1 November 2000

Table of Contents

New GM crops – Farmer dependency and chemical sales
Agribusiness giant in new GM seeds threat
Similtaneous policy, a new way forward
New warnings on Globalisation
All-consuming Passion: Overconsumption
BIOWATCH: spread of GM animal feed in human foods
BIOWATCH: Vandana Shiva: globalisation, agriculture, patents – reality and fiction
Use & Abuse of the Precautionary Principle – especially re GMOs
UK Betrayed over BSE Mark II: Another Public Safety Fiasco
Kiss of Death for GM Seed (chardon Ll Maize)
UK dump 'BSE' cattle feed on 3rd world
U.K. uses Third World to dump infected feed
Gnawing at Phillips' bones

Top NextFront Page
Date: Sat, 28 Oct 2000 14:11:02 +0200
From: BIOWATCH: "taynton"

New GM crops – Farmer dependency and chemical sales

European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering

Hartmut MEYER (Mr)
Kleine Wiese 6 D – 38116 Braunschweig

phone: +49-531-5168746     fax: +49-531-5168747

Although the first wave of GM crops was introduced with the claimed intention of reducing the need for chemicals inceasingly the chemicals are going back on.

However, for the next wave the crops will actually be intentionally designed to be chemical dependent, deliberately creating plant incapable of functioning without chemical treatement.

The agenda is clear. Farmer dependency and chemical sales.

It's time for a farmers revolt before they all revert back to surfdom. Remember these companies are buying up all the independent seed companies and are gradually phasing out conventional varieties. Already farmers in the US are complaining that non-GM seeds are getting harder to get hold of.

"[Sygenta has] also taken out 11 new patents on GM crop technologies which require specific chemicals to switch on and off essential traits, such as disease resistance, fertility, flowering, sprouting and ageing." Berne Declaration (CH), ActionAid (UK), GeneWatch (UK), Swedish Society for Nature Conservation (S)

Natural Law Party Wessex

Top PreviousNextFront Page

Date: Sat, 28 Oct 2000 14:11:02 +0200
From: BIOWATCH: "taynton"

Agribusiness giant in new GM seeds threat

SOURCE: Berne Declaration (CH), ActionAid (UK), GeneWatch (UK), Swedish Society for Nature Conservation (S)
October 2000,

Two companies – set to agree to merge today to form Syngenta, the world's largest agribusiness – pose a new threat to farmers in developing countries with GM crops which depend on chemicals to grow. This warning comes in a report issued to coincide with campaigners' protests at merger meetings to approve the creation of the $20billion corporation Syngenta in London and Basle, Switzerland.

Syngenta: Switching off farmers' rights? shows that AstraZeneca and Novartis, due to combine their agribusiness interests, have broken commitments not to develop GM 'Terminator ' technology which grows plants that produce sterile seeds. They have also taken out 11 new patents on GM crop technologies which require specific chemicals to switch on and off essential traits, such as disease resistance, fertility, flowering, sprouting and ageing.

Critics warn this new technology – known as 'Traitor' technology - controls or betrays the functions of GM crops through the application of chemicals. It may also threaten farmers' rights to save seed for sowing in subsequent years. The new Syngenta will hold more then 40 per cent of the world's 'Traitor' and 'Terminator' patents. The Canadian-based Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI) first exposed the technology and coined the terms 'Terminator' and 'Traitor' in 1998/99, and this report builds on their work.

The report is published by a pan-European coalition of NGOs which includes ActionAid, GeneWatch UK, Berne Declaration (Switzerland) and the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation.

The authors said: "'Traitor' and 'Terminator' threaten to make poor farmers in the South dependent on seed and chemicals from this giant multinational. The UN recommends there should be no field trials of 'Traitor' until the impacts are assessed. Shareholders must question why Syngenta is ploughing on regardless, at the risk of poor people as well as the company's market value and public image. Syngenta should pledge not to develop technology which threatens the rights and livelihoods of millions of farmers in developing countries."


ActionAid and Berne Declaration protested outside shareholder merger meetings in London, England, and Basel, Switzerland, on 11 Oct. Syngenta: Switching off farmers' rights? is available as a PDF file at the following websites:
GeneWatch UK
Berne Declaration
Swedish Society for Nature Conservation (S)


Top PreviousNextFront Page
Date: Mon, 30 Oct 2000 15:49:52 +0200
From: ekogaia

Greetings all,

First of all I have been sent some information about a new idea to level the global playing field which goes under the name of Simultaneous Policy. I forward it to all of you for you to evaluate for yourselves. Feedback welcome.

Another article touches on the Africa Growth Opportunity Act, a misnamed piece of legislation if ever there was, but also looks at some more issues that concern us all; a better future for all.

All the best


Similtaneous policy, a new way forward

By John Bunzl – Director
International Simultaneous Policy Organisation (ISPO)     e-mail:

The Simultaneous Policy, a new international campaign to counter the forces of globalisation and international competition, has been launched in London. Based on the premise that all nations are subject to global competitive forces unleashed by the ability of capital and transnational corporations to cross national borders, no nation nor group of nations can control global capital nor can they implement vital economic, social or environmental policies that might incur market or corporate displeasure.

To break the vicious circle of global competition, both between nations and between corporations, all nations need to act simultaneously by implementing the Simultaneous Policy (SP); a range of measures to re-regulate global markets and corporations in order to restore genuine democracy, environmental protection and peace around the world.

Endorsed by Noam Chomsky, Helena Norberg-Hodge, Ed Mayo and many other leading ecologists, counter-economists, churchmen and journalists, SP recognises that party politics has become little more than a sham in which whatever party we elect, the policies delivered inevitably conform to market and corporate demands and to the dictatorship of competition. It calls upon peoples all over the world to come together to take policy out of the hands of politicians and, by force of their numbers and their votes, to compel political parties around the world to adopt SP.

By transcending party-political differences and by offering a means that allows politicians and governments to adopt it without risking their respective 'national interests', SP claims to provide the long-awaited, coherent and practical solution to globalisation and other world problems.

Based on a new book, "The Simultaneous Policy – An Insider's Guide to Saving Humanity and the Planet" by John Bunzl, the International Simultaneous Policy Organisation (ISPO) has been established to campaign for the adoption of SP. Acclaimed as "the first writer on the 'sustainable society' to advance beyond rhetoric and grapple with the problem of how such a society might be achieved", the book crucially offers the blueprint for a secure and responsible transition from the existing paradigm of destructive, international economic competition to the new paradigm of global cooperation in which global economic, environmental and social problems can be solved.

For further information on SP, e-mail ISPO at or visit our website and join the SP campaign at

John Bunzl – Director
International Simultaneous Policy Organisation (ISPO) e-mail:

Top PreviousNextFront Page

Date: Mon, 30 Oct 2000 15:49:52 +0200
From: ekogaia
From: People's Caravan 2000


New warnings on Globalisation

The People's Caravan 2000 – Land and Food Without Poisons!

Trade Liberalisation Still Forging Ahead with Dangerous Consequences for Developing Countries

Bilateral and regional trade agreements forged by the United States (US) outside multilateral institutions like the World Trade Organisation (WTO) – to protect its own market and advance its interests – has alarmed various non governmental organisations and civil society groups across the globe.

These agreements, merely promising illusory benefits, are highly inequitable and cause for concern says Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific (PAN AP), a coalition of over 150 groups in 18 countries.

It is becoming increasingly apparent that the victory obtained by civil society groups at the historic "Battle of Seattle" in halting further trade liberalisation is quickly being eroded. The reforms being obtained by the US are the same reforms fiercely opposed by developing countries at the last ministerial meeting of the WTO in Seattle.

The US, unsuccessful in Seattle in linking labour issues to trade, has successfully included this issue in a recent agreement with Cambodia and through the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) which became US law in May 2000. The latter demands that African countries guarantee international labour standards and sets a minimum age for child labour.

"While we support labour standards, we believe they should not be linked to trade. The linkage of labour to trade is clearly a protectionist instrument. The proper fora for discussion of labour standards is the International Labour Organisation", said Sarojeni Rengam, Executive Director of PAN AP.

