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9-Misc: British Minister of Environment attacks GE crops



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                                  PART I
-------------------------------- GENET-news --------------------------------

TITLE:  Meacher attacks GM crops
SOURCE: British Broadcasting Corporation
        http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/2771129.stm
DATE:   Feb 17, 2003

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Meacher attacks GM crops 

Environment Minister Michael Meacher has denied that he is about to quit
the government after he launched an outspoken attack on genetically
modified (GM) crops. Mr Meacher argued that biotechnology was not
"necessary" to feed the world and highlighted his concerns at possible
health risks to consumers. Michael Meacher His comments were effectively
disowned by his government department - Environment, Food and Rural
Affairs - who said Mr Meacher's comments were "his views". Prime Minister
Tony Blair is a known enthusiast of GM but DEFRA admitted there were
"creative tensions" in the government over the issue. Ministers are to
announce later in the year whether they will allow GM crops to be grown
commercially.


Resignation denial

Following newspaper speculation that he might be about to quit, Mr
Meacher, in a statement issued via his spokesman, denied that he could
resign over the issue. He said: "This is an absurd invention. There is
not a scintilla of evidence suggesting that I should resign. The claim is
not just wrong, worse, it is silly." Michael Meacher Mr Meacher's attack
on GM crops came during an interview with the Ecologist magazine. He
said: "The real problem is whether 10, 20, 30 years down the track,
serious and worrying things happen that none of us ever predicted. "It's
these sorts of totally unpredicted problems that make me very, very
cautious. "The human race has existed on this planet for about a quarter
of a million years."


Subject for debate

He added: "We have been feeding ourselves perfectly adequately since
overcoming problems of hunger in our early existence. GM is not
necessary." Mr Meacher, who is MP for Oldham West and Royton, also
questioned the motives of companies behind GM but said the government
could not afford to conduct its own trials. Earlier this month Mr Meacher
admitted that a public debate on the issues surrounding genetically
modified crops had got off to a slow start. He said the government wanted
to "give people an opportunity to have genuine discussions" about GM,
because the debate had been "extremely polarised".


                                  PART II
-------------------------------- GENET-news --------------------------------

TITLE:  MICHAEL MEACHER - THE INTERVIEW
SOURCE: The Ecologist, UK
        http://www.theecologist.co.uk/article.html?article=371
DATE:   Jan 22, 2003

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MICHAEL MEACHER - THE INTERVIEW

Opinionated and outspoken, the UK's environment minister Michael Meacher
is, by his own reckoning, a lone voice in the wilderness. He talked to
The Ecologist about GM, nuclear power and why no one dares question the
path we are on.

Michael Meacher is in something of a ministerial hurry. As we bustle down
the steps of the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs a
car pulls up to whisk us away. Five hundred metres down the road it stops
in front of the House of Commons and we all pile out again. Before we can
suggest that the minister is 'doing a Prescott' he turns to us with a
smile. 'Not a very good start, eh? I should have walked.'

PLAYING POLITICS

It is this willingness to admit that problems exist that made us want to
talk to Meacher in the first place. Last year he was asked his opinion of
the US policy of dumping GM food on starving African countries and
calling it aid. Candidly, he replied: 'It's wicked when there is such an
excess of non-GM food available. We have the means to assist, but we are
playing politics over GM.'

So, with the US accusing NGOs of leaving Africa to starve, Tony Blair
calling those environmentalists who are concerned about safety 'anti-
science' and the public seemingly keen to keep its food GM-free, we start
by asking Meacher what he feels about the risks GM might pose.

'The real problem is not whether people are going to develop terrible
diseases in six months' time - which is not going to happen,' he replies.
'The real problem is whether 10, 20, 30 years down the track serious and
worrying things happen that none of us ever predicted. It's these sorts
of totally unpredicted problems that make me very, very cautious. The
human race has existed on this planet for about a quarter of a million
years. We have been feeding ourselves perfectly adequately, since
overcoming problems of hunger in our early existence. GM is not necessary.'

So, leaving aside the small fact that the UK minister for the environment
feels that we neither need GM nor can be sure if it will be safe, what
does Meacher feel about the current trials' system? As the current trials
are only testing what effects GM crops might have on the environment, he
says, and as the government has neither the money nor the manpower to do
anything else, we have to rely upon the bio-tech companies themselves to
tells us if they discover any other problems, such as, for example,
health risks. 'So the question is,' he continues, 'can we trust the
companies and be sure that they are telling us all they know? When asked
if the system is adequate, it is difficult to give the answer 'yes', for
the reasons I have just given. The system is very trusting, and that is
worrying.'

The issues of trust and corporate science have risen on the agenda in
recent years. No more so than when Lord Sainsbury was appointed as the
government's science minister. For the record, Sainsbury is a member of
the cabinet bio-technology committee responsible for national policy on
GM crops and foods, and as such a key adviser to Blair on GM technology.
He is also a multi-million-pound donor to the Labour Party, having given
Labour its biggest single donation in September 1997 and over 9m in all.
He was made a life peer by Blair on October 3 1997.

Sainsbury is also a major personal investor in GM agricultural bio-
technology, and has long-established links to two bio-tech companies -
Innotech and Diatech. Gatsby, a charity established by Sainsbury, has
invested over 2m a year into the new Sainsbury Laboratory, which carries
out research into GM crops. In case this isn't enough, the laboratory
also receives over 800,000 a year from the Biotechnology and Biological
Science Research Council, for which Sainsbury is responsible in his
ministerial role.

Blair once said: 'There is no conflict of interest in David Sainsbury's
position. He has nothing to do with the licensing of GM foods.'

