The Need to Devolve Food and Farming

adbusters_94_paradigmshift2Last month the Scottish Government embarked a continuance of its long-held policy on GM food. Q a backlash with scribes like Euan McColm foaming at the mouth and Alex Massie chipping in with a grand parochial ignorance.

Now, to the embarrassment of many of these pundits, Scotland’s food and agriculture policy lies at the very heart  of mainstream continental food policy with nineteen of the 28 EU member states having applied to keep genetically modified crops out of their territory, and more on the way.

The AP reported:

“Denmark, Luxembourg, Malta and Slovenia made last-minute applications for such a ban, the EU Commission said. They thus join Austria, Bulgaria, Germany, France, Croatia, Cyprus, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands and Poland in seeking to keep the genetically modified crops out of their fields. Britain is also seeking a ban for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, leaving only England to willingly allow GM crop cultivation. Belgium has opted to keep its French-speaking Wallonia region GMO-free.”

So far so good, and if it leaves considerable (GM) egg on the face of unionist scribes then all the better. But there’s a problem.

As Eve Mitchell of Food and Water Europe writes:

“Formally speaking, Scotland will now ask the (pro-GM) UK Government to ask the European Commission to ask any company seeking approval for a GM crop in Europe to exclude Scotland from said approval under the mechanism introduced earlier this year. It will also use the new law to ask for an opt-out of crops already authorised or in the approvals queue. Democratically-elected governments having to go cap-in-hand to GM companies for permission not to grow their products is, of course, a democratic outrage, but it’s not the only one. Despite the clear rejection of GM crops by three of the four countries that make up the UK, the UK Government consistently votes in favour of GM crops and imports at the EU level. UK Secretary of State for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Elizabeth Truss regularly rubs salt in the wound saying things like, “I think GM crops have a role to play here in Britain.” So pinned between a deal with GM companies on a crop ban and pro-GM Westminster, who could blame Scotland for grabbing the chance she has to get what she needs when bigger boys are trying to steal her lunch money? Mr Lochhead’s position is perfectly reasonable: “I firmly believe that GM policy in Scotland should be guided by what’s best for our economy and our own agricultural sector rather than the priorities of others.” Hear, hear. It’s also canny: “Scotland should stay focussed on niche and high value markets, rather than commodities where we know we cannot compete.”

In other words despite the devolution of food and agriculture to Scotland, we still need to go through the UK as members state when European decisions or discussions are being had. This is unacceptable.

Eve Mitchell again: “It’s a shame the National Farmers Union of Scotland (NFUS) isn’t more vocal about protecting its members from these threats rather than toeing the GM line and trying to insist that a lack of GM crops will harm Scotland’s competitive advantage in a global market quietly turning its face away from GM foods.”

In other words, as in all fields and sectors of Scottish life you need to confront the establishment at home as well as the Westminster elite. And, whilst the range of European countries opting out is a huge success, it’s not a complete picture.

Even pre-TTIP those national demands must now be put to the big agricultural multinationals, including the likes of Monsanto and Dow. The agro companies have the right to oppose calls for these GM products to be banned from individual member states. If they do then member states can still invoke “substantial grounds”, for example specific environmental or agricultural issues, for a ban. At present the legislation crucially allows member states to ban GMOs on environmental policy considerations, even if the crop has already been cleared on health and safety grounds at the EU level. So far only one GM crop is cultivated in the European Union – Monstanto’s MON 810 GM maize.But there are also eight pending applications for GMO cultivation in the EU, including renewal of the MON810 authorisation. On top of that, 58 GMOs are authorised for import into the EU for food and feed uses, rather than for cultivation.

For a full run-down of the applications and outcome go here.

The GMO opt-out was intended as a way of promoting GM foods. It’s been a spectacular failure for the lobby and a great success for ordinary citizens. Now we need to put pressure for food and agriculture to be properly devolved and allow Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to have their own voice in Europe. But we also need to be able to expose and restrict GM food in animal feeds and have full transparency in our food systems.

