US attack on
By Philip Clarke
EUROPEAN systems for licensing genetically modified crops are in disarray and the UK is largely to blame, according to the USs senior trade representative in Brussels.
Writing in his bi-annual Letter from Brussels – targeted at US civil servants and politicians, but also widely read by EU diplomats – US ambassador Richard Morningstar says science has gone out the window.
"Politics and demagoguery have completely taken over the regulatory process," he claims. "Approval of new (GM) products by the EU has come to a virtual halt and attempts to revise the basic law covering approvals have gone nowhere."
In particular, he blames the UK where "the public debate is dominated by scare stories and nightmare scenarios without a scientific basis".
The failure of the EU to approve new varieties, despite getting the all-clear from its own scientific advisers, will cost the US $200m (£124m) in lost corn sales this year, he claims.
Mr Morningstars comments come during the run-up to the next round of world trade talks and is another signal that the US wants to use the WTO process to prise open markets for its GM foods.
But such thinly-veiled threats have been dismissed this side of the Atlantic.
"We have some sympathy with the US in that we, too, are frustrated by dealing with reactions that are not scientifically based," says NFU policy director Martin Haworth.
"But we are equally exasperated by their belief that it can easily be put right.
"They seem to think that, just by telling people GMOs are safe, they will be believed. In fact, if it is perceived as US bullying, it could make matters worse."
US complaints about EU lic-ensing are unjustified, he adds. *
Accusations fly in sheep death row
FARMERS Ferry has hit out at investigators from Compassion in World Farming, saying they could have stopped the death of a consignment of sheep at an Italian port (News, Aug 13).
David Owen, Farmers Ferry company secretary, said: "The investigators appear to have considered it more important to measure the timescale of this horrendously callous act rather than step in and alert the authorities so the sheeps welfare could be given priority.
"It is time for the methods of these investigators to come under investigation."
But John Callaghan, overseas liason director for CIWF, said the investigators had alerted the authorities when they realised there was a problem, but it had taken the Italians 48 hours to respond.
The investigators could do nothing by themselves, Mr Callaghan insisted. *
Ex-NFU chief hit by Monsanto protest
A FORMER county NFU chairman has called for GM technology to be given a chance following an attack on his own farm.
Protestors struck at Hall Farm, Coney Weston in Suffolk, where they destroyed a GM sugar beet trial being grown under contract with Monsanto.
Some plants were pulled out of the ground while others were trampled. A small area of conventional crop being grown next to the trial site was also damaged.
John Wallace, former chairman of Suffolk NFU, said he believed GM technology was a more environmentally-friendly approach to food production and that protest groups should allow trials to continue.
"I am still interested in GM but have not made up my mind about being involved in future trials. I could do without the aggravation but I am sympathetic to the concept of GM," he said. *
£2m to raise awareness
FREEDOM Food, the RSPCAs farm assurance scheme, is planning to spend £2m on a television advertising campaign over the next two years to raise consumer awareness about the scheme.
The move follows a recent successful trial in south-east England.
Freedom Foods chairman Peter Davies admitted that many people were unaware of the name but he was confident a campaign would help persuade shoppers to look for the logo.
His comments came as the board of Freedom Food toured an accredited dairy farm in Leics this week.
Farmer Peter Darlington, of Brickfield Farm, Leesthorpe, told the visitors that it was a struggle to find a Freedom Food sticker in shops and more needed to be done to get the message across. *
Church called on to seek rural solutions
A LONDON-BASED clergyman has called on the church to take a more active, more visible role in the search for solutions to the current crisis in farming and the rural communities.
Speaking at the Hewish, Puxton, and Wick St Lawrence harvest home lunch in Somerset, the Rev Dr William Taylor said the church could help by listening to the grass roots people about their needs, and then using its considerable national influence to explain those needs to politicians with power to meet them.
The bishops had a voice through the House of Lords and the church was one of the few institutions with a presence throughout the nation, including all rural areas, he said.
It should be stating clearly and publicly where it stood on the importance of small and family farms both in the community and for care of the man-made environment.
Dr Taylor, who comes from a farming background in the north-west of England and is currently vicar of St Peter, Ealing, said that, professionally, he felt it was important that the church was seen to be involved.
There were many policy areas it could influence – from the development of organic farming methods (he made a plea for a non-sentimental approach, producing an economically viable system) to pressing the government to make sure its rural development policy had real impact on countryside communities. *