Thursday, February 17, 2011

Did Spelman invite GM firm to join Green Economy Council?

Why has a GM firm been invited to join a new body set up to liaise with three government departments on developing the 'green economy'?

At the Green Economy Council's first meeting, held yesterday, amongst the 23 representatives from the sector was one of the world's top companies developing genetically modified seeds - Syngenta - which, despite being Swiss, likes to think of itself as the "British Monsanto".

Its Chief Scientist, Mike Bushell, met with ministers including Caroline Spelman and Vince Cable from the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS), the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

Syngenta, formed in 2000 from a takeover of Novartis, is one of the world's top four seed patent owners (with Dupont and Bayer), who between them control more than half of the world’s seed patents.

It is also one of the big three companies looking to commercialise GM crops in the UK in the near future. They have have carried out a small number of GM crop research trials in the UK including research into Genetic Use Restriction Technologies (GURTS/traitor technology) and GM wheat.

It has been called "perhaps the most successful GM crops company at co-opting the sustainable development agenda" (by Corporate Watch).

Bushell might have been co-opted onto the forum because of the company's backing of research into the causes of the epidemic facing honey bees.

However, Caroline Spelman, Defra's beleaguered minister, is a known supporter of GM. Until 2009 she was a director of the food and biotechnology lobbying company Spelman, Cormack and Associates, which she set with her husband, Mark Spelman, in 1989.

Spelman and Syngenta are not strangers. Last month, the Final Report of the Foresight Global Food and Farming Futures Project was published by BIS. Spelman co-wrote the foreword to it.

It highlights GM crops as one solution to the threat of food security, and in particular a "public-private partnership between Syngenta and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) [that] will focus on the development and advancement of technology in wheat through joint research and development in the areas of native and GM traits".

Most of the British public remains to be convinced what GM crops have to do with sustainable development, social equality or environmental caretaking - the only green thing about Syngenta's GM activities is that they grow seeds.

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