Through the AGOA, the US also requires African countries to minimise government interference in economic matters. Martin Khor, Director of Third World Network pointed out that these requirements " very much constrain a country's ability to set its own balanced policy or strategy in relation to the government's role in the economy."

To alert and caution developing countries on these recent developments, PAN AP together with its partners in India, Bangladesh and the Philippines is organising "The People's Caravan – Citizens on the Move for Land and Food Without Poisons!" from November 13-30.

The People's Caravan will highlight how such agreements, purportedly providing benefits, will in fact lead to developing countries and its people suffering at the mercy of TNCs – the real winners.

The reforms obtained by the US sets a dangerous precedent for poor countries to sign trade agreements with developed countries that promise to make them globally competitive on the world market.

"If one takes a closer look, it is clear that these agreements have one thing in common – the US has successfully managed to obtain market access for its goods while protecting its own markets from cheaper goods from these developing countries", Ms. Rengam said.

The People's Caravan, travelling through India, Bangladesh and the Philippines will culminate in Manila on November 30 with a celebration of activities to commemorate "One Year Since Seattle".

For more information contact:

Jennifer Mourin, Campaigns and Media Coordinator OR
Sarah Hindmarsh, Programme Assistant GE Campaign
E-mail: or visit the People's Caravan Web site:

Top PreviousNextFront Page

Date: Mon, 30 Oct 2000 15:49:52 +0200
From: ekogaia
From: People's Caravan 2000
From: Planet Ark, Reuters, Patricia Reaney, 10.23.00

All-consuming Passion: Overconsumption

From: Planet Ark, Reuters, Patricia Reaney, 10.23.00

Overconsumption has led to an estimated 33 percent decline in the natural wealth of the world's ecosystems over the past 30 years, according to a report released by the World Wildlife Fund on Friday. If current patterns continue, humans would need an additional two planets in order to survive, WWF said.

The group measured the "ecological footprint" of various countries – their per capita consumption of food, materials, and energy – and found, not surprisingly, that the footprints of rich nations are about four times larger than those of small nations. The United Arab Emirates, Singapore, and the U.S. have the biggest footprints, while Namibia, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, and Eritrea have the smallest. "It is the consumers of the rich nations of the temperate northern regions of the world who are primarily responsible for the ongoing loss of natural wealth in the tropics," said Jonathan Loh, editor of the report.


"I see in the near future a crisis approaching that causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. Corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavour to prolong its reign by working upon prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed."

-- President Abraham Lincoln on Corporations (1864) *************************************************

"An honest politician is one who once bought – stays bought."

-- Robert Heinlein

"The only truly revolutionary act left is to tell the truth about everything."

-- Robert Anton Wilson

"All policymakers must be vigilant to the possibility of research data being manipulated by corporate bodies and of scientific colleagues being seduced by the material charms of industry. Trust is no defence against an aggressively deceptive corporate sector,"

THE LANCET, April 2000

"When a butterfly flaps its wings in Africa, it can cause a hurricane in New York."

Top PreviousNextFront Page
Date: Wed, 01 Nov 2000 09:25:16 +0200
From: Glenda Lindsay
"...the [US] government is angry at how ineffective Starlink has made its [GM] regulations look, and Aventis is scared stiff over the massive liability potential."

BIOWATCH: spread of GM animal feed in human foods

25 October – Cropchoice Opinion

Our Best Customer Gets Starlinked

American agriculture keeps giving its customers a rough ride on GMOs. Just a couple of weeks ago, an emergency squad of the top brass of American grain exports were in Tokyo to reassure the Japanese that we wouldn't export the Starlink problem. Well, guess what?

But it has been confirmed that we haven't just Starlinked ourselves (and, probably, Mexico), we've Starlinked Japan too. For America's customers, Starlink is proof that the US isn't up to the task of giving its customers what they ask for. The message America is sending to the world is, as one Kenyan recently put it, "Just shut up and eat your GM soup".

Yesterday the Japanese Consumers Union identified illegal Starlink in snack foods and animal feed, while Reuters reported that an entire 55,000 ton corn shipment to Japan may have been rejected because it contained the unapproved corn.

American elevators have started going public with the stories of processors rejecting Starlink, forcing the elevators to sell cheap to ethanol and animal feed makers. This offended poultry giant Tyson, which doesn't want Starlink concerns to spill over to chicken buying consumers. So, Tyson promptly declared that it wasn't going to buy any more Starlink, not even for chicken feed.

Consumer groups in Europe, and probably Canada, Korea, Mexico, Hong Kong, and a number of other countries and sending dozens of boxes of corn flakes, candy bars, tortilla chips, and anything else suspected to contain American corn to the genetic testers. At up to $400 a pop, it's a great time to be in business if you run a GMO testing laboratory.

When some of these tests results come back positive for Starlink, there will be more calls to reject American grain, and more suspicion about GMOs in general and American exports in particular. Already, a batallion of small scale tortilla makers in Mexico has banded together with anti-American slogans in the "GMO-Free Tortilla Makers Network". In their minds, there's an aspect of the Starlink story that's about protecting Mexican heritage from Yankee imperialism.

In a few years business school students will study the Starlink disaster as an example of the self-inflicted wounding of an export industry.

Through it all Aventis, Starlink's maker, is buying what Starlink it can at a modest premium and trying to match tainted elevators and bins with willing buyers. Of course, don't chalk it up to kind hearts – the government is angry at how ineffective Starlink has made its regulations look, and Aventis is scared stiff over the massive liability potential. Lawyers are hot on the Starlink case, especially when they hear that many farmers say they were never told it needed to be segregated. At a cost of over $100 million and counting (before any lawsuits), it could eventually be enough to bring down Aventis' entire US crop science operation.

Some observers have been surpirsed at the play the Starlink story has in the media and have only recently allowed that the fiasco has some staying power. We think the story may have more than staying power – after a month it only shows signs of getting bigger.

Top PreviousNextFront Page
Date: Wed, 01 Nov 2000 10:40:15 +0200
From: Glenda Lindsay

Courtesy of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's mainstreaming, below is the full text of Dr. Vandana Shiva's address to the RMIT University Conference "Global Capital, Local Responses" on September 10, the eve of the World Economic Forum in Melbourne.

It was "vintage" Shiva and the ABC estimates 5 million hits on this resource in the next 4 weeks. It's even better if you have the "plug-ins" to access the audio of her passionate and brilliantly witty presentation via: rtsp://

BIOWATCH: Vandana Shiva: globalisation, agriculture, patents – reality and fiction

Dr. Vandana Shiva's Plenary address on the eve of the Melbourne World Economic Forum

RMIT UNIVERSITY Conference, Global Capital, Local Responses Plenary Address by Dr. Vandana Shiva at at the Capitol Theatre September 10, 2000

Full Transcript

Globalisation's outcomes
Colonisation and independence
Food crops to cash crops
The new economy
The Basmati rice "invention"
Selling genetic engineering
Hunger as a multi-censored.
Selling soft drink to farmers
Indicators of a negative economy
Removing restrictions
Policing ignorance
The Neem patent
"Shared" software, "pirated" seed
Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights
Living in three senses
Fiction to reality
The real democracy.


In spite of what should be a terrible, terrible jetlag it's really nice to see you. Australia's just so far away for us, it’s a place one has to think a lot about coming to, and a lot of persuasion, and I've had friends like Lynette and others who really pushed. I’d said no to the Economic Forum, I'd said no to everyone and then I got this invitation with love and a lot of pressure, so I'm here.

I've been on a very long trip for about 10 days and every step has been the new phenomena around globalisation: which is dialogue. First they said globalisation has to happen, it's inevitable, it's natural, it's happening on its own, no-one's responsible for it.

And then people got together in Seattle and stopped it, so it was no more obvious that it was just happening, and that things could be done about it. So the post-Seattle agenda has been a lot of dialogue, a lot of debates. And at the summit that was taking place in the United Nations parallel to it, as usual, were lots of events, including something Gorbachev started, called the State of the World Forum.

