Weekly News Review

10th September 2004



EU approves GMO seeds

The European Union approved on Wednesday the first biotech seeds for planting and sale across EU territory, flying in the face of widespread consumer resistance to genetically modified (GMO) crops and foods.

The European Commission also, however, dropped a proposal on how much GMO material may be tolerated without labelling in batches of conventional seed – a controversial law that has bounced between the Commission's various departments for over a year.

It authorised 17 different seed strains of maize engineered by U.S. biotech giant Monsanto from a parent crop that won approval for growing just before the EU began its biotech ban in 1998 that lasted nearly six years. Read the details here . Among those attacking the authorisations were members of the United Left Group (GUE-NGL) at the European Parliament, including its new Irish affiliate, Sinn Fein. Dublin MEP Mary Lou McDonald said that the "decision confirms what Sinn Fein and others have been saying over the past year since moves began to lift the embargo on GM within the EU. When authorisation was given earlier this year for the sale of new food products containing GM, we said that this would inevitably be followed by proposals to open up the EU to GM seed and crops. And so it has come to pass.

"It is absolutely shameful that the Irish Government has gone along with this,’ Ms McDonald added, and indeed that Irish Commissioner David Byrne, who is one of the foremost advocates of GM, is using his final days in office to push through these new measures against the stated wishes of EU consumers and above all against the best interests of Irish agriculture which is based on the production of safe high quality conventional food products renowned throughout the world. If GM seed is introduced to this country, there will be no realistic method of preventing conventional and organic crops being contaminated and that may have disastrous consequences for our food industry. Within Europe Sinn Féin will continue to strenuously oppose the introduction of GM, and in Ireland we will be pressing ahead through our elected representatives throughout Ireland to have the entire island made GM free."

The failure to agree on thresholds for seed contamination is seen as positive by anti-GMO activists and politicians in Brussels, and not only because at worst it means further delay. High hopes are placed on the woman nominated for the position of EU Agriculture Commissioner Danish liberal Mariann Fischer Boel. Although Ms Fischer Boel has shied away from making any policy statements, given Denmark's generally lukewarm attitude to agricultural biotech – equally evident during her tenure as agriculture minister – it seems possible that she will bring less enthusiasm to the job of forcing Europeans to eat food they do not want than have her predecessors. In April, in her role as Denmark’s representative on the EU Agriculture Council, Ms Fischer Boel argued for the contamination threshold to be set at the 0.1% which is the "detectability limit" called for by groups such as Save Our Seeds. She is also believed to favour strong rules to protect conventional and organic crops from contamination.

The nominee will soon have to face a hearing at the European Parliament, where she can expect a grilling on these issues from anti-GMO MEPs from the United Left, social democratic, liberal and Green groups. Her credentials are encouraging, but then so were those of the last Environment Commissioner, Margot Wällstrom, who has been a major disappointment to those still capable of harbouring illusions in the EU. Ms Wällstrom favours a contamination limit of 0.3%, which would quickly translate into mass contamination of Europe’s food crops.

Meanwhile, beyond the EU, "Washington and London are united not only on policy in Iraq. Tony Blair and George W. Bush also agree that the world should be saturated with gene-manipulated (GM) or genetically-engineered crops and seeds. Its advocates, including major chemical giants Monsanto, Syngenta, DuPont and Bayer, claim that GM crops are the answer to world hunger, and promise food security to growing populations. Astonishing enough, the claims are made in the absence of almost any serious independent scientific long-term study of the effects of GM crops on animal or human organisms." Read the rest of F. William Engdahl’s warning about GM foods and US power


‘Constitution’ Referenda: latest

The promised referendum in the Netherlands now looks set to go ahead around the middle of next March. Although this awaits official confirmation, the three centre-left opposition parties which have brought the measure before parliament have been told that this is the likelihood. It also appears increasingly likely that Belgium and Luxembourg will hold referenda on the same day.

In addition to the three Benelux countries, France, Ireland and Denmark will hold referenda in the near future, while Poland, Spain and the Czech Republic now seem certain to follow them, with the UK holding its vote in 2006.

In Britain, a new think-tank called the "Centre for a Social Europe" (CSE) this week launched a campaign which will attempt to put forward a centre-left argument against the Constitution.

It issued a pamphlet arguing "The Constitution represents a missed opportunity to create a more efficient, transparent, accountable and sustainable EU".

"We recognise that good Europeans must provide alternatives", it says.

Sources close to the campaign have indicated that they intend to expand the centre-left argument against the Constitution to other EU member states.

The group is thought to have links in Sweden and Denmark, the Netherlands and France already, and is preparing to forge links with the Left in Spain, Italy and Germany. French social democratic leaders have already indicated that they have reservations about the proposed Constitution, and that they will support it only under certain conditions.

