Tag Archives: GM

Brexit and GM food

“Waiter, waiter, where is the genetically modified food on the menu?”

Do you know anyone clamouring to eat genetically modified (GM) food?

One of the many reasons I voted Remain in the 2016 referendum was because the European Union (EU) largely protects its citizens against this unproven technology.

EU – a buffer against GM

Look, I am not saying the European Union (EU) is perfect. It needs reform. Obvs. 

But, in some areas, it has acted on my behalf.

The EU has also largely prevented the commercial growing of GM crops, only giving permission for one GM crop to be grown. 

In addition, European consumers can make informed choices about whether or not to eat GM thanks to the EU insisting that GM ingredients are labelled (unlike in North America, where its citizens are now campaigning for GM labelling). 

(Sadly, the EU does not label dairy and meat from animals fed on GM, but that is another story, and one that anti-GM campaigners are working on.).

GM is not popular in Europe. Over half of EU countries officially ban GM.

And British citizens have resoundingly rejected it. 

UK governments – Labour and Conservative – are, however, pro-GM. 

So far, the EU has prevented our green and pleasant land being turned into one giant biotech experiment.  

The question is: without the EU, how will our GM-free future fare?

Brexit uncertainty

The pack of cards is in the air.

The terms of Brexit have yet to be set in agriculture, as in all other areas.

Uncertainty creates opportunity.

Food and farming charities and organisations are wholeheartedly seizing this opportunity to lobby for sustainable farming.

However, the seed and chemical corporates are also seizing this opportunity, only in their case, to lobby for their profit-driven biotech future. 

And these multinationals have huge financial resources and well-oiled lobbying machines at their disposal.

In addition, a recent merger of Monsanto and Bayer increases their voracious drive for new markets.

To whom will our government listen, the sustainable food and farming groups, or the multinational corporations?

Hmnnn, I wonder.

Worrying signs

What will the UK government do? 

The UK government has signalled it will not be following the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). That is good – it needs reform. 

However, one of CAP’s merits is that it is strongly against GM. 

In a parliamentary written answer in October 2016, agricultural minister George Eustice said that “as part of preparations for the EU exit, the Government is considering possible future arrangements for the regulation of genetically modified organisms…Government “policy and regulation in this area” should be “science-based and proportionate”.

Possible future arrangements for regulation? From a government in favour of deregulation? Uh oh. 

Proportionate? GM Watch warns this may be a weasel word for “weaker.” 

Forgive my cynicism, but post-Brexit, I fear we are girding our loins for another fight to protect our fields and food from GM. 

Risks of GM

If the UK voted Brexit to strengthen sovereignty, then GM means a potential loss of food sovereignty.

Why? When a biotech seed company genetically modifies a seed, it gives the company the legal right to patent it. Whoever owns the seed (via a patent), controls our food supply. 

Yet seeds know no boundaries and naturally cross-pollinate. When a GM seed lands unlicensed on a farmer’s field, the farmer can be sued. 

The Guardian reports

“The agricultural giant Monsanto has sued hundreds of small farmers in the United States in recent years in attempts to protect its patent rights on genetically engineered seeds” 

Half of all seeds worldwide are now owned by a handful of multinational chemical companies, and their seeds are becoming increasingly expensive.

According to Charles Benbrook, chief scientist at the US Organic Center: “The $70 per bag price set for [GM] RR2 soybeans in 2010 is twice the cost of conventional seed and reflects a 143% increase in the price of GM seed since 2001”.

GM ties farmers into expensive arrangements because they have to buy the proprietary pesticide that goes with the GM seed engineered to not die when sprayed with these proprietary pesticides. 

GM alters the genetic make-up of seeds – a GM seed is not the same as its non-GM counterpart

We do not know if GM food is safe or healthy to eat.

There are rising incidences of allergies in the US where, due to the lack of labelling, consumers have unwittingly consumed GM for decades. There is a growing body of studies which suggests GM food can be harmful

Organic standards ban genetically modified ingredients from every stage of production – one of the many reasons I chose organic food. 

