NO TO GM CAMPAIGN
For many years here at Tapeley Park we have been working with organisations such as Friends of the Earth, Corporate Watch, Genewatch, Farmers for Action, Genetic Engineering Network and Genetic Food Alert, to keep GM crops out of our country and to stop the import of contaminated GM animal feed from the US and Canada especially. It seems as though GM crops will be allowed in through the back door as from 2010. The following article is being submitted to Farmers Weekly on request, which summarises the up to date situation:
What will be the consequences for all of us living and working in the countryside, and the consumer, if, as expected, farmers are given the green light to grow GM crops commercially from 2009 onwards?
Biotech crops, according to their producers and many scientists, are the future of farming; improving agriculture, human health, the environment, and the farmer’s bank balance – all at the same time. This seems to me to be the premis on which GM crops are sold to farmers by the likes of Monsanto, Syngenta and Bayer. The crops, being genetically modified to withstand powerful systemic sprays such as roundup which pretty much keeps fields free from weeds for months, and inserted with genes which act as pesticides against specific insects thus sometimes doing away with the need to spray altogether, and all the above boxes are surely ticked – or are they?
Certainly in the US and Canada, where farmers were just as hard up as we are in this country now, it made a considerable difference when GM crops were introduced at the start in the 1990’s. Many farmers had had to get other jobs to keep them afloat and it paid well for some of them to pay somebody or get in a contractor to give their crops just one spray of roundup, for example, during the growing season and they could sell the product for a decent profit once harvested. Monsanto didn’t mention the spring ‘clean’ and autumn ‘clean’ of roundup. Most US and Canadian farmers work on minimum till so this is normally necessary. However, to be fair, with the common practice of ploughing in the UK, this would not be so necessary over here if we were to grow GM crops. Add to this, US farmers, especially, with their primarily two crop rotation of Maize and Soya which meant resistance of the weeds built up quite quickly which now necessitates the need for a more toxic cocktail in the tank mix of roundup, 2-4D, atrazine and/or glufosinate ammonium, and with our general 4 year rotation with GM-free wheat and barley, and this ‘might’ not be such an issue here. In the light of this why are so many of us making such a fuss?
Setting aside the possible benefits in developing countries from growing GM crops that can withstand a degree of salination, and rice with Vitamin A inserted to assist in reducing blindness (both of which are questionable and not relevant to us), and as the ‘experiment’ has unfolded a number of other issues have arisen shedding a new light on this technology. These include concerns about cross-contamination; possible risk to human health; the long-term effects on both the countryside and us; insurance; the fact that most of the population would rather not eat it; more and more countries refusing to import the stuff; the effect on land values; and concerns about our food chain being controlled from seed to dinner plate by a few very large solely profit driven multinational corporations.
It took just 7 years in Canada to get to the stage that it’s now impossible to grow a crop of GM-free Canola (0il seed rape – OSR) due to volunteers and wind-pollen drift. It would, you’d have thought, take much less time on a tiny island like ours. Current separation distances, as stated by DEFRA, between a GM crop and conventional crops stands at 35 meters. In the States the separation distance of GM maize to forage maize and sweetcorn are set at 80m and 200 meters respectively. However, cross-fertilisation has taken place at far greater distances then this. Cross fertilisation between yellow maize and ‘blue maize’ in the States demonstrates the problem better than anything else because you can ‘see’ the results.
One typical example of this in the US is when a Victor Shrock decided to grow blue maize on his 1,600 organic farm in 2003. Farmers with holdings 3 miles away complained that their yellow maize had been cross-pollinated with his blue maize. The farmers were not sharing machinery and so on, the seed of Mr. Shrock’s neighbours had not been contaminated and the nearest other farm growing blue maize (a rarely grown crop) was 150 miles away. Michael Hart, of Small Family Farm Alliance, stayed with farmers in the US and Canada for some time. He witnessed this phenomena of contamination of yellow maize by blue maize of around 20% when crops were grown 250 meters apart and not even downwind of the ‘blue maize’.