Read more here Also in the UK, right-wing anti-Constitution politicians divided between the Conservative Party and UKIP have agreed to co-operate. Go here

Left MEPs condemn US welcome for terrorists

At the end of her tenure on 25 August, then President of Panama Mireya Moscoso, granted amnesty to four terrorists. They were immediately welcomed to the United States, the country that claims to be leading an international "war on terrorism".

Luis Posada Carriles blew up a passenger aircraft of the "Cubana de Aviación" airline, on 6 October 1976, killing 73 people. Sentenced and imprisoned in Venezuela, he managed to escape in 1985, and continued his attacks, most notably against the tourist infrastructure in Havana, causing the death of an Italian, Mr Fabio Di Celmo. Guillermo Novo is the assassin of the former Chilean chancellor Orlando Letelier. - Pedro Remón murdered the Cuban diplomat Felix Garcia. Gaspar Jimenez Escobedo murdered the Cuban sports technician Artagnan Díaz. All four, who are linked to extreme-right Cuban groups, have continued to attack progressive activists in Latin America. In November 2000, they were arrested in Panama in possession of 9 kilos of explosives with which they were preparing an attack against President Fidel Castro during an Ibero-American Summit.

Condemning the releases, the United Left Group of 41 Euro-MPs has put forward a Resolution to the European Parliament urging "a swift reaction from the European authorities."

A spokesperson for the Group said "These criminals must be held to account. The struggle against terrorism does not take sides."

UK budget rebate under renewed fire

The UK must be prepared to give up its annual rebate from the EU budget -worth 4.6 billion euro - according to Gerrit Zalm, Dutch finance minister and head of the EU finance ministers' Council. Read all about it here

Iran urges EU not to buckle under US atomic pressure

Europeans should resist US accusations Iran is seeking atomic weapons and treat Tehran’s nuclear dossier with caution while sensitive discussions grind on, Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman said on Sunday. EU foreign ministers last week criticised Iran’s failure to make full declarations of its nuclear programme and discussed whether to haul Iran before the sanctions-imposing. Read all about it here

Blair a liability to pro-Constitution campaign

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair could be an obstacle in the campaign to persuade the British people to vote "yes" to the new European Constitution, according to new research. The judgement mirrors the pleading by the "no" side for Thatcher to keep her nose out. Go here

Spiralling Economic Insecurity Threatens Global Crisis: Report

A new study by the International Labour Office (ILO) says an estimated two million workers die each year from work related accidents and disease, while just 8% of people across the world have favourable economic security, cautioning that rising insecurity spawns anger and anxiety and blocks development.

The report, entitled Economic Security For A Better World is the first such effort to measure global economic security as perceived by the common man, woman and child. It is based on detailed household and workplace surveys covering over 48,000 workers and more than 10,000 workplaces worldwide.

Read more about the ILO’s report here

More Common Sense from Alfred

Regular Spectre contributor Alfred Mendes, who recently wrote an article for us on the spread of electronic voting and the dangers it brings, contacted us to suggest that readers "download the following two websites.... here and here ....., describing them as "evidence enough to show that the UK government is embarked upon a policy of introducing the easily-manipulated (and hence very undemocratic) electronic voting system into this country. A frightening prospect, to say the least, and one that urgently calls for far more public scrutiny than it has so far received - don’t you agree?" See Mendes’ article "A Common Sense Viewpoint" for more on this issue.

Race and Class

Congratulations to Race and Class on reaching its thirtieth birthday. The radical, international journal was founded thirty years ago this month. As Arun Kundnani explains on the journal’s website, "Race & Class might never have happened. Its publisher for the last thirty years, the Institute of Race Relations (IRR), had first been established in the 1950s as a forum for 'objective' scholarship on the emerging post-colonial societies of the Third World. Funded by the corporations that profited from the exploitation of Africa and Asia's resources, the IRR, in its first incarnation, was aimed at understanding how to preserve colonial economic relationships even as the British Empire as such became unsustainable. It might have continued in that role to the present day. But, caught in the storm of revolutionary politics in Britain and abroad, the IRR was transformed in 1972 into the first anti-racist and anti-imperialist 'think tank' in Britain, after a rebellion led by the staff. It was a unique victory in the war of knowledge, capturing for the black and Third World liberation movements of the day the resources of a key institution of neo-colonialism, including the old house-journal Race, which two years later was renamed Race & Class." Read all about this excellent magazine here

9/11 three years on: 'War on terror' has not stopped terrorism

The appalling end to the hostage crisis in Beslan, Russia on September 4, which left more than 300 dead, had people all over the world horrified. The killing of so many children helped neither the Chechens fighting the Russian occupation of their country, nor those of us fighting war and state-sponsored terrorism all over the world. The only people who were really aided by the slaughter were those pursuing the misnamed "war on terror", in particular US President George Bush. Read the rest of Green Left Weekly (Australia’s socialist newspaper) on the latest atrocity at here Also this week, "Australian election called: Dump Howard but trust neither" here and extensive coverage, as ever, of Australian, regional and international affairs.