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3-Food: Analysis of the Pusztai case

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Stop the crops 
by George Monbiot 
[George Monbiot was the first British journalist to draw attention to the 
hazards of genetic engineering in the national press.]
Guardian (London)Saturday February 13, 1999

The geneticist Dr Arpad Pusztai is a dangerous man. He has released into 
the environment a virulent self-replicating organism, which is already 
running riot across Britain. It's called the truth. Yesterday, the 
Government moved rapidly to round it up and shove it back into the flask 
from which it spilt.
Jack Cunningham, the government's pest control officer, told the Today 
programme that the public had nothing to fear from Dr Pusztai's 
that rats fed with genetically modified potatoes suffered damage to their 
immune systems and internal organs. Human health, he claimed, was the 
Government's overwhelming priority. Genetic engineering had only been 
deployed experimentally in Britain so far. Europe was introducing 
new labelling requirements for engineered foods. And no, English Nature 
had not called for a moratorium. The nation could breathe a sigh of 
relief. The verminous truth was on the retreat.
But, like all dangerous pathogens, it has a nasty habit of cropping up 
again, just when you thought it was under control. It has even managed to 
infect English Nature's website. The agency, the website says, will 
'continue to recommend a moratorium on commercial releases'. In fact, 
beginning to look as if the only place the bug has not re-infected is the 
well-guarded inner sanctum of the Government.
Dr Cunningham has used subtle tactics to shut it out. Yes, genetically 
engineered crops have only been deployed experimentally: in British 
fields. But they have been deployed wholesale in British food. Most 
processed food now contains genetically modified products.
Yes, there are new labelling requirements for engineered foods. But no, 
they are not rigorous. Thanks to lobbying by the British government, 
European regulations are now so weak as to be almost meaningless. The 
British delegation insisted that there need be no warning about the 
presence of food additives, refined oils and flavourings made from 
engineered plants.
And no, Dr Cunningham, the British government has not put human health 
ahead of other priorities. Two weeks ago, it announced that it is giving 
A13 million to the biotechnology industry, to help improve its profile 
win public confidence. Last summer, both Jack Cunningham and Jeff Rooker, 
the deputy agriculture minister, held meetings with Monsanto, the world's 
most aggressive biotech company. The meetings were arranged by Monsanto's 
public relations consultants, Bell Pottinger. In October, Bell Pottinger 
was joined by Cathy McGlynn, previously Jack Cunningham's special adviser.
Monsanto's lobbying has been spectacularly successful. The Government's 
Invest in Britain Bureau now boasts that the UK 'leads the way in Europe 
in ensuring that regulations and other measures affecting the development 
of biotechnology take full account of the concerns of business.'
Business concerns are also heeded elsewhere. Last summer, a part-time 
employee of Monsanto's called Bill Clinton telephoned Tony Blair to 
that nothing be done to restrict the biotech sector's expansion in 
Britain. Monsanto was one of the largest donors of 'soft dollars' to 
Bill's 1996 presidential campaign.
It was these considerations which underlay Tony Blair's statement to the 
Commons last week. He told the House that imposing a moratorium on 
engineered crops would increase rather than decrease public concern. What 
he meant, of course, was that it would be bad for the image of the 
biotechnology companies.
The Government contends that genetically engineered crops will help both 
to feed the world and save the environment. But the world already 
50 per cent more food than it needs. People go hungry not because there 
too little food but because food and the land on which it grows are 
concentrated in the hands of the rich and powerful.
The biggest threat to future supplies is the environmental destruction 
caused by large-scale agro-industry: precisely the type of farming 
facilitated by genetic engineering. The corporate control of the food 
chain that modification allows will ensure that even less of the world's 
food reaches those who need it most. We are Dr Cunningham's guinea pigs, 
the subjects of a vast global experiment from which no good can come.
When Dr Pusztai told the truth, he was sacked from the government-funded 
institute for which he worked. Its director, Philip James, had given him 
permission to speak to a television crew about his research. When the 
programme was broadcast, Professor James supported him. A day later, he 
sacked him and made him sign a gagging order. The 22 eminent scientists 
who wrote a statement of support for Dr Pusztai this week are among 
thousands who would like to know why Professor James changed his mind.
The row over genetic engineering has long been portrayed as a dispute 
between environmentalists and scientists. But many of the most persuasive 
and cogent critics of this technology are themselves gene scientists, 
among the foremost in their fields.
The environment cannot sustain genetically engineered crops. Science 
mistrusts them. The public doesn't want them. Isn't it time the 
stopped forcing us to eat them, and fed us, instead, with the truth?
We are Dr Cunningham's guinea pigs, subjects of an unwanted, vast global 

-| Hartmut Meyer
-| Co-ordinator
-| The European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering
-| Reinhaeuser Landstr. 51
-| D - 37083 Goettingen
-| Germany
-| phone: #49-551-7700027
-| fax  : #49-551-7701672
-| email:

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