Bullying tactics

Published: Monday 30 September 2002

The uk has finally stood up to the arm-twisting it has been subjected to at the hands of us biotechnology corporations. Top government functionaries of the country publicly voiced their resentment at being coerced into carrying out trials of genetically modified (gm) crops. The outburst came hard on the heels of a recent flip-flop by uk officials on the issue. "There is enormous international pressure from biotech companies to allow gm crops and seeds into this country. They are pressurising the European Union (eu) through their national governments and the World Trade Organisation (wto)," said Elliot Morley, parliamentary under-secretary, uk's department of environment, food and rural affairs (defra). Minister of state (environment), Michael Meacher, also stated that the country was being pressed by the us to allow commercial planting. He reiterated his "scepticism" about the benefits of gm crops and said: "We are not going to be bounced into this by the Americans."

On August 15 this year, defra told farmers to hold off planting rapeseeds. This was because of fears that us biotechnology company Aventis Crop Science Limited may have planted contaminated seeds in 14 fields across the country for three years as part of the country's gm crop trials. However, soon after this restriction came the volte-face: the uk government gave farmers the nod to commence the gm rapeseed trials. "We have checked out all the seeds for the forthcoming field-scale evaluations and they are not contaminated," a defra spokesperson said.

Environmental pressure group Friends of the Earth had then stated that not enough information was released. "If defra wants to convince the public about the quality of Aventis seeds ... (it) should have published the results of the analysis in full ..." the group said. Most European countries are unconvinced of the benefits of gm food. France and Greece have imposed a moratorium on growing such crops without industry approval. But the us is threatening to launch a trade war unless firms such as Monsanto can sell gm grain and seeds in Europe.

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