GM Free Cymru



News 4th June 2010

The Daily Mail goes in with all guns blazing on this one............ DEFRA and the FSA will not be best pleased. Its central thesis is that FSA is a menace to the public and a drain on the scarce resources of the Government and the taxpayer, and that it should be wound up forthwith.



Mail on Sunday, UK

by Joanna Blythman


As part of its drive to rebuild Britain’s shattered public finances, the new coalition Government has pledged to reduce the number of bloated, expensive and undemocratic quangos that infest our public life.

One of the first for the chop should be the Food Standards Agency, a £135 million drain on the taxpayer and a menace to the public. Originally set up to give protection to the consumer, it now acts as a mouthpiece for big business.

In its eager embrace of the agro-chemical giants, the FSA has betrayed its founding principle to maintain food safety.

The lack of ethics can be seen at its most glaring in the agency’s support for genetically modified (GM) foods.

Given the huge levels of public concern over GM produce, the Food Standards Agency should have approached this issue with extreme caution, conducting genuine, independent studies into the risks.

Instead, it has abandoned any attempt at balance. Not only has it acted like a cheerleader for the big GM companies, it has also tried to twist public opinion in favour of their sinister agenda.

Lost direction: In its eagerness to embrace genetically modified crops, and the giant agro-chemical companies that produce them, the Food Standards Agency has forgotten its primary function: to maintain food safety

So biased is the agency that leading figures serving on its committees now find its approach to GM intolerable.

This week has witnessed the resignation of two members of the Food Standards Agency steering group, set up to assess the public mood towards genetically modified foods - both of them departing in outrage at the agency’s abuse of its position.

Yesterday, Professor Brian Wynne announced that he was quitting as vice-chairman of the steering group because of what he called the FSA’s ‘failure of institutional integrity’.

Having claimed that the agency’s consultation exercise on GM foods is ‘rigged’, he warned that the agency is ‘another arm of propaganda to try and push the opinion of the British public in the right direction’.

Now, Professor Wynne is not some hard-line radical, bent on fomenting trouble.

On the contrary, he is a highly respected sociologist at Lancaster University, an adviser to the House of Lords and the country’s leading expert on public engagement with science.

His statement could hardly be more damning of how the FSA operates, particularly as it follows the earlier resignation from the steering group of Dr Helen Wallace, director of the scientific organisation Genewatch.

Dr Wallace left in protest at the agency’s links with the agrochemical business, claiming that its so-called debates were nothing more than ‘a public relations exercise on behalf of GM companies’.

But what makes the FSA’s enthusiasm for GM so absurd is that it contradicts the central justification for the agency’s existence.

The FSA was set up by the Labour government in 2000 in the wake of the BSE and salmonella crises of the Nineties.

The aim was to provide an independent source of reassurance to the public amid mounting anxieties over food safety, especially because the government and the civil service were seen as too close to the farming and producer lobbies.

With the FSA in charge, free of vested interests and commercial pressures, public trust in food would be restored.

But it has hardly worked out like that. Far from acting as the champion of the public interest, it has been the creature of the GM producers.

Public opinion: Being labelled ‘Frankenstein food’, and leading to international demonstrations, genetically modified crops have not been well received

From the start, this bias in favour of GM has been the agency’s stance. The very first chairman, Professor John Krebs, was an evangelist for genetic modification and his leadership ensured that this outlook prevailed over the subsequent decade.

And the pro-GM policy reached deep into the culture of the agency, continuing right up to this day.

The present chairman, Lord Rooker, a Labour peer, erstwhile food minister and former Birmingham MP, has neither the intellectual clout nor the inclination to challenge this culture.

His attitude, echoing powerful biotech interests, seems to be that the FSA should try to silence critics of genetic modification.

It is a viewpoint that is increasingly untenable. For even the most starry-eyed supporter of GM foods cannot say the technology has been a success. On the contrary, none of the claims so loudly put forward by the GM lobby has been realised.