Citizens, be vigilant!

So, fellow real food lovers, I beg you, get informed about the risks of GM.

What do you think?

Millions March against Monsanto

Durban GMO protest

Wow. On Saturday 25 May 2013, two million people worldwide marched against Monsanto, reported the Guardian. (Image above by Phillip Martin of the Durban protest from No GMO South Africa).

One of the top ten US chemical companies – think Agent Orange and DDT -Monsanto started buying up seed companies in the 1980s. Now it is the biggest producer of GM (genetically modified) seed.

Portman Square Bristol BS2 Sat 25 May 2013

Portman Square Bristol BS2 Sat 25 May 2013

Here in Bristol, we chanted: “We don’t want no GMO.”

GM (genetically modified) technology is based on the outdated scientific premise that a gene is responsible for a characteristic. So all you have to do is add a desired characteristic from one species  into another species and ta da, you have a nice new genetically modified organism (GMO).

It’s nothing like traditional breeding because it crosses species barriers, creating organisms that would never exist in nature.

Once a seed is genetically modified it can be patented – which means the company that patents it, owns it.

Which means you can now prosecute farmers who have your patented seeds on their fields. Even even if the seeds arrived (as seeds do) by wind or bees.

Check out GMO Myths and Truths for more info. This fully-referenced report shows that Monsanto et al‘s claims – that GM crops yield better, reduce pesticide use, and are safe to eat – are dubious.

Also check out: GM Education, GM Freeze and GM Watch. Also: Thierry Vrain, former pro-GM research scientist for Agriculture Canada now promoting awareness of the many dangers of GM food.

NO GMO Monsanto couple

Back to the march.

Well, despite some “trolling” beforehand including fake reports that marches were not going to happen, or would be violent, they happened and they were 100% peaceful.

See these pics of the London march and below.

Bianca Jagger - image from http://www.demotix.com/news/2088303/environmental-gmo-activists-march-against-monsanto-london#media-2088296

Bianca Jagger – image from

I was a steward (I have an NVQ in Green Stewarding, I’ll have you know) for the approx 500-strong Bristol march and I can report it was filled with good humour and co-operation.

Portman Square Bristol BS2 Sat 25 May 2013

Portland Square Bristol BS2 Sat 25 May 2013

As we waited at Portland Square before setting off from the march, a man with a beautifully-ironed shirt volunteered he had escaped his “corporate pay masters” to support us.

“O, that’s great,”I said. “Are you coming on the march?”

Well, no, he wasn’t because he had already been there 45 minutes already.

He said Monsanto probably had some observers at the march but they were likely dressed in a “bohemian” way.

He was keen to meet local organisers but was uninterested when I suggested Bristol Friends of the Earth.

Monsanto has used a PR firm in the past to discredit opposition and according to some, employed a security firm to monitor activists online.

I think a security firm will have its work cut-out. The thing is there is not one over-arching or hierarchical body behind people like us.

These marches are organic and spontaneous – the human spirit rising up to protect our food.

Veg fest

After the march, Julia and I went to the VegFest (above), and reaped the benefits of a happy healthy food movement.

Who would have thought that wholesome food could be subversive?

Food 2030 – spin not substance

Venue magazine asked me for my view on Food 2030 for its Feb 3 issue. That got me thinking:

The government’s food strategy for the next 20 years sounded like good news.

“Britain must grow more sustainable food,” went the Guardian headline as farming minister, Hilary Benn, launched Food 2030 at the Oxford Farming Conference.

Hilary was using all the right words: climate change, food security, homegrown food.

Hilary even included this rallying call:

“People power can help bring about a revolution in the way food is produced and sold.”

That sentence could have come straight from the planet-friendly Soil Association. Hold on a minute. I think it did. I remember writing something similar when I was editor of the organic charity’s magazine, Living Earth.

So, has the government finally got the green message?

Look, I hate to be cynical but there is an election coming up.