And you might remember Gorbachev was a very keen free marketer, and he was speaking with me at the opening plenary of this meeting and said, "It's turned out to be very different from what I had imagined. I thought it would bring democracy; it brought mafia rule."

Globalisation's outcomes

And then the person who's really won out in this game of globalisation - George Soros – he was there too, and this is what he said.

He said: "Free markets were supposed to have created open societies, free societies, but we cannot speak of the triumph of democracy. Capitalism and political freedom do not go hand in hand. We cannot leave freedom and democracy to market forces. We need to create our own institutions and different institutions from those that serve capitalism to take care of it." "And anyone" -this is not my words, it's not your words, it's George Soros' - "who thinks they can leave freedom to free markets is a market fundamentalist; that's not how societies work."

So we have gone a long way since Seattle. And on the one hand those who think a little, reflect a little – like Soros and Gorbachev – are saying it turned out different from what it was projected to be.

And then there are others who insist they can't be wrong, and all the people protesting have to be now redefined as terrorists. It's happened in your country, it's happened in the UK, it's happened in my country, and I'm sure anywhere where there's effective popular mobilisation, there's a re-writing of terrorist laws to basically saying people engaging in their fundamental rights to defend their fundamental rights are a new brand of terrorist.

And I think the big thing is – and I want to thank you all for mobilising to the extent you have because Seattle was about telling the big machinery it's not a natural phenomena – we can stop this bulldozer.

And I'm sure Melbourne will be remembered for the message that we are not terrorists. Defending our fundamental rights guaranteed by our constitutions is not terrorism but the very foundation of democracy and we're not going to give it up.


In fact it's the global economy as it's been designed over the last decade and a half with the combination of privatisation of our public assets in the name of trade liberalisation and economic reform, and we really make it look like, you know, the market is some kind of new church where you've got to go down, kneel out there, and say sorry, we are caught, I made a mistake. I went to a Catholic school by the way.

The word reform comes out of a notion of sin and it's like any economy where people are looked after as a sinful economy. Any economy where people's rights are violated is the reformed economy. It's very strange for you even offer religion, definitely a very strange view of the market.

The global structures that have been put in place under the name of globalisation include the structural adjustment programs that the Third World is facing, launched by the World Bank and IMF, with the combination of liberalised imports, liberalised exports, change your logic from meeting your needs to selling luxury commodities for cheap and buying your basic needs for expensive on foreign exchange.

It's about removing everything that people have gained through struggles over millennia, over centuries, rights to have security of work. In India two fundamental rights around which I work a lot, the right of small peasants to survive.

Colonisation and independence

How is this right, being defended in spite of years of colonisation, in spite of disenfranchisement? First by removing the system of zameendaari, or landlordism, that was put in place by the British, where the British valued land for the revenue it could generate, created a new class of landowners. In India you couldn't own land as private property. The saying we have is 'sabhi bhoomi Gopal ki!' You know, "the land belongs to the creator". You can use it and it's absolutely the same for the Aboriginal people here. You can't own land, you can't buy and sell it.

The British created a group of owners of land who would then be the rent collectors, who would then finance the empire and meantime people were losing their land. And this had simultaneous impact on hunger because if all your surplus is being extracted to pay taxes then the very producers of food go hungry, which is why 2 million people died in the Bengal famine of 1942. Not because there wasn't enough rice in India – we were exporting rice for the war – but because of the way the free trade rights of commerce were higher than the rights of people to eat.

And the entire force of the British empire was being used to extract the last amount of paddy (rice) from the peasants. We had at that point a wonderful women's movement called tib-haaga, and the women would basically blockade their paddy and say we won't let you take it, you can't forcefully take away our produce, we would rather give our lives than give our rice.

And it was direct action of that kind that eventually brought the changes of the '40s. And after '47, when we got independence, we ensured that no one could own more than a certain amount of land – laws that were called land ceiling. Seventeen acres under irrigated conditions, not very much – which makes every farmer in India a small farmer – unless they're lying and putting cats and dogs as owners of pieces of their farm, which also happens in places.

The second thing that was done was a universal right to food, and one of our economists got a Nobel Prize three years ago, Amartya Sen, who wrote a book on food and famine in which he talked about why after independence in India there had been no famines and why there had been such huge famines in China. And he traced it down to food entitlements and food rights that our systems had democratically been shaped to ensure that everyone got food.

Food crops to cash crops

What does the new economy do? First it gets rid of the ceilings on land, because it's an interference in the tradability of land, which means an interference to transfer land from farming to speculation, from food crops to cash crops.

And the World Bank put all its might to dismantle the entire structure of food rights that ensured that people had access to food. They might not eat enough, there was still poverty, but at least the state had an obligation that people could not go hungry. That obligation has been removed by the new market fundamentalism of trade liberalisation.

And then you get the World Trade Organisation declaring out of the blue that food is a tradable commodity. Who wrote the GATT treaty on agreement on agriculture? Cargill, Cargill – the biggest trading corporations that today control 70 per cent of the world trade in food – basically was deputed to head the delegation for the agreement on agriculture, wrote it for its own use to create markets for itself, to take over markets.

And the result of this has been this amazing phenomena of the creation of our most basic fundamental need being resting now on a totally false economy, totally false economy. False in the sense that the costs of production have nothing to do with the price we pay for food. False in the sense that what farmers are getting – and I'm sure it's the case in Australia, it is the case in India, it is the case in Europe, it's the case in Canada, US, Brazil, Argentina - there what farmers are receiving at the end of their year of work is a fraction on what they're spending on the production. A negative economy around what should be the first and primary economy of food production, how has it happened?

The new economy

It's happened by a series of magical things. First, by creating these rules of trade which allow these corporations to get so big that they can then undercut in 10 places for 10 years and still make money, because they've taken over the most vital areas of our life.

They keep talking about the new economy, they keep talking about information technologies, assets of the new economies computers. The new economy is the commodification of the very basis of our life. That's what the new economy is. It's the potential of a Monsanto to claim to give away rice that doesn't belong to it to grow as a nation. Rice has evolved in Asia, it belongs to the people of Asia. It can only be Monsanto’s through theft.

And in any case this claim to a patent on the rice genome – which hasn't even been completed yet – is hardly the same as having paddy and having rice. In my little plastic – I feel like a New Yorker on the streets just now with my plastic belongings – But somewhere here – we don't have an overhead projection - but somewhere here I have – but I'll tell you what it is. It's a Financial Times clipping on the day Monsanto announced it was giving away rice for free to our Asian peasants.

The Basmati rice "invention"

Now, you know, we grow rice – I come from one of the best valleys that grows rice, we grow the Basmati. Which interestingly in the new economy, Basmati, this wonderful aromatic rice you buy in Indian stories, long-grained, smells beautiful. A company in Texas claimed two years ago that it had invented Basmati. And not just invented it in seven days, like God in the Bible, they invented it instantly – instant invention of a novel rice line.

We have a legal challenge to this patent. And it's fascinating because the first 10 –and basically what they did is take Basmati, which had been robbed from India through Eerie, gone to Fort Collins (which is the big gene bank in the US), taken for free by RiceTec, and RiceTec then used it, the aroma was in the rice, it was in the grain. They then go on and claim that any method of growing any rice – the method of growing rice, method of selecting seed from rice, method of harvesting seed, method of cooking rice –is all their exclusive property.

And of course you know we've had that kind of blunder before, when the Europeans set sail they said sail here, they said sail it to North America, they thought they were coming to India, that's why everyone became Indians, yeah, except the Aboriginals here. Here they came with a different mindset.

It was all absolutely the same, that you go to a place, you say nothing happened before, no-one existed before, it's empty land, Terra Nullius, we are the discoverers, therefore we are the owners. And that old blunder of colonisation is being repeated, it's you know I, one would even think that after 500 years it doesn't just become habitually, it might even have become genetic.

But coming back to the Monsanto story of the rice genome – you know I love this picture, I wish I could show it to you with an overhead projection. But it's basically got two women, peasant women growing rice. And then it's got two men in ties and pants planting research papers, the people are actually says "research". They don't seem to realise that paper put into rice puddles becomes pulp, it doesn't become rice. And it's like they can't get out of that habit.

