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Government and big business conspire against us with our own money

Do you remember the Labour government? That’s the one that kept asking the question until we gave the right answer; the one that thought ‘no’ simply meant we didn’t understand correctly, and needed it explained again. Well it lives on in the form of the Steering Group, Food Standards Agency GM Dialogue (incidentally the FSA is chaired by former Labour agriculture minister Jeff Rooker). Apparently, we don’t understand GM crops correctly.

So we have to be made to understand correctly, and understanding correctly means accepting GM crops. Just to make sure we do understand correctly, the FSA will spend about £500,000 of our money to help re-educate us. How do we know all this?

Dr Helen Wallace was, until today (but still is according to the FSA’s website), a member of the Steering Group. Here’s what the FSA says about her:

Dr Helen Wallace
Dr Helen Wallace is director of GeneWatch UK, a not-for-profit organisation that campaigns for genetics to be used in the public interest. Helen specialises in the ethics, risks and social implications of human genetics. She has a degree in physics from Bristol University and a PhD in applied mathematics from Exeter University. Helen has worked as an environmental scientist in academia and industry and as Senior Scientist at Greenpeace UK, where she was responsible for science and policy work on a range of issues.
Steering Group

But today she resigned; and has published her letter of resignation.

…it has now become clear to me that the process that the FSA has in mind is nothing more than a PR exercise on behalf of the GM industry. In my view, this would be a significant waste of £500,000 of taxpayers’ money.

This is a serious allegation. Does she have any proof?

Freedom of Information requests that have been passed to me show that the FSA met with the industry group the Agricultural Biotechnology Council (ABC) on 21st September 2009 to discuss a “GM public engagement programme”. On 1st October 2009, the ABC advised the FSA “abc welcomes the opportunity to provide suggestions on the individuals and groups that would add value to the FSA GM engagement Steering Group. We support this activity and understand the importance of this initiative; however we believe GM must be presented as an option within the wider context of food security as part of a solution to feeding a growing population. It is important that when consumers are thinking about GM, they are considering the future as much as the present”. The industry also suggested edits to a draft FSA report to the Food Strategy Task Force, which claims that lack of demand and rising costs will drive out non-GM feed supplies and that GM and non-GM feed should no longer be segregated. In a subsequent report, DEFRA and the FSA support the industry’s line that ‘zero tolerance’ of unapproved GM crops in the EU threatens food supplies.

This sounds horribly like the FSA and the GM industry (which is almost entirely Monsanto) are conspiring on how to spend our money to make us love GM. The money will actually be spend in conducting a public dialogue on GM. Incidentally, there is no scientific proof that GM crops can benefit the world rather than the GM industry, and no willingness on the part of the FSA to discuss this. And all of this against a background of rising suicides among Indian farmers whose crops fail leaving huge indebtedness to GM suppliers.

The dialogue will provide an opportunity to discuss with members of the public their understanding of GM in food and what they think are its potential risks and benefits. It will also try to identify what information people need and want in order to make confident, informed choices about the food they eat.
FSA

Well, that sounds reasonable – but we should note that the Steering Group will keep control of the content and direction of the public dialogue. The dialogue itself will be run by a third-party organization, so it will at least be independent to a degree. But will it? Here’s Dr Wallace’s thoughts on one particular tender:

…Ipsos-MORI, which states on page 89 of its bid to run the dialogue that the Ipsos-Mori Reputation Centre has been working with a “multi-national Agro-chemical and seed company” and its advertising agency since 2009 “to develop concepts which link agribusiness with important global issues (such as climate change, water scarcity, deforestation etc) and position the company as a positive force”. On page 17 of its bid, Ipsos-MORI warns that campaign organisations could “try and hijack the [dialogue] process to ensure GM food does not get a chance to be reintroduced into the UK. The danger is that anti-GM campaigning could take place in the absence of any ‘defence’ except from industry who will struggle to be credible”. This seems a shockingly one-sided view for a company bidding to run a dialogue to take: although not surprising from one running a reputation management exercise on behalf of the GM industry.

Frankly, it stinks. Dr Wallace concludes:

…I remain convinced that the FSA process was set up from the outset to provide free “reputation management” to the GM industry at taxpayers’ expense. The FSA appears to actively engaged in trying to use the so-called dialogue to implement the industry’s PR strategy: focusing on a non-existent positive future where new GM crops will ‘feed the world’, whilst lobbying to end the segregation of GM and non-GM food and feed entering Britain and Europe, and opposing the labelling of meat and dairy products produced using GM feed.

This is big business and government conspiring against us with our own money.

Dr Helen Wallace: Letter of Resignation

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