Genetically Modified (GM) crops are on the rise within the EU. In the UK, the coalition government have declared an intention to be the most pro-GM government this country has ever seen. Corporate Watch reported on the implications of these EU level changes in 2010. Here we present Organised Irresponsibility a new pamphlet on GM in Germany, and some information on past and present anti-GM organising in the UK.
In July 2010 the European Commission (EC) approved changes to GM cultivation regulations by allowing national governments to decide whether or not to permit GM cultivation within their borders. For the last 12 years there has been a virtual freeze on GM farming throughout the EU. The changes are being justified with the argument that it will make it easier for states to ban GM crops on their own soil, even if this will happen in exchange for less power over what other states decide to do, meaning easier authorisation for GM at the EU level overall. GM crops can now in theory be banned in individual states on the grounds of prevention of contamination, but it may take up to two years for prevention on non-scientific grounds to be implemented due to legislative processes.
There is a history of successful resistance to GM in the UK, which Corporate Watch was heavily involved with. Activists are now preparing for the next phase of corporate and governmental attempts to enforce GM.
A brief history of resistance to GM in the UK
Since the mid 1990s, Britain has seen effective and sustained campaigns of non-violent direct action against GM crops. This has ranged from crop pulling to office occupations to supermarket blockades, and involved a remarkably wide range of people. With widespread public support, campaigners succeeded in significantly holding up the introduction of GM crops and GM foods into Britain.
In 1996 a handful of multinational corporations planned to flood the UK with GM crops. The corporations did not expect any opposition, and it seemed like they would be successful in introducing unlabelled GM soya and maize products into supermarkets, increasing GM crop trials, and initiating the commercial growing of GM crops. However, by 1998 the GM industry was suffering due to general public outrage and widespread rejection of GM crops. Protests, letter-writing, supermarket actions, lobbying, and information events erupted all over the country, but GM products were still being imported into the country and openly grown in fields. At this point, people decided to take non-violent direct action (NVDA) to remove GM crops from fields by physically pulling them up.
The first ‘crop-pulling’ direct actions took place in 1998, and in the years from 1999-2000 37 different GM trials were damaged or destroyed. The GM industry wanted to avoid bad PR, which meant the majority of cases never came to court. A combination of widespread public opposition and direct action has meant that over the last decade the GM industry has remained on the backfoot in the UK. However, with the recent changes at EU level, it may once again become possible for a corporate onslaught.
A more detailed history and further information is available at Stop GM.
A GM case study in Germany: organised irresponsibility
Germany has also seen a successful anti-GM movement. However, recent repression reveals that the EU has well-founded concerns about widespread opposition to GM. The authors of a recent pamphlet – Organised Irresponsibility about the revolving doors between the GM industry and the German government – are being taken to court and the distribution of the pamphlet has been banned by the German state. Inge Broer, a GM researcher and manager of the organisation FINAB, which arranges GM experiments in Germany, labelled Organised Irresponsibility a “booklet full of fabrications”.
Corporate Watch and others have translated Organised Irresponsibility, which can be downloaded from the Corporate Watch website.
The Organised Irresponsibility pamphlet explains the complex inter-relationships between GM corporations, government departments and other institutions and networks of people in Germany. Manifestations of corruption, revolving doors and ‘old boys networks’ can be seen to be occurring on a massive scale, but there are also many other mechanisms employed to ensure that the GM industry is maintained and able to expand. Fake pro-GM demonstrations have been staged with paid ‘protesters’, and front organisations with pro-environment sounding names set up for particular functions of industrial expansion, such as pushing a particular GMO through the legal framework. These organisations then serve to entrench the inter-connections between all the groups: lobbyists, corporations, government departments, and powerful individuals who fund scientific research.
The Organised Irresponsibility pamphlet details many individual instances of institutional power dynamics and profiles key individuals active in Germany. Yet, the case of the German state and GM in recent years sheds light on similar situations unfolding in other European countries as the GM ‘debate’ returns following changes at the EU level. This is especially useful at the moment, because it is likely that the methods by which new technologies will be introduced and by which older technologies will be re-introduced will be more complex than when GM was first attempted in Europe. Understanding how these processes work means people will be better equipped to respond to so-called technological ‘advances’ on a structural level.
GM resistance in 2011
Activists are responding to the renewed threat of GM in the UK. A gathering has been organised for Saturday 22nd January in London to update on the situation in the UK, and to plan strategy and actions. Here is the event call out:
You are warmly invited to join other activists and researchers for an anti-GM update and strategy session in London on Saturday 22nd January 2011. This day long national gathering will bring together a wide range of people campaigning on GM related issues, from climate activists to NGO representatives, community food growers to beekeepers.
This is the perfect opportunity to get up to speed with the latest in GM developments, and explore how you and your organisation can be part of the UK’s emerging radical land and food movement. The day starts off with briefing sessions designed to give you clear data and an authoritative context on issues that are likely to be stories in 2011. UN experts on agro ecology will also be presenting research into alternatives.
The afternoon will focus on sharing and developing campaign ideas and networking. This will include a strategic discussion on how we can effectively counter misinformation and lobbying, as well evolving new and existing campaigns.
GM: Gathering Momentum is organised by Stop GM in conjunction with the Genetic Engineering Network. The free event will be hosted in London from 10 – 6pm, and lunch will be provided.