You know here's yesterdays – the only value of traveling long distances you get free Financial Times with all this amazing imagery – we don't get it in our newspapers.

Selling genetic engineering

This is yesterday's "Divided over a diet for the world's poor". It's got Africans on this side all with distended bellies and hungry and starving, and then it's got these banners saying "No GM", and it's got food on this side, which means everyone of us who's saying no to risks of genetic engineering is creating starvation.

And that guilt trip is what they're manufacturing in the latest round of selling genetic engineering after consumers have rejected it.

Of course it's not the case that there's no food on that side; women in Africa are some of the most productive farmers. The productivity of African farms when left to women's indigenous knowledge is much higher than the Green Revolution could ever achieve, as long as you assess productivity in terms of a hundred crops on the field, rather than one monoculture of maize, or a monoculture of rice.

And if people are starving in Africa it's because of the way subsidised food has been dumped on Africa, destroying people's livelihoods and therefore making them starve.

Hunger as a multi-censored.

It has nothing to do with the quantity of food floating around. It has everything to do with ability of people to have entitlements and rights to food, either by growing it themselves, or by being able to grow it and sell parts of it on the market, or to have enough jobs and livelihoods to be able to buy it.

Now this kind of idea of empty eco-systems, empty earth, empty life, empty agriculture as long as it's not run by corporations, is the entire assumption of globalisation: that there's nothing till the corporations enter; they create food, they create water.

Selling soft drink to farmers

I was debating McKenzie some time ago – McKenzie Corporation, which is going around giving advice to the whole world these days. And that advice – it's fascinating advice, because they put out a report in India on food processing which quite clearly is women's activity – and the report's title was Fitha.

Fitha in Hindi means profit, just like that, food processing is about profit. They were just so happy they found a Hindi word for it. It sounds terribly crude because in our vernacular languages we haven't yet internalised the logical commerce fully. And the report then goes on to say well, the big businesses came into India thinking they'd make money on ketchup and soft drinks, but a majority of the Indian people are too poor to buy ketchup and soft drinks, but they all eat. Therefore let's grab the stakes, that's where the millions are, $4 billion can be made.

If Cargill starts to do contract farming with Indian farmers, starts to make them slaves by selling seed and chemicals, buys the produce for cheap and they say it with no shame that the way we'll make the margins is by buying cheap from farmers.

Farmers are already receiving only 1 per cent of what the consumer pays, and if they're to receive less than that, it means being pushed into the negative economy that is starting to be experienced where Monsanto, for example, has entered with seeds, or Novartis.

Indicators of a negative economy

One of the big areas of our work in India right now is working in areas of epidemics of suicide, like Warangal in Andhra Pradesh in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh, or in Punjab in the district of Bhatinda, where the debts of farmers because of the free market removing all government supply as well as all government intervention has meant that farmers are now vulnerable to video vans going into villages showing firms about God bringing down these wonderful new multinational seeds to make you an instant millionaire.

Now when seeds are sold through mycology like that, and India's a very, very devout country, people really believe it's true, they try it out, the seed fails. The seed was 450 kilograms, it required pesticides, it required drilling a well, before you know it you have debts of 3 or 4 lakhs (editor's note:a lakh is a unit of 100,000), you can't pay them back, farmers are committing suicide. The latest is: the first year you don't commit suicide, the first year you try and sell your kidney. Those are indicators of a negative economy.

What's happening in the ex-Soviet Union? Every woman had work. Today many of them are being trapped by mafias into sex trade. They're offered jobs as teachers and workers smuggled into Western Europe. Half of them survive, most of them are killed. But the only job available is trafficking in their bodies.

Now an economy in which farmers commit suicide or sell kidneys, women and children become the objects of traffic for the sexual industry, is not a prosperous economy. It's a perverted economy. It's an economy that needs to be removed with the most intense mobilisation. Because if we have committed to the dignity of human life and we are committed to the notion that everyone has a right to security of every dimension, then we cannot have millions being pushed into that kind of violence in their everyday life.


I've literally carried a whole aeroplane of newspapers with me. I think about three years ago all the newspapers were about the Euro being born – the Euro was just born a while ago - and the Euro was literally being born out of an egg and it was a man, and all the other human beings were tiny around it watching in admiration. Well you know, the Euro just collapsed!

And that's really part of the problem about this whole economic system that's being built. That the fictions are being given the full support of all institutions of the world. The fiction of the corporation is the only one that has rights in today's world. Citizens don't have rights. If corporations have to be subjected to protection of the citizen right it's non-tariff trade barriers, it's violation of the free trade logic of GATT and it involves millions and billions of dollars of retaliation, as Europe is facing now because they refuse to import beef with hormones, or they refuse to import bananas from Chiquita.

Removing restrictions

India was forced to remove all its restrictions last December. And the way it happens is amazing, because – do you remember there was a hijack of an Indian airlines plane out of Nepal? And then this plane landed in Amritsar – now that's India -- for some mysterious reason it wasn't allowed to land, it was forced to take off. Then it landed in Lahore, for some mysterious reason it wasn't allowed to stay there either, then it ended up being in Afghanistan.

And while all this was happening and Indians were glued from the middle of December right up to New Year's Eve to their TV about the fate of these 300 passengers, I happened to be traveling – and once again, you know thank goodness for Financial Times – I was traveling and I found in this Financial Times an article saying India agrees to remove quantitative restrictions but has asked the United States to promise to not make this public until after the parliament session is over.

So I came back, started to do my homework, sure enough a secret deal had been signed during that hijack. And they knew that they'd be so much reaction against the removal of restrictions on imports, they said hide it because our parliament is going to be in uproar. Well the parliament was of course closed for the session, the imports started to flood and I'll just run through some figures for you to give you a feeling of what we're talking about.


Right at this point India is the source of some of the best things of the world. Right at this point every day 400,000 kilograms of tea are being burnt in Assam. They're calling it the Boston tea party. Because of this so-called free trade some fake tea from some areas is coming in cheap, and it's leading to the collapse of tea prices from 12 rupees a kilogram last year for the seller and producer down to 4 rupees.

Now when it's 4 rupees you can't cover costs of production, so they just burn it; it's not even worth transporting it to Calcutta where the trading houses are. They just burn it. Every day 25,000 people are out on those roads burning their tea.

Edible oil – we have the best edible oils, best edible oils in the world, the best technologies in the world. Technologies that preserve the taste and food value in the oil, not technologies that allow you to contaminate oil and not let you know at the end of it that it's contaminated.

Seven million livelihoods have been wiped out because of imports of genetically engineered soya oil from the US, heavily subsidised. And in spite of it being cheap, Indians weren't buying it. You know we had a very strong women's action when the flood of soya started, because simultaneously they had to ban the Indian oils because even though Indian oils continue to be expensive people would prefer to have their mustard oil if they were used to mustard, coconut oil in Kerala if they're used to coconut. You know oil is something that you really –it creates the base flavour.

Policing ignorance

You know I became politically anti-MacDonald's later, I was anti-MacDonald's right from the beginning because of taste. Because [it's] some of the worst food that could ever be created in the world. And yet the entire machinery of globalisation is trying to spread Walmarts and MacDonald's.

Now MacDonald's – as this American writer wrote, who supports globalisation tremendously, in his book The Lexus and the Olive Tree, Tom Freidman. He said you can't spread MacDonald's without the MacDonald Douglas, which is the fighter aircraft of the air force supplied by Boeing.

For the US foreign policy it's extremely clear that globalisation is not about free market, it's about the use of the entire might of military and police to defend the interests of corporations. So you get a new phenomena around the world of intellectual property rights police.

Intellectual property rights defined in a new way to create a new property in the so-called new economy based on knowledge. I call it economy based on ignorance because we are being denied the right to know what's in our food – that's ignorance – we are being denied the right of knowing what rules are governing us. We are being denied the rights to be able to have the knowledge to look after our own needs, and that's supposed to be a knowledge economy?

It's deliberate manufacture of ignorance among the public so that you're dependent and crippled and accept dictatorship of the corporations with no question.