Comments (27)

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  1. C Rober says:

    Humans have been genetically modifying things for thousands of years , plants , food , pets and livestock.

    In my opinion we should rename it Gene Splicing , in the context of the topic , for that is essentially what it is , taking a gene from something entirely different , adding fish genes to tomatoes for example , lets go back to calling it Frankenfoods , with all the negativity associated to the name that the media once helped to hype….but seem so silent about now.

    To have the name sanitized only aids its adoption , or ignorance of it.

    The originator is right to be worried about TTIP , the way that America runs on the democratic level is hardly that , the fact that big chem mentioned , agro corps , can do pretty much what they want , having politicians in their back pockets , to harm those that elected them for profit of is frankly wrong. Even more so when they are protected when operating overseas.

    The jury inst out on GM foods , there is no Jury , no long term testing , no knowledge of leaking into the wild on impacts on the enviroment , but we are all too eager to ingest E-numbers , modified chemicals like MSG , artifical sweeteners like aspartame and saccharin etc , being told they are safe.

    How many people for example have read the back of a deodorant can , all those chemicals are absorbed by the skin into the blood , but for the sake of not smelling like a teenagers trainer we use them somewhat joyfully ignorant in doing so.

    Wasnt so long ago we were happy to put mercury in our mouths , lead in our childrens gripe water , take thalidomide for morning sickness and so on.

    Lets just skip to the told you so.

    Testing on a mouse or a monkey over a short term isnt a humnans lifetime , nor do they have the intricacies of the human brain to affect , or for those neurological finites to be spoken about from the test subject.

    GM on the other hand even if safe , well its all about trademarks , you can trademark wonder corn genes , but not generic , then big corp can sue your ass if you never bought it through them even if it has “bred in the wild” with generic.

    Heres one for the tinfoil hat brigade , what if they release into the wild viri and fungi deliberately to wipe out the free competition , ie genetically create carriers that remain resistant?

    Easy enough done is it not.Its not like Americans corporations are squeaky clean on that sort of thing.

    1. Ian says:

      All plants are trademarked, whether GM or not. Plantbreeders need to make a profit for their efforts.

      1. Ian says:

        MSG is not a modified chemical but a naturally occurring one; it’s in soy sauce and parmesan cheese for example at quite high concentrations.

        1. C Rober says:

          I was speaking about , you know , where MSG is created through a chemical process , not natural occuring in miniscule amounts , but chemically made through acid and gluten process etc in vats , then added to food that has no or little “umami”.

          Of course some plants are trademarked , varieties of an original none trademarked genus , for characteristics wanted , through their manual pollination from roses to veg and deserve their efforts financially. The carrot and its orange colour , to Broccoli , they werent wasnt genespliced , that took generations if not hundreds of years of human manipulation.

          Gene splicing food , I will always fight it or avoid it , I want my food labeled if GM is in its contents , I am not a lab rat , I want a choice and an informed one via packaging eve if somehow the EU decides to allow it.

    2. Ian says:

      “taking a gene from something entirely different , adding fish genes to tomatoes for example ”

      What about adding an extra copy of a tomato gene into a tomato (that’s what the Flaver Savr tomato was)?
      Or switching off a single gene in an apple without adding any extra DNA (that’s the new, Canadian, Arctic Apple varieties)?
      Do those fit your definition of GM.”gene-splicing”? Are they banned under the current GM ban?

      Or what about bombarding a plant with gamma radiation creating untold, unknown changes to huge chunks of its DNA – what should we call that? Should the practice and/or the resulting plants be banned? Does the current GM ban cover them?

  2. Anton says:

    I’m kind of lost here. My understanding is that Scottish farmers rely quite heavily on imports of GM animal feed, so the idea that Scottish animal produce is currently GM free in some way – and prized by consumers for that reason – can’t be true.