On a more serious note we have the discovery that GM Starlink corn has been found in brands of taco shells and chips. Starlink was only approved by US regulators for livestock feed in 1998, after scientists were unable to determine if the gene-spliced maize might cause humans to develop rashes, diarrhoea, and respiratory or other allergic reactions (an all too familiar a concern resulting from GM technology). It was NOT approved for human consumption and because of the (unavoidable) cross-contamination (birds and bees can of course carry pollen phenomenal distances), US maize exports to big buyers like Japan and South Korea have been damaged.
We hear some farmers say “ I want to be able to grow what I like,” which sounds perfectly reasonable on the surface. However, if say 1% of farmers choose to grow GM crops and contaminate the farms of 99% of the farmers who, say, choose to keep farming conventionally or organically, then surely this is depriving the majority of their rights of choice which to me would seem an act of utter selfishness.
Some farmers might feel that a small degree of contamination is ‘no big deal’, especially when a GM-free status can still be preserved at levels of less than .9%- which I personally believe to be wrong. ‘GM Free’ ought to mean what it says. We wouldn’t accept antibiotic or BSE “Free” if there was any trace of either in our food. Again I hear a few voices saying antibiotics and BSE are proven to cause ill health, whereas there is not proof GM harms humans. Leaving Genetically Engineered Recumbent Bovine Growth hormone, injected into cows in the States increasing the risk of breast and prostate cancers, aside, and the appalling Truth is that there have been no long-term, peer reviewed, INDEPENDENT studies done on the affect on humans who eat food containing GM crops and products from animals fed GM.
The odd test that has been done independently, have thrown up potentially worrying results. For example, ex-environment Minister Michael Meacher MP, stated in the Guardian on 23.6.03 that the only GM trial done on humans (at Newcastle University)) found that “the GM DNA had been transferred to bacteria in the gut, an alarming find that should be checked and re-checked (to shed light on human health implications).” Likewise, the well known vilification of Dr Apad Puztai who was sponsored by the Government to carry out safety checks on rats fed GM potatoes. On expressing alarm at his findings, he was hounded out of his job. He clearly felt he found something, so to reassure the public, why didn’t the Government commission other scientists do more tests? Instead they’ve now handed the regulation/safety checks over to the companies who produce GM products and therefore directly stand to profit from as little bad press as possible. Worse still, they don’t even have to declare their findings under the legal guise of COMMERCIAL CONFIDENTIALITY.
The odd time campaign groups HAVE managed to prise out test results, they have uncovered concerns. For example, MON 863 maize was given the commercial green light in July 2006. Greenpeace in Germany managed to unearth the test results and found this GM maize had harmful effects on the kidneys of rats and levels of white blood cells. Even so it is still going into our food chain and we wonder why consumers overwhelmingly would rather not eat the stuff?
A Mori poll published in June showed 61% of people in the UK do not want to eat GM food ingredients. This figure is up by 8% from January 1998 and could rise still further on a crescendo of public debate. Likewise, the figure opposed to GM taken at the GM Nation debate in 2003 stood at 86%. The 6 meetings were barely publicised (presumably to push through legislation as quickly and quietly as possible), which is why nobody turned up for the first one at the NEC in Birmingham. However, once word got out the other 5 which took place in out of the way locations were packed with those concerned about GM – hence the figure of 86%. This time around, supporters and concerned members of the public were simply told to write to DEFRA HQ in London to express their views. It seems their minds have already been made up, and from 2009 onwards it will be down to us farmers whether we decide to grow GM crops or not.
