Genetic Madness

Tomato
My grandma was a tomato
My grandfather was a tomato.
But in between
They've addes a gene,
And now I'm a bastard
Soya bean
(Carol Batton, 1999)

Latest position of food outlets


Background

In February, 20 scientists released statements supporting Arpad Pusztai, the scientist at the centre of the row over the safety of GM food. Last year, Pusztai experimented on GM potatoes and found that rats fed on genetically manipulated pototoes suffered a weakened immune system and damage to vital organs. The research pointed to a problem with the process of genetic manipulation itself. Other scientists coming forward to support Pusztai's research sparked off a huge wave of public unrest with GM foods.

This was something that the politicians and supermarkets couldn't ignore. Especially, with the on-going "genetiX snowball" people physically removing GM crops from the fields, other campaigners taking other forms of action, and survey after survey showing more and more people wanting their food to be GM free.

Stumbling Stores

One by one, leading supermarkets (ASDA, Coop, M&S;, Sainsbury, and Waitrose) have switched from "no plans to provide only GM-free food" to "we won't have any GM food in our own brands". The exceptions are Iceland who have been GM-free for a year or so, and both Tesco and Safeway who are still sticking with the GM route. (Latest position of leading supermarkets.)

And it's not just the shops who are changing. The country's biggest farmer, Cooperative Wholesale Society (CWS), has decided not to take part in the Government's farm-scale trials of GM crops. And the Local Government Association has called on councils across the country to remove GM food from all of their outlets - schools, town halls, old peoples homes etc.

The government are moving rapidly towards extending the current 1 year voluntary moratorium on GM crops to 3 years. They have also introduced new laws on food labelling which mean that some products containing GM food will now have to state it. (The exception is GM soya biproducts, such as lecithin which is found in many products.) However, the government is still attempting to be sneaky - the Ministry of Agriculture (MAFF) planned to short-circuit a statutory seed approval system, taking at least two years off the time needed to bring GM crops to the marketplace. However, Friends of the Earth and an all party group of MPs took out a legal challenge and MAFF backed down.

The sudden, but very welcome, change in the establishment's position on GM food has had ripples in other courts. In Plymouth Crown Court, at the end of March, Jacklyn Sheedy and Liz Snook faced up to ten years in prison for "conspiracy to cause criminal damage" worth £605,000 after removing GM maize last August from a test site near Totnes, Devon, which threatened to contaminate sweetcorn on a neighbouring organic farm. However, the prosecution declined to offer any evidence to disprove the women's defence of having lawful excuse. The Crown Prosecution Service indicated that the decision not to offer evidence was made at the highest level by the Director of Public Prosecutions.

As the women's defence solicitor, Mike Schwarz, noted, "This was a political, and in my experience, unprecedented decision. By withdrawing the case from the jury the Crown have accepted that there was compelling evidence that the defendants had a lawful excuse to remove the GM maize. The last thing the Crown wanted was to see a jury - a microcosm of society - acquit people who admitted taking direct action against GM crops."

UPDATE: Monsanto fail to get injunction without full trial

Actions!

Sparking off

In February, protesters from Manchester removed genetically modified foodstuffs from the shelves of Marks and Spencers. In the spirit of openness and accountability, they wrote to the store in advance, explaining what they were about to do and why.

One campaigner managed to remove some foodstuffs - cheese and crisps - from the shelves and delivered to the council's environmental health department to be investigated as a potential biohazard. The council accepted the products, bagged them up and filled in all the forms. Meanwhile, the other campaigners replaced GM products with organic alternatives before being removed by the store's security.

As a result of learning of the proposed action, M&S; held an emergency board meeting but took no stance on GM foods. Since then M&S; have joined with Sainsbury's and Iceland in making their own goods totally GM free.

Welcome to Lord Sainsbury's Laboratory

In protest at Sainsbury's stocking genetically modified foodstuffs, nearly 20 protesters were at the opening of the new Sainsbury's monster store in Fallowfield in early March. The group consisted mainly from of people from the Green Party and MUSU Green Group, with a few Genetix Snowball / EF! types spliced in.

A banner was hung welcoming people to "Lord Sainsbury's Laboratory". Customers were leafletted, explaining about New Labour science & technology minister Lord Sainsbury's promotion of genetically modified foods (and car-dependent shopping and damage to local economies from monster stores like this).

Sainsbury's management actually banned Frankenstein's Monster from entering. Frankie commented: "I only went there to help advertise their GM foods, and they wouldn't let me in to buy any. What a cheek, after I've allowed my name to be widely used in connection with these foods."

Manchester Green Party (Spencer on 225 4863 or Lance on 998 1888)

Keeping in touch

For the latest information on GM foods and the campaign to ban them, contact either GenetiX Snowball (genetixsnowball@orangenet.co.uk, 834 0295) or Manchester Against Genetic Experiments, MAGE, (Jo on 224 4846). Alternatively there are anti-Genetix breakfasts where you can eat non-GM and organic food whilst chatting away about anti-genetic campaigns. Venues vary between Misty's, Yellow Brick Cafe and Cafe Pop, and the dates aren't fixed so ring 226 6814 for details.
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