GM - Dream or nightmare

The American people are going to be very, very angry when the truth about GM food finally comes out, writes Craig Sams


When Mark Lynas got up at the National Farming Conference this January and said he was an environmentalist who realised he had been wrong about GM and that we should all adopt it, at once something smelt bad. He said the organic movement and Indian peasant farmers should stop fighting against the inevitable, crops to combat malnutrition and grow in drought conditions were being delayed and we have to feed the world. Owen Patterson, the new ‘Environment Minister’ attacked opponents of GM and said we couldn’t let the world starve any more (no mention of the subsidised biofuels NFU members are bribed to grow so we can burn food instead of eating it). He also said we’re all eating meat from animals that eat GM feed, so resistance is futile.

All part of Big Biotech’s new campaign to break the GM opposition in Europe. In that same week Poland banned two previously permitted GM crops. France one and various other European countries hardened their resistance. In Africa, Kenya joined the growing list of countries that completely banned GM seeds and imports of GM food. A scandal erupted in China where kids were fed toxic GM food without their knowledge in a falsified experiment.

It’s war!

The first casualty in War is Truth. Truth in the GM wars died back in the mid 1990s, now much more is at stake: the credibility of science. It’s a shame that it has come to this and that the men in white coats are trotting out the lies again.

When Monsanto discovered the DNA in petunias that makes them immune to Roundup, they fired petunia DNA into soybean DNA again and again until they got a mutant soybean that was resistant to Roundup. Bingo! With the Roundup patent expiring in 2001, they needed some way to keep farmers hooked on their herbicide and not migrate to cheaper generics at one third of the price. However, saying “We can continue to overcharge you after patent expiry for Roundup” didn’t make marketing sense. “Higher yields”, “Lower herbicide usage”, and ‘Feeding The World” were more buzzy.

They tested the GM soybean for yield and found yields were actually lower. US farmers found that Roundup usage actually increased. The biotech firms also claimed that in the pipeline were crops that could grow in salinated soils (every year we lose another 120 million hectares of farmland that’s become so drenched in chemical fertilisers that they can no longer support life – the salination is not seasalt, its salts of chemical fertilisers). There weren’t. Then they said they would develop crops that would grow through droughts. That never happened either, 17 years on. If a witness in a court of law has a record of lying they are not trusted again. Here the same old stories are trotted out, without any supporting evidence, and Tory ministers parrot them uncritically.

Monsanto had to get past the FDA, guardians of America’s food safety. Top scientists studied Monsanto’s feeding trials and counselled a ban. They were overruled by the political appointees who run the FDA, a good many either past of future Monsanto executives. The EU was easier. The CAP is so corrupt that the EU Council of Auditors have refused to approve their accounts for nearly a decade. Getting Commissioners to approve was a piece of cake.

In 1996 4% of the US soybean crop was GM. But an investigation carried out by the UK Food Standards Agency raised suspicions that all soy exports were deliberately contaminated with GM soy to deny EU users any choice.

They reckoned without Richard Austin of Rainbow Wholefoods, who galvanised the natural foods industry to boycott GM TVP from soya and GM soya lecithin, Greenpeace and the Soil Association drew a red line and the market has segregated GM and non GM ever since. This enables Waitrose to guarantee that all their own brand products are GM free, including the feed that goes to their meat animals.

The British government commissioned the most trusted and respected GM scientist, Arpad Puztai, of the Rowlett Institute, to do research GM to shut the critics up. Puztai found that GM potatoes caused cancer and deformities. He was abused by the Royal Society and his career shattered. Other researchers who got the same results were also fired or publicly humiliated by their fellow scientists. Not once has any independent research body been commissioned to duplicate their results. Too much money is at stake for the truth to come out. But it must.

We need to have proper research. Not by Monsanto’s scientists, not by Syngenta’s scientists – you can buy a scientist for about £60,000 a year, according to New Scientist magazine’s employment pages. The huge human guinea pig experiment with GM food in the US coincides with a calamitous deterioration in public health. The American people will be very, very angry when the truth comes out.