Monday, 24 January 2011

GM food + fuel

In preparation for the release of a pro-GM report out on Feb 9th, the government and media have been softening us up with pro-GM rhetoric: How can we feed the world?
The fact that we, as a country, have never fed ‘the world’ and will never need to, is ignored in the rush to pave the way for full-scale adoption of GM farming in Europe. I just heard a news report telling me how we had to urgently adopt intensive farming and 'explore' GM possibilities, but then a spokesperson from the World Food Programme said the world currently produces double the food requirement for the world population (waste, lack of distribution and inequality of consumption to blame)and the only reason he thinks the government is trying to panic us, is to push the case for GM within Europe.
The Environment minister is Caroline Spellman – she was a director of a biotech lobbying group owned in part by her husband. No conflict of interest there then!

On Saturday, I went to an info day on GM, with talks and film by scientists, farmers and environmental campaigners who have been working in countries where GM farming is widespread. The big message they wanted to bring was that GM isn't working. Its failure is increasingly ackknowledged in the USA and that is why GM companies such as Monsanto are desperate to break into the European market, before we cotton on to that fact.

Food: We managed to get GM food off our shelves back in the late '90's, through camapigning and direct action. Instead, it's coming in through the back door. What most people don't realise is that almost all the animals that provide UK meat, poultry and dairy products, have been fed GM soya and maize. The UK imports over 1 million tonnes of GM soya feed/year and most of this comes from rainforest-cleared land in south America. That's 30 million tonnes into Europe/year. There's currently no legislation on labelling so we're not told we are consuming GM products.

Fuel: All petrol now contains agrofuel, mostly biodiesel made from GM crops. Again, it isn't labelled. It makes up 3.5% now, but while pretending to combat climate change, Eu law says this needs to rise to 10% by 2020. (Its reductions in greenhouse gas emissions is questionable.)

GM trees: Fast-growing, low lignin trees (floppy trees that can be broken down easer) are the next big thing. See GM treewatch The big sell-off of frorestry commission land means we will have little control over this and carbon credits will encourage the take-up. GM micro-organisms to break down the trees to create bio-fuel are the next focus although how you contain micro-organisms, I don't know.

Carbon credits: Because GM crops are sold as 'no-till' crops (not needing the land turned over cos the herbicides kill everything anyway), GM companies get tax breaks, carbon credits and subsidies, claiming their crops are carbon sinks!

What's wrong with it? Mono-culture, the growing of a single crop (mostly soya) over huge areas is damaging to the land, insects, other plants and people. The main crop, by the main pharmaceutical company, Monsanto, is 'Round-up Ready soya' which has been genetically modified to be resistant to Round-up herbicide. The idea is that you can then spray thousands of acres of crops and the only thing that will live is the soya. Trouble is, it hasn't worked out like that and now US farmers are saying at first one weed became resistant to it and they had to spray for that, now around 30 weeds are surviving the herbicide. Secondary pests are now becoming a big problem, needing more and more chemicals to combat them. Meanwhile, something in the genetically altered seed is messing with the brains of bees (I know - weird to think of bees' brains!) A beekeeper expert said the bee loses the ability to map an area and can't get back to the hive and transmit the information about food. The loss of bio-diversity is also devastating to other insects and the birds that live off them.
Farmers agreeing to go GM are tied into the system, forced to buy the herbicides Monsanto foists on them, not allowed to keep back seed for the following year, thereby ensuring they must buy new seed each year, which has since risen in price.
Because the GM seed is patented, they aggressively sue any neighbouring landowner whose crop gets cross-pollinated by wind-borne GM pollen. The neighbour is driven out of business and Monsanto gets to expand their empire still further. One farmer showed us a film he had made, interviewing GM farmers in the US. They all said it had been a big mistake. Suicides among small-scale farmers is widespread in India and South America, where people get deeply in debt when crops fail yet they are tied into buying in the new seed and herbicide. Ironically, the method of suicide used is often to drink the herbicide.

Of course, there will be no market for GM in Europe, unless we create it. If we refuse to buy GM food and kick up a fuss about existing GM livestock feed and fuel, we can stay free of the stuff. The website 'GM Freeze' gives help on writing to your MP on this issue.
Find out much more and in better-explained detail on the 'Stop GM' site.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011


This morning, two swans started fighting outside my boat. I'm a hands-off person when it comes to wildlife, thinking we humans do so much damage when we interfere, but it was a really upsetting sight to see these beautiful birds trying to kill each other. I admit I did try to distract them with food and clapping hands, but they were oblivious to everything else. There's the constant beating of wings on the other's body while biting the neck, then the stronger one tries to drown the other by holding its head under water with beak and wing. It went on for about 40 minutes until they drifted out of sight around a bend in the canal, one being held under for longer and longer periods and flapping more feebly.
I told myself that perhaps they have to fight to the death to avoid the huge energy drain from frequent battles. Perhaps a single death can establish the male's dominance for it's lifetime, ensuring that famous monogamy and protective parenting among swans. There will be a good evolutionary reason for these deaths (unlike so many perpetrated by humans), but it's still very hard to witness.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Tony's boat

My mate Tony has been burgled. He's been fitting out his boat home himself.
I mention it here because Tony has only recently started blogging and many boaters won't yet know his site. (Not that me posting it here will widen the readership much but hey ;-) It's here.
If anyone is offered an inverter, which is a "Sinergex 2kw pure sinewave model, still boxed" please let him know.
So sorry Tony.

Monday, 3 January 2011

Short hop

The short hop to Rickmansworth from Cassiobury park turned out to be more like a long stride! The ice had all gone either side of Iron Bridge lock and I'd seen a boat go past the day before so I thought it would be all clear to go for water and on to Rickmansworth. In fact, I was so cocky, I didn't bother setting off 'til the afternoon. There were plenty of walkers at the first lock bridge and the sight of a boat coming into the lock drew many more from the woods nearby. It was as though they had been waiting for a boat to appear, to leap out from behind trees. People were all friendly and waved and took photos but I did feel a bit nervous with what must have been 25/30 people clustered around, WATCHING!
Then I came round the bend and into the ice.. It was much thicker than where I'd been and had frozen over again since that boat had gone through, so I don't think I was too popular with the boaters moored either side at Croxley Green, crunching ice up against them. Luckily, Alan and Frances weren't on their boat nb Lazydays at that moment, to see me taking the blacking off their boat -oops!- but I was happy to see them arriving just as I was filling up with water. Lucky me, they were coming down through the next lock too so I could share the lock and watch Frances doing all the work. Alan had an excellent excuse with a foot injury; I was just being lazy. Not only did Frances break ice and work the lock but she also walked ahead and worked me through the next two locks, a good trek apart! One pound was so shallow, a boat had got stuck across the canal. Once he was free, neither of us could have gotten near the side to set the lock. Thanks Frances!
I ran out of light before quite reaching the spot I was heading for, but that doesn't matter, it's all part of the fun. It's good to be bumbling along again :-)