Genetically Modified (GM) Food

Joseph E. Moryl joe at
Sun Feb 21 19:57:36 PST 1999

The Guardian (UK) has a good series about the GM food debate on their website ( Below is an rather shocking article from Saturday's paper. I can't imagine a major US paper that would touch this article:

All Monsanto's men?

By Nick Cohen Saturday February 20, 1999 The Guardian

By Thursday Ministers' defence of genetically modified food had become so mortifyingly inadequate even their many enemies couldn't watch without muscle spasms crippling their buttocks. Workers at Friends of the Earth squirmed with delight until all their phones went dead and stayed dead. Ian Willmore, the press spokesman, was inconsolable. He was supposed to be experiencing the most thrilling moment in the organisation's history. The dopey British had finally woken up to the implications of genetically modified food, the alarming nature of which had already caused riots from India to France. Dozens of journalists were ringing his number, but none could hear his denunciations. A colleague called BT from a pay phone. 'There's a fault at the exchange and all the businesses in your street have been cut off for the day,' she was told. That night Willmore watched All the President's Men and heard Deep Throat warn reporters investigating the Nixon White House to assume their phones were bugged. He wondered if there was a link between the Government's embarrassment and the silent lines. He pulled himself together with a start. Conspiracy theories are silly. The next day Willmore popped his head round the doors of neighbouring offices. 'Were your phones out yesterday?' 'No,' they all replied.

As the Earth's friends were disconnected from the planet they are meant to serve, a Greenpeace direct action team was trundling north. Its mission was to launch dinghies into the Liverpool docks and occupy cranes booked to empty American cargo ships carrying genetically-modified soya and gluten. Before the protestors could reach the Mersey, 30 officers stopped them on the M56 and impounded their boats.

As they sat in a Cheshire service station, one activist wondered if the police and security services had diverted scarce surveillance resources from drug dealers and murderers to come to the aid of pariah multi-nationals. His scaremongering was quickly dismissed as nonsense. The forces of law and order have no time to act as the private army of foreign corporations. Their near collapse has forced the Home Secretary to tear up the presumption of innocence and trial by jury - democratic rights his notoriously lax predecessors tolerated for centuries - because the poor dear cannot cope with evil-doers the like of which have never been witnessed before.

A Merseyside Police spokesman then said unidentified 'sources' had been spying on environmentalists. 'High levels of movement' were noted on Wednesday and a 'joint operation' was launched. Liverpool criminals enjoyed a risk-free day as police helicopters and manpower descended on the docks and mobile units were sent to the motorways to intercept and stop a peaceful protest before it could begin.

In Canada, environmentalists are wondering what has happened to an investigation into allegations from vets working for the Canadian health department - Health Canada. The Canadian authorities, along with the European Union, have banned rBGH (also known as BST), a hormone that forces cows to produce more milk, because of the suffering it brought to the animals and a suspicion that it may cause human cancers. Dr Margaret Haydon told the Canadian Senate that she and her superior in the Human Safety Division, one Dr Drennan, had met representatives of Monsanto, the hormone's manufacturers. 'An offer of one to two million dollars was made,' she said in October last year. The Senate then heard an interview Dr Drennan had given to local journalists.

'Was money offered?' they asked. 'Yes.' 'Did you consider that to be a bribe?' 'I would say so.'

Dr Drennan 'laughed off' the offer and asked the Canadian government to investigate. The inquiry has not reported its findings many believe there was no inquiry. Ray Mowling, Monsanto's Canadian rep, admitted funding the impoverished ministry's research, but denied attempting to bribe civil servants.

Only paranoiacs could doubt him. In any case, it is the influence-peddling which is perfectly legal that is most telling: the subsidising of regulators and academics by business; and the recruitment of Jack Cunningham's special adviser, one of New Labour's spin doctors and former members of Clinton's administration as lobbyists for Monsanto.

The revolving door is now spinning in Brussels. David Earnshaw, the adviser to Ken Collins, chair of the European Parliament's Environment Committee, has resigned to take a post with the genetically modified food industry. A weak European Commission must soon decide whether to allow GM crops to be grown in the EU. It is terrified of legal action by the Americans who have established a global order based on what can be described as free trade extremism. When the government of New Zealand issued proposals to label and test GM foods, which wouldn't have raised an eyebrow 10 years ago, the United States threatened sanctions.

All last week pundits and politicians complained about mob hysteria and opined that GM foods offered great benefits. But crops modified to tolerate herbicides are designed to be soaked with poisons; plants restructured to repel insects destroy the food chain; and seeds fitted with 'terminator genes' turn farmers into a captive market for the bio-tech industry by sterilising seeds so they cannot be collected after a harvest and replanted.

Deciding to ban all of the above does not require the use of sophisticated scientific knowledge; it is a political judgment. Yet any government which tries to regulate GM foods runs the risk of being punished by the World Trade Organisation for restricting free trade.

Not that our own Government is bold enough to stand up to the Americans or anyone else. Yesterday Tony Blair, shaken by the spectacle of the many sticking their noses into the business of the few, denounced his critics as 'hypocrites', and Friends of the Earth and other pressure groups as 'tyrants'.

'There is no scientific evidence' to justify a ban,' he said, and anyone who contradicted him was - what else? - 'scaremongering'.


Cheers, Joe Moryl

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