My point is that the customers don’t want it. You just have to click on to the Tesco, Sainsburys (and the rest) websites to see how they promote the fact their own brand products are GM-free. I recently received a letter from Justin King (Sainsbury’s) who’s at pains to state in his first sentence that; “Following customer demand we were the first major retailer to remove GM ingredients from all our own-brand foods.” He goes on to say how they’ve tried to “move to a non-GM animal feed supply,” but this had proven difficult because Gm and non-GM soya and maize are mixed together in silos in the US and Canada. Also Tesco and Sainsbury’s, especially, are seeking contracts with suppliers who can guarantee GM-free food. They would not be doing this were it not for the continued rejection of GM by the customers. No other kind of business would be able to produce a product that the vast majority doesn’t want. m of the CAP will mean that farm gate prices will be much more dependent on market demand for agricultural products. It will no longer be financially so attractive to sell products that the market does not want into intervention storage in the hope that the EU will release them onto world markets later, courtesy of generous export subsidies.
Last, but not least, how might GM affect our land values? It must be stressed that once GM has been sown, the farm, due to the voracity of the GM gene, will be ‘contaminated’ (for want of a better word) for many years and possibly for life. Volunteer seeds persist for a long time in the soil. OSR seed has been known to survive for 7 years in reasonable numbers. Just 2 plants/sq m2 gives rise to 3% contamination which takes the crop above the 9% limit currently in place.
There are all sorts of figures currently brandished around in the US claiming big falls in land values on those farms where GM crops have been grown, but no matter, it’s not hard to see that if you’re a farmer who has grown GM you will have to keep growing it. Converting to becoming organic, which is becoming ever more popular and where premium prices will only increase, will be nigh on impossible with obvious repercussions on land values. The concern is that even if you are an organic farmer, or a conventional one for that matter, and a farmer is growing GM crops nearby, you could lose your organic status at the drop of a hat with the knock-on-effect on the capital value of your Holding. This has recently happened to organic growers in Spain when traces of GM were found in their maize and sweetcorn resulting from cross-pollination from a nearby farm. The devastating result was they lost their organic status on EVERYTHING. Is it any wonder that the NFU Mutual places the insurance of GM in the same category as asbestos and terrorism?
If any farmer thinks he will be able to dip in and out of growing GM and non-GM crops, he should read ‘Monsanto versus US Farmers’ written by the Food Safety Centre – an independent agricultural body in the States. A list as long as the River Nile (well not quite), has been compiled of those farmers who have been forced by Monsanto, who have used the legal system wherever necessary, to keep growing GM crops.
The RICS has been lobbying Parliament to make a Public Register of farms growing GM crops. This is, after all, an EU Directive and thus Law. It is surely a right for anybody buying land to know its history. However, DEFRA has overruled the EU and deemed this unnecessary. It did the same during Foot and Mouth (when it was called MAFF), and thereby pitted farmer against farmer – as many of us remember only too well and with a lot of pain. I can’t begin to imagine how much worse this will be when GM is given the go ahead. The Biotech companies have already absolved themselves from any responsibility once the seed is sold so it will be us against our neighbour. How things currently stand is under something called the SCIMAC protocol which ‘requires’ GM growers to liase with neighbours regarding their planting intentions. However, the SCIMAC code is a voluntary protocol which cannot be enforced through the Courts and cannot therefore be relied upon by neighbouring farmers. This could mean that many of us will be in for a nasty shock when our crops are tested.
To sum up: Do we in the countryside want to give up control of our choices and businesses to a few ruthless, solely profit driven large corporations (see attached Technology Agreement setting out Terms and Conditions for further verification). We are an island, and as such have the most fantastic opportunity to be a source of GM-free food, plus we have a potentially invaluable GM-free seed bank for ourselves and the world in the future. This is provided we can ALL resist the temptation of short-term profits. In the US and Canada, many farmers were given (bribed in my view) their seed for free for the first 2 to 3 years by Monsanto. According to Michael Hart, many now seriously regret their decision. Nobody knows, after all, where we might be with crop mutations say 20 generations down the line. As such I implore farmers to write to Mr. Milliband at DEFRA, Noble House, 17 Smith Square, London. SW1 P3JR to beg him to keep us GM FREE.