbers, ecological economist and environmental scientist for www.ecoglobe.org

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