The Neem patent

Well in this economy, the so-called knowledge economy, the absolute centrepiece is intellectual property, and intellectual property is now defined, not as just as real inventions, you know things like machine you can recognise so and so made it, and I don't really mind if an inventor making a new machine says, "oh please, for 10 years let me remain the exclusive one who makes it". Society doesn't get crippled by that.

But under that pretext of rewarding innovation, what's being patented? Our seeds, our cells, our methods of healing. I mentioned the case of the Basmati, there's another case of the Neem. We luckily won it, we won it on 10th of May, the anniversary of our first movement of Independence.

And it's very interesting because when we won it I was in the room, I was in the European Patent Office, in the court of the European Patent Office where this hearing was going on. This patent is interestingly for the use of this beautiful tree, called Neem, in agriculture, for pest control and fungal control. We've used it for centuries. And the reason I launched the Neem campaign was in '94 I was reading a biotechnology journal and I found an article saying the world's first-ever Neem pesticide plant was being set up W.R. Grace.

So I thought of Bhopal in 1984 when we launched the campaign, "No moreBhopals, plant a Neem", because Neem was a safe pesticide.

I thought of my mother who used to massage me with Neem oil every time we got skin infections. I thought of every trip to villages when you take a little twig of Neem and brush your teeth, that's dental care, it's the Indian toothbrush.

And suddenly you had not just Grace, but Grace with you as you acclaiming this, and 74 other patents. That's the other interesting thing about this invention by big powers, that 30 of them, 100 of them claim to have invented the same thing at the same time, because they're all pirating it. You know 100 people can steal the same thing, but 100 people can't create the same thing, so you have about 85 patents on Neem and we picked the one with the USDN Grace.

We challenged it, three women. Linda Bullard is now the president of the organic movement, the global organic movement, the IFOAM, International Federation of Organic Agriculture. Mag Dalwith, who used to be the President of the Greens in the European Parliament and right now the Health and Environment Minister of Belgium.

And we kept going, six years we kept going, helping each other, ask for the information as we didn't have the money. They found the lawyers, I mobilised funding by going to every rich person I knew to help. And sitting in that room the US lawyers say "oh, this case must be dismissed because Doctor Shiva's an Indian, she has no status in this court". And I just passed a note to the lawyer and said, "and they're Americans. If that logic works they don't have status in a European court either." And then they said "ok, but then she didn't go and pay a separate fee". They paid one fee together.

So we asked them did you pay separate fees for the US government and the company? No they hadn't, they'd also paid one fee to claim the patent. And once it got past those technical issues and the real debate started you could see their faces, you know, getting small and more and more glum and swollen and then the cheeks started to hang, because they weren't used to an honest debate and an honest argument.

They weren't used to facts being dealt with directly in front of them, and we'd taken with us the farmers of India, the practitioners, the scientists who'd worked on the documentation of the use of Neem.

"Shared" software, "pirated" seed

Well one other area of patent rights or copyright or design right is around software programs. Computers are not where the companies are making their money, it's in their software programs. And so you have intellectual property rights police created in Peru and in China to go into youth hostels to check whether the students are using shared software.

I call it shared software, or they’re using according to what the corporations call pirated software. If you have not bought an original copy from Microsoft you are a pirate, and the same logic is being applied to seed. If I have saved my seed on my own farm from my harvest last year received from generations of innovation before me, I am a thief.

For the company that steals the rice from our valley and then patents it and then comes back and collects revenues or forbids us to plant it has the intellectual property.

And that's why at the end of this month we're going to have a very long series of mobilisations, we call it the Bija Yatra struggle – the mobilisation of the seed – and the theme is "seed to seed, farmer to farmer". The seed should go to seed, it shouldn't be interrupted by technologies like terminator technology, it shouldn't be interrupted by a round of resistance.

The future of the seed is to evolve and to go from seed to seed, and corporate power sees that as an interference in markets. Unfortunately they are an interference in evolution. And the other theme of "farmer to farmer" is related to the fact that farmers exchange - just like student exchange – is now treated as theft and piracy, as a criminal offence under the trade related intellectual property rights laws of WTO.

Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights

Now it's fascinating, this year the TRIPs agreement is supposed to be reviewed, it's under review. Last year after a decade of doing things like saying we will not accept patents on life and – like Gandhi, said "we will not accept salt monopolies" and went and made salt on the beach – we said we will make our own seed, we will grow our own food, and your laws, your immoral laws and your degenerate laws are not going to be the order by which we live. And that's been going for a decade.

Well last year we decided to give it a more positive slant and we worked with 200 villages up in the Himalayas where I come from, and after six months of work around indigenous knowledge, sustainability by diversity, people were ready.

Living in three senses

And on the 5th of June in Mamandi we launched the "Living Democracy Movement", which in Hindi we call the Jaya-Panchaayat Movement – living in three senses.

First is that it is living; it's not the dead democracy we see all around us now, where we elect our leaders and they do work according to someone else's instructions. It's also a dead democracy in the sense that it's about dead fictions like corporate power, about the trillions of dollars moving around in global markets. It's not about life.

And the third reason we call it a living democracy is that it's about the democracy of the larger family that inhabits the Earth with us, not just a particular class of humans which is the way democracy was defined earlier.

We're not just humans alone, but the little earthworms and the butterflies, and the pollinators, and all our plants, the wild ones and the cultivated, and a notion of Earth's democracy moves very, very beautifully among people. It doesn't have to be taught, people sense it. In India we relate to it in terms of Vasudev-kutumbh, the Earth family.

So after the 200 villages then we sent out the declaration and it moved to various areas. Six months later we just sent an announcement out saying we were going to have a gathering of the living democracy movement. Four-thousand villages had introduced it, their own living democracy saying the resources in this village are ours, we will use them sustainably, we will not allow their patenting and their piracy and their privatisation, and we will ensure that the last person in our village benefits from the biodiversity, the water, the poorest the food that grows in this village.

One of the other things we did – and I believe that's really the job of researchers like us who are involved in public issues or NGOs is to make information that we have access to available to people from whom it's blocked.

So we sent out lists of piracy, of all the bio-piracy, we sent out translations in simple form of the Trade Relations Intellectual Property Rights Agreement, and we basically said now it's up to you, if you really think the rights are yours you need to tell the prime minister and the secretary-general of the WTO that they've stepped beyond their jurisdiction.

The state in deciding that it could hand over the rights of local communities to global corporations, the WTO overstepping its jurisdiction for thinking that it's had the right to decide how property rights over biodiversity and life should be written. And the most beautiful letters were written about how we invite you to come and sit under the banyan tree. We know people still under desperation, and we will consider you kindly.

Fiction to reality

And it wasn't just fun, you won't believe it that the government of India's recent submission in the World Trade Organisation review of TRIPRs is that we've been receiving these letters from the communities saying these resources belong to them, not to us. It doesn't belong to the state. So new things are starting to happen, new things where the biggest powers of the world mobilised to define all life forms as their property and then collect rents from our having babies, from the cows having calves, from our plants giving birth to seeds. Amazing, eh?

Collecting rents from land was so primitive compared to this brilliance of the TRIPRs agreement. And Monsanto and Cargill, who wrote the Agreement on Agriculture – Monsanto was involved directly with other companies to write the agreement on TRIPs. They say it's recorded, we achieved something unimaginable, we were the patient, the physician and the diagnostician all in one, in defining intellectual property rights and getting those rights.

And that really is the basic problem, that here are these fictions, two fictions – one the corporation, the other financial capital – those fictions have been given real lives and real rights.

The real democracy.

And then there's real beings in the world, all the species, all the humans, all the struggling people. We don't exist, we don't exist in the new constitution enshrined around global capital and its freedoms. And it's time to correct that error because we do have rights. And as that very, very famous case here in this country, the Mabo case, made clear that the errors of rulers in recognising rights do not extinguish rights.

And it is this new democracy that is pluralistic in which the local leads to change the global, because it's the only way the global can change, in which all who have been on the margins unleash their creative forces to create new freedoms for all in an inclusive way.

