Socialist Worker

GM: government tried to hide risks

Ex-minister blasts the case for genetically modified crop growing

Issue No. 1857

MICHAEL Meacher was New Labour's environment minister from 1997 until he was sacked by Tony Blair a fortnight ago. In government Meacher was in charge of policy on genetically modified (GM) crops. Now he has blown apart the whole case for GM crops pushed by Blair and that government. In a devastating article in last weekend's Independent on Sunday, Meacher accused Blair of ignoring scientific evidence on potential dangers from GM crops.

Meacher backed up virtually every one of the arguments put by opponents of GM crops. The government and the GM corporations have consistently tried to rubbish these arguments. Meacher now admits:

  • GM crops are quite different to those produced by traditional breeding techniques.
  • The notion pushed by the GM corporations that added genes precisely control what a plant does is scientifically wrong.
  • The results of genetic modification can be quite unpredictable, and there is clear evidence of such effects in already existing GM crops.
  • GM crops often have bacteria or viruses added in manufacture, and this poses serious potential health dangers.
  • GM crops can also produce novel substances which could cause dangerous allergic reactions in people.
  • GM crops allow the use of much more poisonous weedkillers, which pose serious health risks to people.

No one knows how real or how large these risks are.

Meacher concludes, 'Given that there is so much uncertainty, it might be expected that there would be routine testing of GM organisms for health effects as a legal requirement.'

Instead, 'there have been so far virtually no independent studies of the health effects of GM. What there is has mostly been done by the companies themselves.' 'The only human GM trial', Meacher points out, found that genetic material from GM crops 'did in fact transfer to bacteria in the human gut. Previously many scientists had denied that this was possible.' The potential implications of this are chilling.

But 'instead of this finding being regarded as a serious discovery', Meacher says the government's reaction 'was this was nothing new and did not involve any health risk'.

Blair's government is to publish reports in July which could give the go-ahead to the commercial growing of GM crops in Britain. To do this in the face of Meacher's testimony would be criminally irresponsible, putting people and the environment at risk. The GM corporations claim their technology will feed the world.

As Meacher acknowledges, 'GM is not necessary' to feed people. There is already enough food in the world to adequately feed far more than the current world population. People go hungry because they are poor and can't afford to buy food, not because of a global food shortage.

GM crops are about one thing only - increasing the profits of the giant corporations behind them. Five global corporations - Pharmacia (Monsanto), DuPont, Syngenta, Bayer and Dow - dominate the GM business. GM crops are designed to be used with the chemicals these same companies or others they have links with produce.

The corporations are also working to ensure GM crops are sterile, so farmers are forced to buy new seeds from them each year. The GM giants want to dominate the food chain from the seed to the plate, and reap profit at every stage on the way. They do not care about the potential risks to the environment and our health in the process. Micheal Meacher says, 'The influence of big business on this government is very great.'

Incredibly Meacher says he is still a 'friend' to Blair's government. The damning evidence he has produced should instead convince the rest of us that Blair and his big business government are our enemies.

Paul McGarr will be speaking at Marxism 2003 on agriculture and on theories of evolution Sunday 6 July at 11.45am Wednesday 9 July at 3.45pm

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Sat 28 Jun 2003, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1857
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