GENTECH archive


Continuing brit uproar about genetically manipulated foods

Even that most authority-loving of establishment newspapers, the London
TIMES, seems to be quaking at the thought of the public's right to
participate in a decision about eating or not eating genetically
manipulated foods.

If we believe the RACHEL analysis, however, the U$A is probably beyond the
point where public opinion makes any difference - and if indeed the U$
food production forms the greater part of global food production, it's 
going to be beyond the point where the tide can be reversed.

Does anyone have something positive to say? I don't think many of us are
able to avoid all contact with Frankenstein foods.

London Times February 16 1999

Labour government linked to biotech companies


THE companies producing genetically modified food have substantial links
with the Government and the Labour establishment. Ministers and officials
have met representatives of the firms more than 60 times since May 1997,
according to written Commons answers.

The most active company has been Zeneca, a British chemical firm that is
developing tomatoes that are slow to rot. It has had 33 Whitehall

Monsanto, one of the largest producers of GM crops, has held 23 meetings
at the Ministry of Agriculture and the Department of the Environment,
Transport and the Regions. David Hill, former chief spokesman for Labour,
gives media advice to Monsanto in his new role as a director of Bell
Pottinger Good Relations.

Stan Greenberg, an American political strategist who worked for Labour
from 1992 to 1997, gives consultancy advice to Monsanto. He works with
Philip Gould, Tony Blair's personal pollster.

Novartis Pharmaceuticals UK, sister company to Novartis New Farm Crops, a
GM maize specialist, spent #15,000 in 1997 sponsoring an exhibition stand
and reception at the Labour conference. It also sponsored a skills
training day for new Labour MPs. Officials for the parent company,
Novartis UK, deny any of this amounts to lobbying for GM foods, a claim
rejected by environmental campaigners. Nick Palmer, Labour MP for
Brox-towe, is paid up to #5,000 a year as a parliamentary adviser for
Novartis. The MP, who was a computer scientist with the firm for 18 years,
briefs managers but does not lobby for them.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville, the Science Minister, is a supporter of GM
foods. His Gatsby Foundation, a charitable trust, pours thousands of
pounds into research, much of it through the Sainsbury Laboratory for
Plant Molecular Pathology in Norwich.

London TIMES  February 16 1999

Peter Riddell on Politics

A political hot potato

THE Government has, for once, got the presentation wrong and the policy
broadly right. But on food issues, presentation is all since what matters
is maintaining public confidence. The very term "Frankenstein foods" shows
what is at stake in the fuss over genetically modified products.

Next to sex scandals, food scares are the trickiest political problems for
any government to handle. They are often a recipe for irrationality, fear
of the unknown and irresponsible and exaggerated political and media
reactions. Even such an experienced minister as Michael Heseltine
described BSE as one of the most intractable issues he had faced.

Food is, after all, the most basic of needs. Food scares have a familiar
pattern. Either people fall ill, and sometimes die, or an allegation is
made about the threat to health. Charges are then made about a
slow/inadequate official response and secrecy by scientists. Sales
plummet, ministers flounder in the unfamiliar world of scientists, demands
are made for the "Government to do something", and after "something is
done" consumer confidence and sales gradually recover to previous levels.

A consistent theme has been suspicion of expert advice - a sense that
scientists, officials, and particularly politicians, have hidden what is
happening from the public. That has dominated the BSE inquiry. In a MORI
poll for the Better Regulation Task Force in the Cabinet Office, more than
two-thirds of those interviewed were afraid of the long-term effects of
chemicals in food, and more than half were concerned about the production
of genetically modified food, about BSE and about food poisoning

Any government is in a no-win situation and usually forced on to the
defensive when faced with extreme positions typified by Greenpeace's
comment that "There are only two sides to this argument - the right one
and the wrong one. So far Tony Blair is on the wrong side".

The debate is really about reassurance. The Government has appeared slow
to respond: it is hard to rebut emotional fears and the Whitehall machine
seldom copes well with demands for instant action. Tory spokesmen such as
John Redwood and Tim Yeo have been sharper tactically: for example,
pressing both for urgent British legislation to tighten up on labelling in
supermarkets, where the Government is seeking action from Brussels, and
for a moratorium on commercial planting.

As always, it is really about the balance of risk. Provided that products
are properly tested and more clearly labelled, the choice should be up to
consumers. There is a distinction between information/advice and bans. The
former is a proper role for government, the latter is unnecessary

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