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9-Misc: Open letter from GM Free Cymru/Wales to UK Minister ofEnvironment

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SOURCE: GM Free Cymru
DATE:   Jan 16, 2003

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Rt Hon Margaret Beckett MP
Secretary of State for the Environment
House of Commons
London SW1A 0AA

16th January 2003

Dear Minister,

GM Crop Plantings and the Public Interest

While the Government's low-key "GM debate" is going on, largely unnoticed
by the public, there are major developments almost every day which lead
us to make some very serious observations about the behaviour of the big
biotechnology companies and about the extraordinary complacency of the

May we remind you of a few recent events which should have a bearing on
the Government's attitude to GM crops?

1. The disgraceful "burial" by members of your own staff at DEFRA of the
GM Oilseed Rape Contamination Report, published on Christmas Eve 2002 and
deliberately kept away from the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly
until their Draft GM Regulations were approved.

2. The complete failure of ACRE to recognise the implications of that
Report, which are spelled out in our letter dated 11th January to your
colleague Michael Meacher.

3. The Report on GM Crops and Human Health issued by the Health Committee
of the Scottish Parliament on 15th January.

4. The recent submission from the BMA on GM Crops and health. That
organisation, representing 120,000 doctors, has repeated its call for a
moratorium on GM crop trials, expressing concerns over the impact of GM
foods on long-term health.

5. The admission by the American FDA that they have done no independent
studies of the impact of GM crops and foods on human health, and that
they have simply accepted the assurances of the GM multinationals that
"there is no problem". Further, they say that their requests for company
research information on health effects have simply been ignored.

6. The continuing state of denial within the Food Standards Agency of any
health effects arising from the consumption of GM foods, in spite of the
fact that transgenic DNA, often containing antibiotic resistance genes,
can be taken up by bacteria in the human gut, with the potential to make
bacterial infections untreatable.

7. On-going efforts to vilify and marginalise those independent
scientists (including Dr Arpad Pusztai and Dr Mae-Wan Ho) who have the
courage to express their concerns about the impact of GM crops.

8. An extraordinary refusal on the part of the key Government agencies to
replicate studies that tend to demonstrate the toxicity of GM foods, or
to commission serious and statistically significant clinical trials
designed to show just what happens to people who eat large quantities of
GM foods on a continuing basis.

9. On-going doubts about the Farm Scale Evaluations of GM crops and about
the manner in which many of these trials have been manipulated for the
"research convenience" of Aventis and the other seed owners.

10. Serious problems within the GM / biotechnology industry worldwide,
indicating that consumers and shareholders alike are losing confidence in
GM crops.

11. An on-going "fudge" by the Government and its advisory committees on
the definition of harm and the placing of liability arising out of the
damage done by GM crop plantings.

12. The arrogant and dismissive attitude of ACRE and ACNFP to the immense
volume of sound science and other matters presented by expert witnesses
at the Chardon LL Hearing.

It seems to us that the Government's attitude to GM crops thus far has
been underpinned by two key assumptions, namely (a) that GM crops are
"substantially equivalent" to conventional related varieties; and (b)
that health and safety matters were all dealt with a few years ago, and
are therefore off the agenda. These assumptions were questionable in the
first place, and are now proven to have been profoundly at fault. The
idea of "substantial equivalence" was recently described by Dr Vyvyan
Howard as "a scam", and other senior scientists have also dismissed it as
being a piece of scientific nonsense. And health and safety matters are
now assuming huge importance, as shown by the debate in Scotland. In the
light of this emerging consensus, the Government's attitude is
increasingly unsupportable; and you will be aware of the strong criticism
from the Scottish Health Committee that this Labour Government has placed
far too much stress on the environmental side of the GM debate at the
expense of consideration of health effects, and that you and your
colleagues have demonstrated an inadequate commitment to the
precautionary principle which should underpin all Government policy.

May we remind you that you are personally liable for the consequences of
GM plantings in the UK? If (as now seems increasingly likely) the British
countryside and British agriculture will be faced in the future with
unconstrained contamination by GM varieties and by superweeds, and if (as
now seems increasingly likely) damaging health effects are identified in
connection with GM crops and GM foods, where will the GM / biotech
companies be then? They will be bankrupt, dead and buried, with no
resources to cope with litigation from organic farmers, let alone with
those of us suffering from allergic reactions and other health effects.
The UK tax-payer will foot the bill, as he/she did with the shambles
surrounding BSE and the other shambles surrounding F/M disease. And with
all due respect, you yourself will have moved on to higher things,
leaving behind a dreadful legacy.

May we also remind you that we have given up on ACRE, ACNFP, SSC, FSA and
SCIMAC, all of whom have demonstrated tunnel vision and a commitment to
the promotion of GM technology which is nothing short of a disgrace. The
Royal Society is also involved in the promotion of GM crops and foods.
They all appear to be incapable of joined-up thinking, and incapable of
understanding just how sophisticated are the views of the general public
on matters to do with GM.

The only compensation arising from the incompetence of these committees
is that neither you nor any other Minister are obliged to follow their
advice; and we urge you to take the decision NOW, on the basis of the
points made above, to announce an immediate moratorium on all further GM
crop plantings in the UK pending serious and protracted research on
health and other issues. This means that you should not give consent for
the commercialisation of Chardon LL, whatever your advisory committees
may be telling you. And if, as a consequence of your refusal, Aventis
threatens to take you to court, so be it! They will not do it, since a
court case would reveal everything.

The biotechnology companies are now fully aware that GM crops are harmful
-- why else would they persistently refuse, both in the USA and in
Europe, to release their own health and safety research into the public
domain? Over and again they hide behind the smokescreen of "commercial

And why do they systematically vilify those who dare to raise health and
safety issues, and those who simply report "inconvenient" research
findings? Furthermore, these companies are involved in a concerted and
determined attempt, using blackmail through the WTO where necessary, to
force their technology and their crops and foods on consumers who do not
want it, in this country and abroad.

Our final question is a very interesting one. For how long can you, as a
politician charged with a duty of care, maintain the pretence that you
are "unaware" of the concerns of the public and of the dangers associated
with GM crop plantings?

We do not believe that you can maintain this pretence any longer, with so
much evidence tumbling into the public domain every day. At some point
(and we believe that it should be NOW) you must part company from your
advisers and your civil servants and invoke the precautionary principle
in order to protect the British public. If you do this, even at this very
late stage, you will win huge respect.

In conclusion we remind you that nobody wants GM crops in the British
countryside apart from a handful of biotechnology companies and a few
scientists working in the GM field. These crops are not needed; they have
no demonstrable advantages over conventional crops; there are no "general
good" or "public interest" considerations which might support GM
plantings; and on any sane cost-benefit analysis the predicted costs
(economic, health and environmental) are vastly greater than the
predicted benefits.

Please tune in to the instincts of the British public on this and make
clear the Government's refusal to sanction further GM crop plantings in
the UK. Then we can all get on with our lives instead of having to cope
with the tomfoolery of a group of bioscientists and academics who should
be doing better things with their expertise and our money.

We will appreciate a considered reply. This is an open letter which will
be widely read, and very many people will be waiting to hear what you
have to say.

With best wishes,

Yours sincerely,

Dr Brian John
for GM Free Cymru