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Organic news archive: February 2004

GM news: The Government has agreed in principle to allow GM herbicide tolerant maize to be grown in the UK but has opposed the introduction of GM beet and oilseed rape. The crop will initially only be grown for a limited period, as its EU marketing consent expires in October 2006. The Government said that it will consult with stakeholders for providing compensation to non-GM farmers who suffer financial loss, and that a compensation scheme would need to be funded by the biotechnology sector. The Government will provide advice to farmers interested in establishing GM-free zones and will explore whether a lower threshold than the current 0.9% can be introduced for organic crops.

The Government's full statement is at:


The Soil Association's response is available on http://www.soilassociation.org

The first evidence of health damage from the pollen of a GM crop emerged yesterday. Professor Terje Traavik, director of the Norwegian Institute of Gene Ecology, revealed details of a study showing that villagers from a farming community in the Philippines, close to an area of GM maize fields, suffered "fevers, breathing problems, intestinal and skin ailments". He said that blood tests indicated the symptoms resulted from inhaling mutated maize pollen that had been carried on the wind. The professor's findings were revealed at a United Nations conference in Kuala Lumpur. (Daily Mail - 25/2/04)

Michael Meacher attacked the Government for having no moral, scientific or political authority to press ahead with the cultivation of GM maize. He said that Margaret Beckett was "raising the telescope to her blind eye". He went on to say that the Government has no mandate to proceed with commercial GM crops, particularly if it eliminates the organic sector which is fast growing and widely popular. (Independent on Sunday, Comment - 22/2/04)

Three-quarters of foods labelled "farmhouse" are produced on industrial premises, says a government survey, showing that 40% of food labels are "misleading" or "ambiguous" for shoppers, with labels such as "fresh", "natural" and "traditional". Of course, the term 'organic' is legally governed, so you can trust it. (Food Production Daily - 12/2/04)

Four London hospitals will be serving more organic and locally-produced food after a £250,000 grant. Ealing General, St George's in Tooting, the Lambeth in Stockwell and the Royal Brompton are receiving money from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs for a pilot scheme boosting health and the agricultural economy. (NHS magazine - 12/2/04)

The heads of three royal medical colleges issued an unprecedented warning yesterday about the rising epidemic of obesity. They said doctors were only now beginning to see the terrifying impact of weight problems, which have soared over two decades. Children as young as six are developing breathing problems, irreversible biological changes and type 2 diabetes, a disease previously only seen in overweight, middle-aged adults. Obesity rates have doubled among children, trebled in women and quadrupled for men in the past 20 years, according to the expert working party.

The report, called 'Storing Up Problems', is published by the Royal College of Physicians, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and the Faculty of Public Health. (The Independent - 12/2/04)

The government has been forced to postpone plans to announce the go-ahead for GM crops in Britain after Wales and Scotland refused to cooperate. The announcement was supposed to allow, in principle, the first GM crop in Britain, a strain of GM maize called Chardon LL or T25 and patented by Bayer. The Welsh executive, which is keen to foster organic farming, was eager to safeguard farmers and declined to give permission for the crop. Scottish opposition to Chardon LL was more muted because maize is a warm weather crop, so none would be grown north of the border. But the Scottish executive has also refused permission. The government was considering giving the green light for maize to be grown in England alone. But the Welsh executive pointed out that UK regulations stipulate that a particular crop can be grown in one country only if the other two agree. The postponement of today's announcement comes at an awkward time for the government. On February 18 there is a key vote in Brussels on whether to end the EU moratorium on GM crops.

The devolved administrations of Wales and Scotland are not the only obstacles to the early introduction of GM maize. Government lawyers have discovered wording in the EU rules for cultivation of GM crops that means the Department of Environment's intention to allow the maize to be grown close to conventional crops might be open to legal challenge because they will not sufficiently safeguard neighbouring farmers from contamination. (The Guardian - 9/2/04)

Britain's fruit is becoming sweeter and its vegetables less healthy. A study has shown that non-organic farming methods and plant breeding are stripping produce of many of the nutrients essential for human health. Over the past 60 years the levels of iron, magnesium and other minerals important for the body's biochemical balance have declined by between a quarter and three-quarters in fruit and vegetables. The report's author, David Thomas, compared modern data with records taken from 1940, when government scientists began systematically analysing hundreds of foodstuffs. His findings were supported by a study in the British Food Journal by Anne-Marie Mayer, a nutrition researcher at Cornell University, who found similar changes in the nutritional content of 290 fruits and 20 vegetables grown in Britain between the late 1930s and the 1990s. Both researchers link the decline to the intensification of farming. They suggest that agricultural chemicals and techniques could be depriving the plants of the minerals. (Sunday Times; Daily Mail)

Global retailers, including British supermarkets, are systematically inflicting poor working conditions on millions of women workers to conduct price wars and feed ever-rising consumer expectations of cheap produce, Oxfam said yesterday. A study of employment conditions in 12 countries which supply items from jeans to cut flowers to international brands such as Walmart and Tesco found that the largely female workforce in many suppliers is working longer hours for low wages in unhealthy conditions and failing to reap any benefit from globalisation. (The Independent - 9/2/04)

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