That's the kind of threshold at which we are, and we will not be criminalised, we will not be terrorised, we will not be afraid, we will just enjoy and have fun in this new freedom movement in which we all participate.

Thank you.

Top PreviousNextFront Page
Date: Wed, 01 Nov 2000 11:18:20 +0200
From: BIOWATCH: Glenda Lindsay
Doc. TWN/Biosafety/2000/J

Use & Abuse of the Precautionary Principle – especially re GMOs


by Peter T. Saunders, Department of Mathematics, King's College, Strand, London WC2R 2LS, UK.

The Precautionary Principle Is Very Simple
The Burden of Proof
The Misuse of Statistics
The Anti-Precautionary Principle

The Precautionary Principle Is Very Simple

There has been a lot written and said about the precautionary principle recently, much of it misleading. Some have stated that if the principle were applied it would put an end to technological advance. Others argue that it fails to take science properly into account, though in fact it relies more heavily on scientific evidence than other approaches to the problem. Still others claim to be applying the principle when clearly they are not. From all the confusion, you might think that it is a deep philosophical idea that is very difficult for a lay person to grasp. (1)

In fact, the precautionary principle is very simple. All it actually amounts to is a piece of common sense: if we are embarking on something new, we should think very carefully about whether it is safe or not, and we should not go ahead until we are convinced it is. It's also not a new idea; it already appears in national legislation in many countries (including the United States), and in international agreements such as the 1992 Rio Declaration and the Cartagena Biosafety Protocol agreed in Montreal in 2000.

Those who reject the precautionary principle are pushing forward with untested, inadequately researched technologies and insisting that it is up to the rest of us to prove that they are dangerous before they can be stopped. At the same time, they also refuse to accept liability, so if the technologies do turn out to be hazardous, as in many cases they already have, someone else will have to pay the costs of putting things right.

The precautionary principle is about the burden of proof, a concept that ordinary people have been expected to understand and accept in the law for many years. It is also the same reasoning that is used in most statistical testing. In fact, as a lot of work in biology depends on statistics, neglect or misuse of the precautionary principle often arises out of a misunderstanding and abuse of statistics.

The precautionary principle does not provide us with an algorithm for decision making. We still have to seek apply the best scientific evidence we can obtain and we still have to make judgements about what is in the best interest of ourselves and our environment. Indeed, one of the advantages of the principle is that it forces us to face these issues; we cannot ignore them in the hope that everything will turn out for the best whatever we do. The basic point, however, is that it places the burden of proof firmly on the advocates of new technology. It is for them to show that what they are proposing is safe. It is not for the rest of us to show that it is not.

The Burden of Proof

The precautionary principle states that if there are reasonable scientific grounds for believing that a new process or product may not be safe, it should not be introduced until we have convincing evidence that the risks are small and are outweighed by the benefits. It can also be applied to existing technologies when new evidence appears suggesting that they are more dangerous than we had thought, as in the cases of cigarettes, CFCs, lead in petrol, greenhouse gasses and now genetically modified organisms (GMOs). (2) In such cases it requires that we carry out research to gain a better assessment of the risk and, in the meantime, that we should not expand our use of the technology but should put in train measures to reduce our dependence on it. If the dangers are considered serious enough, the principle may require us to withdraw the products or impose a ban or moratorium on further use.

The principle does not, as some critics claim, require industry to provide absolute proof that something new is safe. That would be an impossible demand and would indeed stop technology dead in its tracks, but it is not what is being demanded. The precautionary principle does not deal with absolute certainty. On the contrary, it is specifically intended for circumstances in which there is no absolute certainty. It simply puts the burden of proof where it belongs, with the innovator. The requirement is to demonstrate, not absolutely but beyond reasonable doubt, that what is being proposed is safe.

A similar principle applies in the criminal law, and for much the same reason. In the courtroom, the prosecution and the defence are not on equal terms. The defendant is not required to prove his innocence and the jury is not asked to decide merely whether they think it is more likely than not that he committed the crime. The prosecution must establish, not absolutely but beyond reasonable doubt, that the defendant is guilty.

There is a good reason for this inequality, and it has to do with the uncertainty of the situation and the consequences of taking a wrong decision. The defendant may be guilty or not and he may be found guilty or not. If he is guilty and convicted, then justice has been done, as it has if he is innocent and found not guilty. But suppose the jury reaches the wrong verdict, what then?

That depends on which of the two possible errors was made. If the defendant actually committed the crime but is found not guilty, then a crime goes unpunished. The other possibility is that the defendant is wrongly convicted of a crime, in which case his whole life may be ruined. Neither of these outcomes is satisfactory, but society has decided that the second is so much worse than the first that we should do as much as we reasonably can to avoid it. It is better, so the saying goes, that a hundred guilty men should go free than that one innocent man should be convicted.

In any situation in which there is uncertainty, mistakes will occur. Our aim must be to minimise the damage that results when they do.

Just as society does not require a defendant to prove his innocence, so it should not require objectors to prove that a technology is harmful. It is up to those who want to introduce something new to prove, not with certainty but beyond reasonable doubt, that it is safe. Society balances the trial in favour of the defendant because we believe that convicting an innocent person is far worse than failing to convict someone who is actually guilty. In the same way, we should balance the decision on risks and hazards in favour of safety, especially in those cases where the damage, should it occur, is serious and irredeemable.

The objectors must bring forward evidence that stands up to scrutiny, but they do not have to prove there are serious dangers. The burden of proof is on the innovators.

The Misuse of Statistics

You have an antique coin that you want to use for deciding who will go first in a game, but you are worried that it might be biased in favour of heads. You toss it three times, and it comes down heads every time. Naturally, this does nothing to reassure you. Then along comes someone who claims to know about statistics. He carries out a short calculation and informs you that as the "p-value" is 0.125, you have nothing to worry about. The coin is not biased.

Now this must strike you as nonsense, even if you don't understand statistics. Surely if a coin comes down heads three times in a row, that can't prove it is unbiased? No, of course it can't. But this sort of reasoning is being used to prove that GM technology is safe.

The fallacy, and it is a fallacy, comes about through either a misunderstanding of statistics or a total neglect of the precautionary principle – or, more likely, both. In brief, people are claiming to have proven that something is safe when what they have actually done is to fail to prove that it is unsafe. It's the mathematical way of claiming that absence of evidence is the same as evidence of absence.

To see how this comes about, we have to appreciate the difference between biological and other kinds of scientific evidence. Most experiments in physics and chemistry are relatively clear cut. If we want to know what will happen if we mix copper and sulphuric acid, we really only have to try it once. We may repeat the experiment to make sure it worked properly, but we expect to get the same result, even to the amount of hydrogen that is produced from a given amount of copper and acid.

Organisms, however, vary considerably and don't behave in closely predictable ways. If we spread fertiliser on a field, not every plant will increase its growth by the same amount, and if we cross two lines of maize, not all the resulting seeds will be the same. We often have to use some sort of statistical argument to tell us whether what we have observed represents a real effect or is merely due to chance.

The details of the argument will vary depending on exactly what it is we want to establish, but the standard ones follow a similar pattern.

Suppose that plant breeders have come up with a new variety of maize and we want to know if it gives a better yield than the old one. We plant one field with each of them, and we find that the new variety does actually produce more maize.

That's encouraging, but it doesn't prove anything. After all, even if we had planted both fields with the old strain, we wouldn't have expected to get exactly the same yield in both. The apparent improvement might be just a chance fluctuation.

To help us decide whether the observed effect is real, we carry out the following calculation. We suppose that the new strain is actually no better than the old one. This is called the "null hypothesis" because we assume that nothing has changed. We then estimate as best we can the probability that the new strain would perform as well as it did simply on account of chance. We call this probability the p-value.

Obviously, the smaller the p-value the more likely it is that the new strain really is better, though we can never be absolutely certain. What counts as a small enough value of p is arbitrary, but over the years statisticians have adopted the convention that if p is less than 5% we should reject the null hypothesis, i.e. we may infer that the new strain is better. Another way of saying this is that the increase in yields is 'significant'.