We ask Meacher whether he agrees with Blair's assessment. The government
line, he explains, is that whenever the relevant cabinet sub-committee -
known as Sci-Bio - meets to discuss policy or make decisions then Lord
Sainsbury withdraws. But this, we say, does not prevent Sainsbury from
influencing proceedings before the meeting. 'Sci-Bio meets pretty
rarely,' Meacher replies. 'But as far as I know the only way [Sainsbury]
seeks to avoid this conflict of interest is by absenting himself when
decisions are taken by these inter-departmental committees. And as far as
I know that is all he does.'

Satisfied? We ask the minister how he thinks this arrangement must seem
to people in the outside world.

Meacher smiles but declines to answer.

Turning away from GM, we enquire how he feels about Jonathon Porritt's
comment that this government is in adulation of big business.

Again he smiles and says: 'No comment.' Then, after a second's thought,
he adds: 'When I first came into politics Labour was a party which was at
best sceptical and at worst openly hostile to business. It has now gone
right the other way.' He feels that what matters most is being seen to be
independent, that the government should not get too close to any vested
interest - whether it is industry or the trade unions. 'As Tony Blair
keeps on saying,' he adds, 'we govern for all the people. And that is
right, and we shouldn't be in the pocket of anyone. Now, I'm sure [Blair]
would say that he isn't.'

But if Blair is not in the pocket of anyone, we wonder, how does Meacher
explain recent events surrounding the nuclear industry, which despite
years of corrupt practices was last year bailed out by the government to
the tune of 650m. It would seem clear that the government is doing
everything it can to protect this lethal industry. But is it really worth
protecting?

'We have had a nuclear industry for 50 years and still no one is quite
sure what to do with nuclear waste,' replies the minister. 'You've got
77,000 cubic metres of intermediate and high-level waste growing rapidly.
There are 10,000 tonnes - which is one hell of a lot - at Sellafield
alone. If we do not build a single other nuclear power station it will be
half a million tonnes by the end of the century.'

As we sit back to take in the scale of the problem, Meacher explains what
he sees as the main difficulties with nuclear power.

Problem one - waste: 'Do you build more nuclear plants when you don't
know what to do with the waste, and on such an enormous scale, and at
such great cost?' Problem two - liability: 'Do you know how much the
Liabilities Management Authority is taking over with the restructuring of
BNFL? 85 billion.' Problem three - security: 'After September 11, if you
want to do damage to any country in the world, just go for the biggest
nuclear installation.' Problem four - cost: 'This is the killer in market
terms. It's not competitive in price.'

In four straight points the UK's environment minister makes it clear what
is wrong with nuclear energy and exposes what is wrong with the
government's policy, which rather than looking to end the nuclear age is
looking to expand it.

But he hasn't finished. 'Now the argument of the nuclear industry has
always been, "OK, OK, OK, but for supply to meet demand there is no
alternative". But I don't think that's true. The big alternative is
renewables. There is tremendous opportunity to make a clean sweep and
have a very big increase in renewables.'

Heck, we're on a bit of a roll. GM, big business, nuclear power. So what
about globalisation, growth and sustainable development?

Famously, the government tried to avoid sending Meacher to the Earth
Summit in Johannesburg last year. In the end, with a group of NGOs
offering to pay his ticket, it recanted and off he went. So what did he
make of the world's biggest conference?

'The buzz word at Jo'burg - and, my God, there's enough of them at these
things - was "to make globalisation work for the poorest". It's a
fundamental issue of judgement as to whether that is possible or whether
it simply cannot be made to work. It is unquestionably true that we are
trying to solve a lot of the problems by following the same courses that
caused them in the first place. If you talk about what the model should
be, of course, it is absolutely true (there is a realpolitik about this),
no one in the industrialised countries challenges that model. It's just
about making it work a bit better, being a bit fairer.'

This is the mantra of sustainable development, and those who chant it
relentlessly as they patrol the corridors of power are wont to offer up
the same golden lambs as proof of their rectitude. Asked to show that
globalisation works, and they point to countries such as Ghana. And when
they point, they point very precisely, very specifically, at its GDP.
They tell you how under the IMF's imposed structural adjustment plans
Ghana's GDP rose 2 per cent a year between 1987 and 1992. What they do
not tell you is that Ghana has also seen its forests give way to deserts
and that it now boasts an unrepayable 7.2 billion debt.

But does the UK's environment minister share these beliefs, beliefs
espoused by his own prime minister and, since her conversion, Clare Short
- the overseas development minister?

Far from it. 'This model,' he declares. 'puts developing countries in a
position where they are a valuable but basically ancillary part of the
capitalist trading network. The effect on many countries has been more
poverty, not less.'

So does Meacher oppose the policies of sustainable development? 'Ever
since Reagan and Thatcher the market philosophy has gone totally
unchallenged,' he explains.

'The real problem is that every government in the EU - the UK included -
says, "of course we want growth". And growth does solve some problems,
but we need growth of a very different kind - one that respects the
environment and is generally sustainable. But it is dishonest to say that
it is a long-term answer that can go on for ever.' No wonder they didn't
want him at the Earth Summit.

We ask him how bad he believes the environmental situation to be. 'The
story I like most of all is from James Lovelock,' he replies. We are
somewhat startled. To hear a minister question sustainable development is
one thing, but to quote James Lovelock and his Gaia theory? Meacher
continues: 'If the human body becomes ill it goes into a fever. The
purpose of going into a fever is to concentrate all activities in
destroying the alien virus that is [threatening] the integrity of the
whole human frame. Either, as happens in the majority of cases, it
succeeds and the virus is expelled, or it doesn't and the person dies. If
we carry on with activities that destroy the environment, then we are the
virus'