    I’m no expert, and so I have absolutely no idea how a future ban on GM animal feed as contemplated by the EU would affect Scottish agriculture. And as far as I can work out, the Scottish Government is against the growing of GM crops in Scotland but is not opposed to the importation of GM products – cotton, for example.

    I look forward to more informed comment. But please no cheap remarks about “unionist scribes” and that Scotland doesn’t have the power to do anything about it. Nor does Westminster. It’s an EU decision.

    My question is – what does Scotland want?

  3. Ian says:

    “Mr Lochhead’s position is perfectly reasonable: “I firmly believe that GM policy in Scotland should be guided by what’s best for our economy and our own agricultural sector rather than the priorities of others.” ”

    It would be more reasonable if he could provide some evidence that he’d consulted those farmers and the other stakeholders (universities, Biotech companies, seed companies, etc.) whose opinions he’s apparently decided aren’t important.

  4. bill fraser says:

    It is totally unacceptable for the Westminster government to ignore the wishes of the three UK countries who are against gm crops.Also do we reject any farming products from England farmed this way?

    1. Ian says:

      I’m not aware that the Westminster government is ignoring the wishes of the 3 UK countries – the request is being passed to the EU and GM crops will not be grown here.

      There are currently no GM crops grown anywhere in the UK (except for a few trials which don’t make it into the food chain) as there are no suitable, licensed GM crops (we don’t grow cotton or maize in the UK). However, it’s possible they could soon grow GM Oilseed Rape or GM Sugarbeet.

      Currently we mostly import our GM foods from the US and our GM cotton from India.

      And we grow lots of GM bacteria here, but that’s a different story…

  5. Steven says:

    Editing genetic code has become one of the most profoundly important and useful technologies in our history. It helps us cure diseases, understand our own biology and equally as important – feed our growing population. It’s nothing short of a disgrace that so called ‘nationalists’ are vilifying an entire sector of Scotland’s incredibly proud life science industry, because of their own ignorance towards it. I’d love to see a thriving, independent Scotland, but that should include innovation, progressive ideas and trust in our brightest.

    Europe has traditionally fallen behind the USA and Asia in adopting new technology, yet progress in Science has survived. GM is coming, it will become more and more useful, robust and efficient. GM sceptics will join the list of people who thought the sun revolved around the earth, that the moon landing was fake, or those who think vaccines cause autism and that global warming is an elaborate hoax.

    1. So GM is good because it will ‘feed our growing population’?

      Have you seen this?

      http://www.foodwastemovie.com

      1. Dair says:

        I think this is the third time I’ve referred you to the bit in the UN report on food waste which states “While increasing primary food production is paramount…” (http://www.fao.org/docrep/014/mb060e/mb060e.pdf). Ironically, it was yourself who drew my attention to this report)

        Is it possible that both increased yield and reduced waste might be things worth aiming for. I cant see any rational reason for them being mutually exclusive.

  6. Ian says:

    “So far so good, and if it leaves considerable (GM) egg on the face of…”

    That’s ironic as the world experts in GM eggs and chickens (The Roslin Institute – now specialising in chickens, not sheep) is right on the Scottish Government’s doorstep and Ruchard Lochhead couldn’t be bothered to ask their opinion before announcing the ban.

    1. Is that how you make public policy, by ‘asking scientists’?

      1. Anton says:

        Well, no, you don’t make public policy just by “asking scientists” any more than you make economic policy just by “asking economists”. But if you believe in evidence-based policy making, which I do, then surely it’s a good idea to consult the experts as part of a democratic consultation process before arriving at a view? After all, they don’t have to accept the experts’ opinions but at least we the electorate can be sure that any final decision is both judicious and fully informed. All Iain is suggesting is that the Scottish Government didn’t bother with the scientific evidence available on its doorstep. This may or may not be true. I don’t know. If he’s right, then I’d agree with him that the Scottish Government is at fault.