Yields have not dramatically increased, nor has the use of pesticides declined. More worryingly, serious health risks to both animals and to humans are being uncovered by new research. That is why the policy of the FSA is so dangerously misguided.

Genetic modification is not some minor innovation in food production. In truth, it represents a revolution in the way crops are grown and animals reared.

Essentially, it is a crude method of taking DNA from one organism and implanting it in another to produce a new crossbreed. In the process, for the first time in the story of mankind, the barriers between different species are crossed, raising deeply troubling questions about man’s respect for nature.

In this context, genetic modification is not really the right term. Genetic engineering is far more accurate. And, contrary to all the pro- GM propaganda, the results of this far-reaching manipulation of genes could potentially be catastrophic.

Already we are seeing some disturbing consequences of GM technology.

In North America, where genetic modification has been widely used in agriculture, sales of milk have recently plummeted in the face of a consumer backlash due to animal and health concerns about use of the GM hormone rBGH, a product made by the firm Monsanto to increase milk yield.

The Canadian Veterinary Association says this hormone causes a 50 per cent increase in painful lameness in cows and a 25per cent rise in mastitis (inflammation of the bladder and udder).

Big retailers such as Wal-Mart and Starbucks have been forced to tell their customers that their dairy products are GM-free. Similarly, resistance from farmers and regulators has prevented GM rice and wheat getting beyond the field trial stage.

Matching the widespread disenchantment with GM technology in North America, the tide has firmly turned against genetic modification in Europe, too.

None of the starry-eyed promises about soaring production and fields free of pesticides has been met. Indeed, some recent studies actually show that genetically modified crops require more pesticides.

GM is no panacea for world food problems, but instead has brought only anxiety and disappointment. Fifty-four out of 60 countries recently expressed their agreement with the findings of the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology, which concluded that it did not foresee any major role for GM.

Moreover, the UN Environment Programme argued that organic farming, not GM, offers Africa the best chance of defeating hunger.

Rather than opening the path to a bright future, genetic modification represents an intensification of the failed methods of mass industrialisation in agriculture. This is the direction that has so badly harmed both animal welfare and food quality.

And that is why the FSA’s determination to ram GM foods down the throats of the British public has been such a disgrace. Adopting a more sensible, precautionary approach, the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly have opted for their countries to be GM-free zones. The people of England deserve the same deal.

The current process of consultation by the FSA has been exposed as a sham and the agency has long outlived any useful purpose. The coalition must now have the courage to remove this blight from our civic landscape - a passing only the GM giants will mourn.



It was the classic New Labour reaction to mounting popular concerns over the safety of genetically modified foods: set up an expensive public consultation process - and then rig it to give the answers the government wanted.

This is what happened last year, when the Food Standards Agency appointed a steering group of 11 experts, with a budget of £500,000, to gauge the public mood over the new technology.

But don’t take the Mail’s word for it. Listen to Professor Brian Wynne, who was the group’s vice chairman before becoming its second member within a week to resign in disgust over its inbuilt bias in favour of GM foods.

Condemning this ‘abuse of public funds’, he says the consultation was rigged after the food industry put pressure on No 10.

‘It is as much about pushing the public into a particular perspective as it is about listening to the public and finding the right kind of information,’ he says.

‘I am not prepared by default to aid and abet this kind of systematic failure of institutional integrity.’

Professor Wynne’s resignation comes only days after Dr Helen Wallace walked out, protesting: ‘This money should be spent on schools and hospitals, not reputation management for Monsanto and other GM companies.’

These are hugely serious charges, on an issue of profound public importance.

For the truth is that early GM trials have been hugely disappointing and Britons are right to feel queasy about a technology whose full implications - for agriculture, health, the countryside and wildlife - remain largely guesswork.

Will the new Government show the same contempt for public opinion as the last? Or will this one genuinely listen?