Why have statisticians fastened on such a small value? Wouldn't it be reasonable to say that if there is less than an even chance (i.e. p=0.5) of such a large increase then we should infer that the new strain is better?

No, and the reason why not is simple. It's a question of the burden of proof. Remember that statistics is about taking decisions in the face of uncertainty. It is a serious business advising a company to change the variety of seed it produces or a farmer to switch from one he has grown for years. There could be a lot to lose if we are wrong. We want to be sure beyond reasonable doubt that we are right, and that's usually taken to mean a p=value of 0.05 or less.

Suppose we obtain a p-value of greater than 0.05. What then? We have failed to prove that the new strain is better. We have not, however, proved that it is no better, any more than by finding a defendant not guilty we have proved that he is innocent.

In the example of the antique coin, the null hypothesis was that the coin was fair. If that were the case, then the probability of a head on any one throw would be 1/2, so the probability of three heads in a row would be (1/2)3=0.125. This is greater than 0.05, so we cannot reject the null hypothesis. Thus we cannot claim that our experiment has shown the coin to be biased.

Up to that point, the reasoning was correct. Where it went wrong was in the claim that the experiment has shown the coin to be fair. It did no such thing.

Yet that is precisely the sort of argument that we see in scientific papers defending genetic engineering. A recent report "Absence of toxicity of Bacillus thuringiensis pollen to black swallowtails under field conditions" (3) claims by its title to have shown that there is no harmful effect. In the discussion however, the authors state only that there were "no significant weight differences among larvae as a function of distance from the corn field or pollen level." In other words, they have only failed to demonstrate that there is a harmful effect. They have not proven that there is none.

A second paper (4) claims to show that transgenes in wheat are stably inherited. The evidence for this is that the "transmission ratios were shown to be Mendelian in 8 out of 12 lines." In the accompanying table, however, six of the p-values are less than 0.5 and one is 0.1. That is not sufficient to prove that the genes are unstable and so inherited in a non-Mendelian way. But it does not prove they are, which is what was claimed. (5)

The way to decide if the antique coin is biased is to toss it more times and see what happens. In the case of the safety and stability of GM crops, more and better experiments should be carried out.

The Anti-Precautionary Principle

The precautionary principle is so obviously common sense that we might expect it to be universally adopted. That would still leave room for debate about how big the risks and benefits are likely to be, especially when those who stand to gain if things go right and those who stand to lose if they do not are not the same. It is significant that the corporations are implacably opposed to proposals that they should be liable for any damage caused by the products of GM technology. They are demanding a one-way bet: they pocket any gains and someone else pays for any losses. It also gives us an idea of how confident they are about the safety of the technology.

What is harder to understand is why our regulators are still so reluctant to adopt the precautionary principle. They tend to rely instead on what we might call the anti-precautionary principle: When a new technology is proposed, it must be approved unless it can be shown conclusively to be dangerous. The burden of proof is not on the innovator; it is on the rest of us.

The most enthusiastic supporter of the anti-precautionary principle is the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the international body whose task it is to promote free trade. A country that wants to restrict or prohibit imports on grounds of safety has to provide definite proof of hazard, or else be accused of erecting artificial trade barriers. A recent example is the WTO's judgement that the European Union's ban on US growth-hormone injected beef is illegal.

By applying the anti-precautionary principle in the past, we have allowed corporations to damage our health and our environment through cigarette smoking, lead in petrol, and high levels of toxic and radioactive wastes that include hormone disrupters, carcinogens and mutagens. The costs in human suffering and environmental degradation and in resources to attempt to put these right have been very high indeed. Politicians should bear this in mind.


There is nothing difficult or arcane about the precautionary principle. It is the same reasoning that is used every day in the courts and in statistics. More than that, it is just common sense. If we have genuine doubts about whether something is safe, then we should not use it until we are convinced it is. And how convinced we have to be depends on how much we really need it.

As far as GM crops are concerned, the situation is clear. The world is not short of food. Where people are going hungry it is because of poverty. Hardly anyone believes that there will be a real shortage within 25 years, and a recent FAO report predicts that improvements in conventional agriculture and reductions in the rate of increase of the world's population will mean we will continue to be able to feed ourselves indefinitely.

On the other side, there is both direct and indirect evidence that gene biotechnology may not be safe for health and the environment. The benefits of GM agriculture remain hypothetical.

We can easily afford a five-year moratorium to support further research into improving the safety of gene biotechnology and making it more precise and more effective. We should also use the time to develop better methods of sustainable farming, organic or low-input, which do not have the same potentially disastrous risks.

PTS 21/08/00


  1. See, for example, S. Holm and J. Harris (Nature, 400 (1999) 398). Compare C.V. Howard & P.T. Saunders (Nature 401 (1999) 207) and C. Rafffensburger et al. (Nature 401 (1999) 207-208).

  2. We are now told that in the case of tobacco and lead, many in the industry knew about the hazards long before the public did. It is not always wise to accept broad and unsupported assurances about safety from those who have a very strong interest in continuing the technology.

  3. A.R. Wraight et al (2000), Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (early edition). Quite apart from the use of statistics, it generally requires considerable skill to design and carry out an experiment to provide a convincing demonstration that an effect does not occur. It is all too easy to fail to find something even when it is there.

  4. M.E. Cannell et al. Theoretical and applied Genetics 99 (1999) 772-784.

  5. In fact, an alternative statistical analysis of the data indicates considerably more instability than the authors found.

Top PreviousNextFront Page
Date: Wed, 1 Nov 2000 11:41:03 +0200
From: "Anthony van Zyl"

Please circulate widely Dear folks,

Enclosed is an excellent letter from Jonathan Mathews of NGIN which was published in the EDP today.

Jonathan has suggested that we write to local or national papers about the remarkable cross-over between BSE and GM crops. Read on and find out.

Now is the time to speak out.


UK Betrayed over BSE Mark II: Another Public Safety Fiasco

Eastern Daily Press, 31st October 2000

As the EDP has rightly said, the BSE inquiry has shown that the public were betrayed. The present Government, of course, is keen to say that it has turned its back forever on half-truths and cover-ups.

But the GM-contaminated oilseed rape fiasco has already shown us that it is business as usual.

Firstly, the Government's safeguards were shown to be wholly inadequate - thousands of acres of farmland were contaminated by the rogue crops, while countless consumers have unknowingly bought GM products.

Worse still, it emerged that the Government sat on the information about the contamination for a whole month, while farmers were busy planting the contaminated seed! Indeed, it was only after Sweden went public that British ministers finally released the news, surreptitiously in a written Commons answer. If it had not been for the Swedish action, would MAFF ever have gone public?

And once again, in the Government's determination to reassure the public, we got the familiar half truths. Nick Brown told us there was no risk of further contamination "because the GM variety is sterile and it is difficult to see how it could cross-pollinate with other plants". But Advanta, the company which sold the contaminated seed, admitted that only "a high proportion" was sterile – a very different matter.

Just as serious was the evidence that the seed contamination had originally occurred because of cross pollination in Canada over something like 4 kms. Yet all these months later the buffer zones on the Government's GM trials stand at just 50 m, while the ministries continue to consider the matter. In the meantime our countryside serves as an open air laboratory.

On the food safety front, has the affair demonstrated any diminution in the MAFF culture of secrecy and complacency? Hardly! The supposedly independent Food Standards Agency, despite all its brave talk about openness and transparency, stayed silent about the seed scandal until MAFF was forced to go public. Even then the FSA was entirely reassuring and did nothing to protest the loss of consumer choice that had resulted.

That the FSA is showing the old MAFF failings is, of course, hardly surprising. After all, the FSA's chief officer is a full time civil servant and former career bureaucrat at MAFF, as are a large swathe of FSA officials.

The FSA's director, Sir John Krebs, has been brought in from outside, but Sir John was on record as rejecting consumer concerns over GM foods before he was appointed. Since Sir John's appointment the agency, which takes its advice from exactly the same old sources and committees, has refused to open up the question of the safety of GM foods, even though it was very quick to launch an investigation into organic food.

In short, those currently charged with protecting the public interest have done nothing to earn the public's trust, or to indicate an open mind on issues where big commercial interests collide with public safety.

