Secret GM Plans Afoot

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Yesterday’s Independent on Sunday reports that Gordon Brown and other European state heads are planning a pro-GM campaign, according to confidential documents uncovered by the paper.

Flying in the face of public opinion and the Great GM Debate of five years ago, the minutes from meetings between government representatives from 27 nations reveal plans to to “speed up” the integration and mainstreaming of GM crops.

The group, which has no official public profile, was convened by Joao Vale de Almeida, who is head of cabinet to the pro-GM President of the Commission, and included senior representatives apparently approved by heads of state. Meeting notes reveal strong encouragement for GM companies to speak out against ‘vested interests’ of enviromental groups, and convince the people of Europe to accept GM food.

GM Crops face very divided opinion by members of the Council of Ministers, which can delay the approval process for GM products. This move to hold secret meetings will be seen as a way of changing policy by the back door.

Helen Holder of Friends of the Earth Europe said: “Barroso’s aim is to get GM into Europe as quickly as possible. So he is going straight to prime ministers and presidents to tell them to step on their ministers and get them into line.”

The IoS article about the secret GM panel sparked dozens of comments on their blog. The Independent on Sunday also printed the following feature:

Q & A: The trouble with modified crops

How much GM is grown in Europe?

Very little. The documents boast the area increased by 21 per cent last year, proving “growing interest”. But it still only covered 0.119 per cent of Europe’s agricultural land.

What are the problems?

Mainly environmental. Official trials in Britain showed that growing GM crops was worse for wildlife than cultivating conventional ones. Worse, genes escape from the modified plants to create superweeds and to contaminate normal and organic crops, denying consumers a choice to be GM-free.

Do they endanger health?

Hard to tell. Some studies show that they may do, others (including almost all those by industry) are reassuring. The trouble is that very few truly independent, peer-reviewed research has been done. Most consumers have sensibly concluded that they would sooner be safe than sorry, particularly as they get no benefit from buying GM.

Can they feed the world?

Almost certainly not. Despite all the hype, present GM varieties actually have lower yields than their conventional counterparts. The seeds are expensive to buy and grow, so wealthy developing-world farmers would tend to use them and drive poor ones out of business, increasing destitution. The biggest agricultural assessment ever conducted – chaired by Professor Robert Watson, now Defra’s chief scientist – recently concluded that they would not do the job.

Link: Feeding the World – is GM Fit for Purpose?

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