        I’m kind of agnostic on the issue, but I do think there’s a touch of nimbyism going on here – no, we don’t want to grow GM crops here in the wealthy West, but yes we do want to import GM products like cotton from poor countries i.e. let the poor take the risk while the rich take the benefits.

        I feel uneasy about that.

      2. Ian says:

        As Anton said, you make good, evidence-based policy by looking at the evidence. The decision to ban GM was made without doing so.

      3. Dair says:

        “Is that how you make public policy, by ‘asking scientists’?”

        Well that would depend on the policy – but in general I would hope my government had the wit, before banning something, to seek the considered opinions of the appropriate subject matter experts and to act on their advice as they saw fit.

        However, you appear to be happy that Dick Dunderheid decided on a Sunday afternoon to implement a ban on GM crops on the basis of a SNP conference vote taken some seven years earlier; having sought no such advice (scientific, economic or social). That is, he made no effort to gather any evidence at all. None. Not one single bit of evidence was gathered to support the ban. Just a conference vote. A whole branch of technology banned on the basis of an SNP conference vote.

        Does that sound sensible? Is that how you make policy?

        1. The policy is a long-standing one. It has been renewed in the context of existing scientific advice – but with more emphasis on other criteria. This has been explained ad nauseam. ‘Dick Dunderheid’ seems to have made the same decision in the vast majority of European countries.

          How do you explain that?

          You write ‘A whole branch of technology banned on the basis of an SNP conference vote’. You are aware, presumably of the global movement against GMO?

          1. Dair says:

            “The policy is a long-standing one. It has been renewed in the context of existing scientific advice”

            If that is the case why is the Scottish Government unable to provide and detail of that ‘advice’. Would it be because they sought no such advice?

            “but with more emphasis on other criteria. This has been explained ad nauseam.”

            What other criteria. They gathered absolutely no evidence to support the ban. As I stated, no economic or social evidence was sought. If you know something I dont then please enlighten me – as the Scottish government have so far been unable to.

            ” ‘Dick Dunderheid’ seems to have made the same decision in the vast majority of European countries. How do you explain that?”

            The fact that other countries have made the same decision is frankly irrelevant. I’m not a citizen of those countries. I do not vote in their elections and I am not directly affected by the decisions their governments make. I have also have no knowledge of how they arrived at those decisions. What concerns me is the decisions my government makes and how and why they make them.

            “You write ‘A whole branch of technology banned on the basis of an SNP conference vote’. You are aware, presumably of the global movement against GMO?”

            Yes. I’m also aware of the anti-vaccine movement, Intelligent Design movement, anti-fracking movement, anti-nuclear power movement, anti wind turbine movement, anti AGW movement. Are you seriously suggesting something be banned just because there exists a movement calling for it? Is it not reasonable to think a government has a duty to at least consider the evidence first?

  7. john young says:

    Ian I will tell you what is ironic,scientists behaving like god,why tamper with nature and to what purpose?oh! wait a minute it is to feed/help the poor of the world,if you believe that then heaven help us,I don,t suppose that money/greed enters the equation of the producers and supporters,nah couldn,t possibly be.What scientiists don,t know and that is a lot they will make it up any way and add another squiggle to the board.

    1. Dair says:

      “…why tamper with nature…”

      Because nature isnt perfect?

    2. Ian says:

      Show me something natural that we haven’t tampered with.

      The flowers in your garden? Wrong.
      The organic fruit n veg you grow and eat? Wrong.
      Your pets or the animals you eat? Wrong.
      The Scottish landscape? Wrong.
      Diseases which kill millions? Correct.

      By all means ban things which are harmful or even just unhelpful, but don’t ban an entire technology because you don’t understand it or all the technologies which came before it.