The Government's methods of issuing information appear wholly unchanged when it comes to GM crops which have all the hallmarks of BSE mark II.

Jonathan Matthews
The Street, Trowse



"In a post-BSE era, it should be logical to think twice about using a technology that blatantly violates well established natural boundaries."
– Dr Michael Antoniou, Senior Lecturer in Molecular Pathology, London.UK.
Top PreviousNextFront Page
Date: Wed, 1 Nov 2000 11:41:03 +0200
From: "Anthony van Zyl"

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Tuesday 31st October 2000

Kiss of Death for GM Seed (Chardon LL Maize)

Government plans to allow GM maize, Chardon LL, to be added to the national seed list – the final legal barrier before a seed can be commercially grown – hit the rocks tonight when the Ministry of Agriculture admitted that basic test data submitted by the company may not meet minimum legal requirements. (MAFF release 380/00)

Peter Roderick commented "This fiasco has only come to light because Friends of the Earth and ordinary members of the public forced the Government to hold a public hearing on the listing of this GM seed. Only a week after the BSE report was published, we now find that the minimum official testing of this crop has simply not taken place. If the hearing had not happened, this vital information would never have come to light and the crop would have been given official approval. This is yet another humiliating blow to the biotech industry and their backers in Government."

31 October 2000


UK Ministers are urgently assessing new information relating to the proposed National Listing of Chardon LL a herbicide tolerant GM maize variety.

The Government has learned from the French Authorities that the data from French trials on varietal distinctness, uniformity and stability (DUS), which supported the Chardon application for National Listing in the UK, were based on 1 year's data from accredited breeders' trials and 1 year's data from Government run trials. This is apparently one of the procedures allowed by the French authorities for DUS trials of new maize varieties. The relevant Directive (72/180/EEC) requires two years of official trials.

Ministers are taking urgent legal advice on the implications of this information and about the possible impact on the current hearing in relation to the proposal to add Chardon LL to the UK National List. MAFF is seeking further information from the French authorities and consulting the European Commission about the implications for National Listing decisions across the EU.

Chardon LL will only be added to the UK National List if all the legal requirements have been fully met.

Notes for Editors

  1. Chardon LL is a genetically modified forage maize.

  2. Mr Alun Alesbury is currently conducting a hearing to receive representations in relation to the Ministers' proposal to add Chardon LL to the UK National List.

  3. National Listing is a requirement of EC Directives, aimed at ensuring that only seed meeting certain minimum quality standards is sold to farmers. Statutory tests and trials are required to show that varieties are distinct, uniform and stable and, for agricultural species, have a value for cultivation and use (VCU). Broadly speaking, new varieties must show an improved performance over varieties already on the National List. It is an offence to sell seed unless the variety is included in the UK National Lists or the EC Common Catalogue (an amalgam of Member States' National Lists).

  4. The DUS trials for Chardon LL were carried out by the French authorities under bilateral arrangements. Such arrangements permit member states to take advantage of the particular expertise of other member states in DUS testing for certain crop types. However, VCU trials must be carried out in the Member State in which a National Listing application is made. The VCU trials for Chardon LL were carried out in the UK.

  5. The National List system does not itself address the safety of GM traits. Those aspects are addressed under GM and Novel Foods legislation. Chardon LL has a part C marketing consent under Directive 90/220/EEC which was agreed at EU level by Member States after careful consideration by their expert advisory committees. It also has approval under the Novel Foods Regulation.
Top PreviousNextFront Page
Date: Wed, 1 Nov 2000 07:13:24 EST
Originated from:

Please forward to local and national newspapers, etc

UK dump 'BSE' cattle feed on 3rd world

Norfolk Genetic Information Network (ngin)

Having betrayed its own citizens over BSE, the UK Government then betrayed the Third World (item 1 below).

When a deregulated, freebooting industrialised country is finally forced to protect its citizens, it seems it seeks recompense for its agribiz by exporting harm.

Quote from item 1:

'A senior veterinary officer thought that there was nothing "morally indefensible" in exporting what was effectively poison.'

As regards the new betrayal over GM crops – BSE mark II, the parallel is clear. As Vandana Shiva and others have protested, US grain exports, unacceptable to European and other consumers because of GM contamination, are being purchased with public money and then offloaded on the world's poor through designating them as 'aid'.

Top PreviousNextFront Page
Date: Wed, 1 Nov 2000 07:13:24 EST
Originated from:

U.K. uses Third World to dump infected feed

THE HINDU October 31, 2000

"Not good enough for us? Give it to the Third World, they would love it." That seems to have been the line which dictated the British Government's decision to dump vast quantities of cattle feed, suspected to be infected with mad cow (BSE) germs, on Third World countries after banning it for domestic use and export to European nations.

It was found to be too dangerous to feed the cattle in the U.K. and of course Europe was the First World – so it couldn't be sent there. The only parts that could do with it were Asia, Africa and West Asia, and thus for eight years – from 1988 to 1996 – Britain continued to export the infected feed overriding expert opinion.

Quoting a BSE inquiry report, The Observer today reported that "tens of thousands of tonnes of potentially BSE-infected" cattle feed in the form of "meal and bonemeal" was offloaded on nearly a dozen countries, including Sri Lanka, Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, Thailand, Lebanon and Turkey. During this period while exports to E.U. countries dropped to zero, there was a sharp increase in sales to the Third World. "No one knows how many cattle fed on the meal in those countries may now be incubating BSE," the paper said. The decision to continue to sell the potentially lethal feed was taken despite the then Chief Medical Officer, Sir Donald Acheson, warning in 1991 that "we should take steps to prevent these U.K. products being fed to ruminants in other countries... Unless such action is taken, the difficult problems we have faced with the BSE may well occur in other countries." Britain, he cautioned, ran the risk of being seen as responsible for the introduction of the BSE to the food chain in other countries.

According to the paper, there were differences even within the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food over whether it was morally right to export to countries what Britain regarded as dangerous for itself. One of the two Ministers, Mr. John Gummer, said the Government had a moral obligation to ensure that the importing countries knew what they were being sold, while the other, Mr. John MacGregor apparently "disagreed".

A senior veterinary officer thought that there was nothing "morally indefensible" in exporting what was effectively poison. The possibility that BSE cases may have already occurred in these countries is not ruled out, and it is stated that just because no case has been officially reported, it does not mean all is well. LANGUAGE: English LOAD-DATE: October 31, 2000 [Entered October 31, 2000]

Top PreviousFront Page
Date: Wed, 1 Nov 2000 07:13:24 EST
Originated from:

Gnawing at Phillips' bones

Tim Lang, Professor of Food Policy, Thames Valley University

Lord Phillips' Report is a landmark, on a par with the Royal Commission set up to investigate food supply in time of war back in 1904. The Government is already reviewing the lessons. MAFF, I learn, is creating a StrategyUnit. Here is where it should start.

Firstly, MAFF needs to be either abolished or become a Ministry of Food. Rural Affairs can stay in or go to Environment (DETR).

The Civil Service must change. The culture of watering down bad news must end. Ministers need to get the truth not what they want to hear. This should be in open and subject to dissenting voices.

Phillips is scathing about the system of expert scientific committees yet it's the backbone on which Whitehall hangs. Serve time; get a gong. The national scientific base needs to be rebuilt. Food Standards Agency research budget needs another 0 added. BSE has already cost £6bn. That's a lot of lost science.

Public health voices are weak. The Chief Medical Officer and Department of Health were already so marginal by the early 1980s that a token reform like the Consumer Panel set up in 1990 looked good but had marginal impact. It was a bolt-on extra, made lively only by Suzi Leather (now Deputy Chair at the FSA) and we knew so at the time. The CMO's role and DoH need complete overhauls. If DoH is mostly concerned with healthcare, we need a new Public Health Agency to intervene for health.

Finally, a national debate must tussle over what Phillips called "philosophy". We can either continue with intensive food and farming or, as the Swedes and others are doing, invest in better systems which are built on public and environmental health. Currently, we judge food by its cheapness. Cheap food is actually expensive.