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.


dogberry said...

plus - it has been documented that some people have a reaction to GM foods, and i am one of them. the skin on my face used to be magenta, scaly, and spotty (diagnosed as rosacea, but everything prescribed to treat it made it worse) - but when i moved to the UK (from the US) it cleared up. got worse when i ate things sent from the US, got reallyreally bad again when i moved back to the US for 2 years, cleared up again when i moved back to the UK - and then i saw a UK tv programme on GM foods and the penny dropped - it is practically impossible to get any kind of prepared food with no GM products in it in the US, and very difficult to get any non-GM corn products (wheat as well, i think). i've been extra careful since i've been back to get non-GM stuff (easier since i'm not buying any prepared foods and i'm making my own bread) and my skin has been fine, but reacts fairly quickly when i eat corn/wheat that's GM.

i *had* been hoping that europe would manage to keep GM foods out...

i've been reading wendell berry (finally) and he explains how agribusiness happened to us really succinctly and beautifully - he's worth a read if you can get hold of his stuff.

ooh - and also - when i had a potwashing job last year at a uni catering centre, i noticed that all the cooking oil drums were GM oil - which shocked me. so it's getting in sneakily that way as well - in restaurants and such where people aren't in a position to be able to read the label.

Simon said...

Great post.

As ever - the people who make these decisions, buying GM oil, feeding animals GM crops, manufacturing processed foods - and come to think of it selling off our forests - are all looking at it from the point of money, not ethics. Companies will push their new developments with price breaks until it suits them (over and over again), until they are established.

Then if anyone dares object it's too late, the 'market' has decided. That's at best a slanted & spun market, not one of humanity and ethics.

There's too big a silent majority out there, who I hope would care if they knew. But how do we reach them?

grey wolf said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
grey wolf said...

Also it has something to do with the drop in bee numbers around the world to, along with the neo nicotinides [prob not the correct spelling] pesticides that are used on such is running a campaign against these pesticides.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this, Carrie.

The problems with GM crops seem obvious to so many people, but the kind of conflict of interests you pointed out is so widespread that there's little possibility of a balanced decision being made.

One page I found (somewhat hurriedly) lists some of the people involved in the government, both US and UK, with involvement in the biotech industry. Although it makes quite depressing reading, it does include at least one promising point. Apparently there is a move by the Welsh Assembly to force farmers to compensate neighbours whose crops are contaminated with GM DNA. If that takes off, it could make GM crops too expensive for many farmers.


Anonymous said...

Hi dogberry - hope all's well with you these days.
I didn't know about allergic reactions to GM food, though it makes perfect sense. It's unsurprising that children seem to be developing more and more allergies. We come into contact with so many chemicals on food, plastics, even household fabrics, we forget that the stuff gets absorbed into our skin. Nano-technology is a pretty terrifying future in my opinion.

Simon, I agree, the wealth of a few will be at the expense of the majority. And you can bet that those who stand to make a huge killing from GM, will be able to afford the increasingly rare and expensive organic, GM-free alternatives!
Don't know what the answer is, except that one guy at the info day said " Unity of purpose, diversity of tactics". So guess that's everything from lobbying mp's, leafletting at supermarkets, educating through school talks, WI groups, to publicity stunts and trashing crops.

Hey Grey Wolf. Yes, the bee decline is awful. Did you see that documentary last year about bees in the U.S having to be transported thousands of miles to pollnate a crop, then moved on to another and another, because no pollinators remained in those areas. Vast acreages of a single crop with not another plant to be seen, no hedges, no flowers. The bees were rented out, commodified like every other bloody animal 'of use'. Makes me a tad angry ;-)

Hi Tony! Gawd, what a self-serving bunch. I asked the farmer who'd done the film of interviews in the US, if anyone had tried to sue Monsanto for 'polluting' their crops through wind-borne pollination and he said there was one case on-going in Canada. One case! But it's understandable i guess, like David + Goliath. Reminds me of the McLibel case that dragged for 20 years...
Hope to cross boaty paths soon.

Carrie x

grey wolf said...

Hi there.
The chap who runs the site shown below has produced a couple of podcast on pesticide and Gm crops.He also runs a forum that has a section on this subject.As you can imagine Bee Keepers are very interested in the food there bees are getting.This is the first year i have kept bee's.Seems strange that it is better for them now to be in a city and in a garden than out where they belong.
Some hives in this country are moved to a limited degree.Spring to the orchard late summer to the the heather but it is not a widespread thing.