      I could accept the ban if it had been an evidence-based decision, but Lochhead didn’t even pause long enough to bother looking at the evidence. He called for a consultation on the future of Scottish Agriculture, then 6 days later – on a Sunday, while Holyrood was closed – he slipped out the decision he’d already made claiming it was supported by stakeholders, many of whom had to ask to speak to him after they heard the announcement because he hadn’t bothered to ask for their opinions or (more importantly) what evidence there was that he should be considering.

    3. BrainCells says:

      “To what purpose?”

      Genetic modification is a routine laboratory technique – any vaccines you’ve recently had? GM helped in their design. Ever required antiviral drugs? GM viruses and GM animal models will have helped in their development. Know anyone who suffered from cancer? GM cell lines and models are helping us find treatments. Organ transplants? just this week CRISPR gene editing was suggested to make pig organs safe. Vitamin A deficiency? GM rice has been a tried and tested way to nourish those in the developing world.

      I stress, this technology is being used every single day in laboratories and in the environment. It is safe and incredibly advantageous. The governments embarrassingly uneducated stance on this issue is a concern for us all. As has been mentioned before, nothing in Scotland can be considered “natural” it’s one of the most heavily man managed pieces of land on earth. Even then , the manipulation of crops over the centuries have given us a deeply synthetic agricultural ecosystem. GM is “clean and green” therefore it is surprising Lochhead uses this argument against it. Big business will always be an issue, for everything. Proper protection and legislation should be implemented to protect against it…not banning the technology. By that logic we should ban the internal combustion engine because VW have dodgy practices, or ban aspirin because GSK and Astrazeneca dominate the industry.

  8. AS says:

    I’m sure GM has been good for many things but food? No i will not consciously buy or consume any GM food.
    Most people are becoming more discerning regards food and how its produced. GM consumption seems to many (including me) to be a risk with no apparent reward.

    And the purveyors of it ?

    I mean would you trust a company like Monsanto because they are ‘experts’ at the top of their field?

    Can anyone here honestly envisage a healthy future for our children’s children that includes Monsanto, TTIP or GM food?

    Or maybe ALL THREE?

    1. Steven says:

      As someone who works in research this interests me. I think it’s clear that scientists need to do more to convey their work in a more accessible way as something is obviously being lost in translation. So I’m going to try and understand your opinions on this.

      What aspect of GM do you find risky?
      Why is GM advantageous in other contexts but not in food?
      Why do you have negative associations between GM and you (and your children’s children) health?

      I think opening a dialogue between the public and the people in the lab is critical for the future of science in this country.

      1. Eric says:

        It’s not just a question of human and animal health, it’s also one of biosdiversity and food sovereignty. If scientists who work in the filed really want a dialogue, then thy need to do a far better job than ‘Sense About Science’, with their unevidenced rants against those who oppose GM. https://biowrite.wordpress.com/2015/08/18/pro-gm-anti-science/

        1. Steven says:

          The biggest hurdle I see in the GM debate is trying to overcome firmly set ideologies. Coming at this from an acutely pro science background, I really struggle to comprehend how anyone can look at the mass of data, be aware of the significance of the statistics and yet still think ‘GM is dangerous’. I can’t buy the biodiversity argument either, there is absolutely nothing natural about arable farming in Scotland; every single crop has been bred to serve a purpose, every piece of land managed heavily by humans. Food Sovereignty is an incredibly, incredibly important aspect of this debate and i accept that fully. However, I will not accept that the only way to ensure it is through banning an entire technology.

          On the final point. I think you’d be hard pressed to find any scientist who really cares what or who ‘sense about science’ is. What I care about is the institutions who signed that letter, The royal society of Edinburgh, The Rollin institute (funded through the BBSRC i.e. our taxes) and top universities including Edinburgh. Their expertise and input should be worth so so much more to all of us than websites such as this one or some dodgy twitter account.

          Ask yourself this: If the Royal Society had written that letter, would you have changed your mind? or is sense about science a scapegoat that has allowed you to mould the facts into your pre existing argument.

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