UK Environment Secretary Owen Paterson, who has been widely criticised for his complacency in the face of the current flooding disaster, has now been slammed for planning a visit to Africa to promote the interests of the biotechnology industry.
The Conference, organized by NASAC (the Network of African Science Academies) and EASAC (the European Academies Science Advisory Council), is flagged up as a two-day “workshop” in Addis Ababa, and its published programme makes it clear that it is designed to encourage the acceptance of GMO crops and foods particularly among those African nations which have hitherto maintained GM-free policies. Interestingly enough, there is no mention of GMOs on the NASAC website (euphemisms are used instead), but a leaked copy of the programme makes it clear that the promotion of GMOs is the key theme which all speakers and panellists will address.
A leaked document from the Workshop organizers indicates that Mr Paterson is the only senior politician from Europe who has agreed to attend, and that he will talk on “A view of Agricultural Biotechnology from an EU member state.” Other confirmed attendees include Anne Glover, the Chief Scientific Advisor to the EC, and other European scientists and academics with an interest in the promotion of GM crops. In view of their past statements on GM-related issues, it is clear that neither Mr Paterson nor Ms Glover holds views that are in line with those of the EU Parliament, the majority of EU states, or the European public — all of whom are profoundly sceptical about GMOs and the biotechnology multinationals. Yet they will presumably be giving a twisted “European view” to the assembled delegates from the African nations.
Another leaked document contains a “suggested list of participants”, a list of “suggested African keynote speakers” and a list of “suggested political leaders as advocates.” There can be no doubt at all that the workshop organizers do not see this event as a conference at which an exchange of views is welcomed; this is a straightforward promotional exercise designed fo further the commercial ambitions of the GMO industry, under the guise of assisting the African biotechnology industries and addressing food shortages and environmental degradation.
One of the objects of the workshop is to promote the EASAC publication entitled “Planting the future: opportunities and challenges for using crop genetic improvement technologies for sustainable agriculture” (June 2013). This document — purportedly from an august scientific / academic source — has been widely criticised on the basis that it is a heavily biased promotional exercise written by, and for, the European biotechnology research community. There are no cited authors. It is also clear from the text that part of the EASAC agenda in producing the Report was to mount an attack on the GMO regulatory “burden” that has supposedly held back the adoption of GMO crops and foods in Europe and across the globe.
Paterson has taken a high profile as an ambassador or evangelist for the GMO / biotechnology industry since taking office as Environment Secretary. In some of his utterances he has used very colourful language, which has included the branding of GMO Golden Rice opponents as “wicked”. He has also claimed repeatedly that GMOs are needed if global food shortages are to be addressed, and has said that Britain must embrace GMOs or risk becoming “a museum of world farming.” He has developed very close links with the NFU, whose pro-GM policies are well-known, and it is also suspected that he has commercial ties to the GMO industry. In January he attended a closed EuropaBio event in Brussels, and gave a speech to a carefully selected group of attendees (5). He has been heavily criticised even by members of his own party for his simplistic and even naive utterances on GMOs and for his partial understanding of quite complex scientific issues. There is little doubt that his one-man GMO evangelical campaign is a considerable embarrassment to the UK Coalition Government.
Speaking for GM-Free Cymru, Dr Brian John said: “The revelations contained in these leaked documents demonstrate a complete lack of political judgment on the part of the Secretary of State. Just when he should be concentrating all of his efforts on the management of the flood crisis and the storm damage around the UK coastline, he plans to go swanning off to Africa — at taxpayers expense — in order to sell non-existent GMO crops to Africa, on behalf of a non-existent GMO industry. The only organizations which will benefit from his missionary efforts are Monsanto, Syngenta and the other biotechnology multinationals based outside the UK.
“He is certainly not representing the views of either Europe or the UK, and he must know that the Scottish and Welsh governments are fundamentally opposed to the position he is taking on GM crops. So he is seeking, fraudulently, to represent a personal obsession or crusade as “UK policy.” In any case, it is not a part of his job description to seek to promote the interests of the biotechnology research community beyond the shores of Britain. If a member of HM Government had to be present at the Ethiopian workshop, it would have been much more appropriate for David Willetts MP or Justine Greening MP to be there — so he is probably treading on their toes, as well as demonstrating an inability to prioritise within his own Cabinet brief. After this, he cannot possibly survive in his job as Secretary of State, and we look forward to the time, in the very near future, when he will be quietly put out to grass by the Prime Minister.”