Sunday, 31 July 2011

Two-Faced, Half-Baked GM Scam

The B’org Food Chain (big organisation of food and the chain of inequities) never ceases to amaze me and what I learned because of a demonstration on Saturday, 23 July 2011 was no exception.  I attended a rally organised to protest the trials of GM potatoes being grown in Norfolk to test blight-resistant varieties which I originally found out about just over a year ago when I started this blog.  While at the rally, I was in a photo shoot where we held up letter cards to spell out “GM SPUDS, A HALF-BAKED SCAM.”  I was the ‘S’ in SCAM.  You can view this photo and others from the event by clicking here.  Yes, it’s a half-baked scam in that it is not thought through.  But it is also a two-faced scam because on the face of it, GM is claimed to be for our benefit and to feed the world, but in reality, it is for the benefit of big organisations and our governments.  Not only do they not pass any benefits on to us, they use our tax monies to boot (and then cry age of austerity!).

Although impressive, the event itself was not really amazing.  We gathered at the Forum, a modern building in the centre of the city of Norwich.  Organic chips were handed out and enjoyed by campaigners and passerbys alike.  We heard speeches, took photos, handed out organic potatoes in small trays, and bussed to the John Innes Centre, chatted with several Sainsbury lab employees of varying ranks, delivered 40 crate trays of chitted organic blight-resistant potatoes (shown in photo above), then put them back on the trailer and went home.

News can be reviewed by clicking on the following links:

The Guardian did an article a few days before this demonstration called “Scientist leading GM crop test defends links to US biotech giant Monsanto, Research Professor Jonathan Jones says his verdict on a potato trial in Norfolk will not be influenced by his past commercial ties to Monsanto”.  Except they’re not past commercial ties to Monsanto, they’re present ones.  This oversight on the part of the Guardian may be due to its receiving Gates Foundation funding now which is also funding Monsanto.  I would imagine that it would be hard to report anything untoward about GM or Monsanto when a funder supports these two.  This is a pity as the Guardian used to be reliable for some grassroots reporting about such issues.

What I do find amazing is what I learned after the event, mostly about the lead researcher, Prof Jonathan Jones, who also gave a speech at the demonstration and spoke to us.  I had never seen him before and knew nothing about him except his name, but still recognised him when I saw him probably because of his outgoing self-assured air.  I told him what I thought of GM generally, especially that it’s a tool for big organisations to make more money and nothing else.  I also mentioned that we are all pawns, including him, being used to that end.  He claims that GM is a tool to improve the food supply and feed the world.  Another wake up call might be helpful because if it's not giant pigweed resistant to glyphosate, GMOs are prone to creating similar disasters.  I already knew that billionaire Lord Sainsbury is a supporter of GM and funds the John Innes Centre, and of course, the Sainsbury Laboratory, and has had contacts with Monsanto, but to learn of the close ties of Prof Jones to Monsanto was still surprising.

Prof Jones co-founded Mendel Biotechnology with its most important customer and collaborator for its business being Monsanto.  In fact, Monsanto (with its notorious background) is a strategic partner, along with BP (the big oily risk taker) and Bayer CropScience (affiliated with the pharmaceutical industry which is pushing drugs on everyone) and sits on the Board of Directors.  Prof Jones sits on the Scientific Advisory Board of the corporation which is “dedicated to being a premier biotechnology company serving large agricultural companies with new genetic and chemical solutions and to becoming the leading seed company serving the bioenergy industry” (my emphasis).  They forgot to mention the other partners, that is, the US and UK governments.

Power Base has lots more information about Prof Jones for interested parties including that he is on the Board of Directors of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications which is a GM industry lobby group.  In my opinion, I don’t think he should be engaged in such one-sided enterprises as a professor of research because this hampers the open frame of mind needed for a successful explorer.  After all, research is exploring the unknown and with a closed mind, some avenues will not be tested.  The result of closed-minded research will always be half-baked.  One other point about the GM potato trial is that it is testing how the plants will grow, but no tests are being done on nutritional content or long-term health effects because this is not required by law.

The double sided swindle by trickery in this all is that the government is paying for the research on GM potatoes (never mind the rest) at the John Innes Centre to the claimed tune of £1.7 million with our tax monies, and saying it’s for our benefit when clearly it’s not.  Mendel Biotechnology and all GM efforts are dedicated to serving the LARGE COMPANIES (what I call the big organisation or the B’org for short), NOT YOU AND ME.  We may be recipients of their labours (e.g., we may end up having to eat their GM potatoes), but the products are not for our benefit and they’ll probably make us ill just like most of the other processed food and medications around today.

Although Mendel Biotechnology is an American company with its headquarters in Hayward, California, it has aspirations for significant growth.  In addition, their “worldwide sites include extensive controlled growth facilities as well as glasshouses and field locations that permit production and experimental analysis of large numbers of plants.”  I’m wondering if this includes the John Innes Centre in some way.

In summary, the two-faced scam is that not only are there organic blight resistant potatoes available now, as we demonstrated at the rally on 23rd July, but the government is supporting the research for GM blight resistant potatoes for the benefit of transnational corporations with our money!  Isn’t our government supposed to be representing our interests?  Well, once again, they’re not.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer (Liberal Democrat) recently asked Her Majesty's Government which department is responsible for supporting the creation of local food partnerships linking local government, health authorities and community groups with food producers in their locality.

Lord Henley (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Conservative) replied that Defra is responsible for policy on local food.  But doesn’t ‘support’ in this context include funding?  Lord Henley further stated that “it is for local communities and local economic partnerships to decide where and how they develop”.  Local economic partnerships means local government working with businesses to “quicken the economic recovery”.  So while our central government gives big businesses big money to tinker with our food supply, local government is in essence privatising services such as rubbish collection and allotment schemes.  I found a Food Partnership online for Brighton & Hove, but could not readily find much about the funding of it.

It seems to me that local food partnerships are about as welcome by our government as an alien to a Borg cube.  Come to think it, as welcome as I was and the other campaigners were to the John Innes Centre as we gathered outside the barricaded entrance to the driveway with nearly as many police (some even in a helicopter!) and security officers present as there were demonstrators.  Yet local food partnerships could be the answer to all our woes.  For instance, the prisons are “bursting at the seams,” to use Lord Henley’s words.  And, it is well known that the cost of running the NHS has skyrocketed, especially since they're having to buy lots of new equipment for the burgeoning obese population. Obesity alone is reputed to be costing 4bn a year!!  Rather than privatising more public services and spending money on scientific toys such as GM potatoes, I believe that the government should show they realise the importance of natural wholesome food in keeping people sane and healthy by reflecting this in their spending and working to make real farming the nation's primary health service as well.

However, history is continuing to repeat itself like indigestible GM potatoes.  It would be nice for a change to see our leaders showing some real innovation and finding a way to stop, not only GM, but also placing commercial interests over the health and well-being of life on earth.