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Maize Of Lies

article - SchNEWS,  11th March 2004


This week the Chardonnay drinking neo-Labour bureaucrats gave the go-ahead for the commercialisation of the UK's first genetically modified (GM) crop - a fodder maize, with the snappy name Chardon LL T25.

This new wonder-crop is coming to us from the test tubes of Bayer CropScience (for more about one of our favourite companies check out SchNEWS 436), and will supposedly only be fed to animals - who luckily for Bayer can't say no! Despite massive opposition to GM in this country this decision will give the biotech companies their first Frankenstein foot in the door.

Bayer probably can't believe how easy it's been to blind the gullible Environment Minister Margaret Beckett with crap science. To prove that GM maize didn't damage the environment, field trials were carried out which compared GM maize to a crop grown using a conventional growing system, which uses the pesticide Atrazine - a pesticide which will be banned in the EU because it's so toxic.

Some 'independent' scientists think that these tests are a justification for giving the go-ahead - Chris Lamb, Director of the John Innes Centre, commented that the decision was "based on scientific evidence". Er, of an invalid field trial? But of course his judgement won't be clouded by the massive funding the John Innes Centre receives from the biotech companies and government's biological research council whose aim is "to help industry, commerce and Government create wealth". Research was also carried out into the effect on cattle who'll be fed the maize, but the results were obviously so bad the report was never published.

The full details of conditions under which GM maize can be grown won't be published until the summer. Until then it isn't clear whether the GM crops will be separated from other crops, and whether the government will be obliging enough to publish where the crops will be grown. For the sake of the 3,000 people who have signed the Green Gloves Pledge - to rip up GM crops when they're planted - let's hope they do.

But it wasn't all good news for the biotech industry this week: The government rejected the commercialisation of GM beet and oil seed rape (as a result of field scale trials which showed GM varieties caused more damage to wildlife than conventional varieties). Also Chardon LL T25 maize won't be grown this year, and will have a license that will only run until October 2006 (the date when Atrazine will be banned). So they'll have to hope the government gives the green light again. The biggest blow to the pro-GM lobby though, is the government's decision that those who've developed and grown the GM seeds will have to accept all liabilities for any contamination of conventional and organic crops, although the biotech companies are none too happy with this. This may provide a faint glimmer of hope that GM crops won't be coming to a field near you soon.

COOKING THE BOOKS

In other parts of the world where GM crops have already been grown commercially there's mounting proof of cross-contamination of the environment. In the USA, two thirds of all crops grown are now contaminated with GM genes, admittedly the amount of contamination is usually less than 1%, but this still causes long term future concerns. The US Biotechnology Industry Association is rather blasť about all this saying they were "not surprised by this report, knowing that pollen travels and commodity grains might co-mingle at various places." This has become one of the GM industry tactics, hoping that once GM contamination is widespread the public will just give in and drop its opposition.

Another tactic of the GM industry is to fund "independent" research to present a respectable front. A $6 million research project supposedly conducted by the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute into a virus-resistant GM sweet potato which would double yields, was in fact paid for by the World Bank, USAID and Monsanto. The corporate media in the US loved this story, and used it to attack anti-GM campaigners. The only problem was that all the claims were complete crap - the sweet potato was susceptible to virus attack and yields were already at the target level!

One of the biotech giant's main claims, that GM reduces pesticide application has also been proved to be blatant rubbish. According to official records of the US Department of Agriculture the planting of 55 million acres of genetically engineered (GE) corn, soybeans and cotton in the US since 1996 has increased pesticide use by about 50 million pounds. This is not surprising, as the plants grown are herbicide tolerant, tempting the farmer to chuck on a load more herbicide the moment a 'weed' appears. A similar situation in China has occurred where pest resistant cotton cultivation has resulted in pesticide usage going back up to 1999 levels.

BLINDED BY SCIENCE

But the battle over GM crops isn't just about single issues like health or the environment, it's much larger than that. It's about a few major companies monopolizing the food chain. It doesn't matter whether it's Monsanto or Bayer who own the technology, they aren't really competing against each other, the biggest threat to their commercial interest are the small seed companies, the farmers and the general public. So they've been busy buying up smaller seed companies, bribing farmers with promises of increased yields and just hoping those pesky protesters will go away and the public becomes resigned to the fact GM is here to stay.

Their last desperate attempt (after claims GM would benefit the environment as well as feeding the world made everyone puke) to get GM forced down people's throats is to accuse anyone opposed to GM food as being anti-science, even when their own science is deeply flawed.

Many scientists have allowed themselves to become pawns used by the government and biotech companies - afraid to speak out against their paymasters for fear of being marginalised and having research grants cut. If the power of the big bio-tech companies is limited then science could become free of the shackles of corporate control and dedicated to serving the public. The way this will happen is for people to continue to reject GM food and the manipulation by science of the food chain.

* Almost 3,000 people have signed up to rip up GM crops if they are commercially planted -
Green Gloves, 16B Cherwell Street, Oxford, OX4 1BG
http://www.greengloves.org

* GM Watch has a list of people playing an active role in the "massive and deceptive push" to promote GM foods -
http://www.gmwatch.org

* For a comprehensive list of what foods are GM and what aren't -
http://www.greenpeace.org.uk/Products/GM/

* Bayer, the company behind GM maize are being targeted by campaigners-
tel - 07092 036576
http://www.stopbayergm.org

* For more anti-GM direct action see -
http://www.geneticsaction.org.uk


- SchNEWS  (11 March 2004)



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