The fact is – and you might as well know sooner than later – New Labour (and Conservatives when in power) are as wedded to the dominant global food system as ever.

Food 2030 pretends to be open-minded about GM but I am not convinced.

According to Hilary Benn’s performance at the Soil Association 2008 conference, the minister does not inspire confidence.

(Watch out for Hilary at the Soil Association conference in February).

So Hilary tries to reassure us that the government is on the case because it is spending £90m over the next five years “to fund innovative technological research and development” with the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.

Sounds like quick-fix technology to me – good for corporate finances but not for us mere mortals.

You can bet that not-much of that £90m will go on researching already-existing healthy farming models such as organic farming or permaculture.

Food 2030 pretends to be looking for solutions but instead dumps the burden on consumers and farmers.

(Reminds me of that ghastly government advert on climate change where the little kid sees a picture of a puppy dying in the rising tide. O, so kids must feel guilty while the government carries on with business-as-usual? No, minister, that is not what I would call positive action against climate change).

Back to Food 2030 and Hilary’s big push against food waste. Yes, we waste food but hold on a minute. Why focus on what we citizens keep rotting in our fridge when supermarkets throw away far more food than we do?

And as for telling farmers to produce more local food when – hello? – council farms are being sold off.

Benn’s only vaguely substantial idea was to be more honest about labelling meat’s country of origin.

But then that was a Tory idea anyway.

So, sorry – not impressed.

Are you?


Stop press (added 03.05.2010): The Soil Association has produced a report investigating the big fat lie that the UK needs to double food production by 2050.

GM? No way, no thanks

First, an advert for healthy eating brought to you by Earthmother productions. Worried about your health? Eat organic and for colour! Nature has kindly colour-coordinated its plant nutrients so you can mix-and-match. Step forward orange carotenoids for vitamin A production and purple and deeply-green antioxidants for cell-restoration.

If the veg is organic you get more antioxidants for your money. Here’s why: if you spray a plant with pesticides (which is how most western food is grown), then its ability to produce antioxidants is decreased. Antioxidants are the fighting army that protect a plant from pests and there are more in organic food because the organic plant gets to keep its antioxidant army. Fade on ad.

And the UK government wants to re-open the GM debate! Crikey, as if we don’t have enough to contend with just trying to grow a few unsprayed organic veg.

GM crops are modified in a lab to tolerate a herbicide (weed killer) or produce an insecticide (insect killer). Farmers have to buy the GM seed and the proprietary pesticide (umbrella term for herbicide, insecticide and fungicide).

If GM seeds or pollen arrive accidentally on a field, GM companies can sue farmers for patent-infringement. California voted to protect farmers against such lawsuits in August. It’s more fair if the polluter-company pays for GM contamination, as the Welsh Assembly government proposes – and not the hapless farmer.

The pro-GM marketing spin says GM can feed the world – how selfish of me to stop a technology that saves the hungry! But it’s a lie. There are no GM crops designed to help the poor. The current GM crops are engineered for insect and weed-spraying – not to improve yields, vitamin A, drought-prevention or any of the other mythical scenarios dreamed up by well-meaning but misguided press officers.

The (so-called) environment minister, Phil Woolas, said people like me have a year to prove GM is unsafe.

A body of evidence is growing; the ill-health effects on animals is well-documented. But the fact is the science has not been done. Commercial planting of GM especially in the US has pushed ahead regardless.  Listen, there has only been one trial published worldwide on humans eating GM food. And that showed worrying results.

I think we need more science on the health effects of GM.

And, Woolas – it’s not up to me to provide it.

On a gentler note: the ingredients for supper came from Better Food organic supermarket, which also grew the organic veg 12 miles away. The chard was steamed, the carrots grated and the beetroot, cut very small, was – new discovery – pan-fried in olive oil for 20 minutes with sliced onion. Served on a bed of brown rice; 1 mug of rice to 2 mugs of water, simmered for 30 minutes – enough for two, and a rice salad the next day.