Weekly News Review

24th May, 2004

EU Commission approves GM maize: European consumer tells them where to stick it


The approval this week by the European Commission of the first new genetically modified (GM) food in Europe for over five years will only harden consumer resistance, according to  opponents of the technology. 


Friends of the Earth International, heavily criticised the European Commission [1] for approving the import of a controversial GM sweet-corn without the support of the European Union (EU) member states who remain deeply divided over its safety.


The maize, developed by Swiss-based Syngenta, has been engineered to include an insecticide. The European approval is only for food and animal feed imports and not for growing in the EU.


However Friends of the Earth claim that with opposition so high there is little future for GM food and crops in Europe.


As FoE and others have many times pointed out, there is virtually no market for GM foods in Europe as consumers have overwhelmingly rejected them. New EU labelling and traceability regulations came into force on April 18th giving consumers better information to decide. Official opinion polls show that 94.6% of EU citizens want the right to choose and 70.9% simply do not want GM food.


Initiatives to ban GM crops from being grown have now started in at least 22 European countries with some regions introducing their own legislation to ban the crops. In France over 1200 municipalities have issued GM free statements as well as 500 cities in Italy.


The biotechnology industry sees no future in Europe. Last week biotech giant Monsanto withdrew their GM wheat after selling their European cereal business last year. Last month Bayer withdrew the only commercial crop it had in the UK. The number of applications to test GM crops outdoors in Europe have reduced 80% since 1997.


Countries that have planted GM crops on a large scale have seen their exports to Europe crash. Maize from the US to Europe has declined from 3.3 million tonnes in 1995 to just 25,000 tonnes in 2002. Canada has lost all of its oilseed rape (canola) market to Europe, worth an estimated $300 million. [3]


Adrian Bebb, GM campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe said: "There is no future for genetically modified foods or crops in Europe. Politicians may be saying yes but the public is clearly saying no. The European market is virtually dead, regions are banning the growing of GM crops and the industry is packing up and leaving.


"The European Commission is gambling with the health of consumers. Member states remain divided over the long term safety of this GM sweet corn, yet the Commission wants to force it down our throats. But the public won't swallow this. Hostility to GM food and crops is likely to grow, and the publics confidence in EU decision-making is likely to be damaged," he added.


A briefing of the GM situation in Europe can be found at http://www.foeeurope.org


Constitution talks: 'Emergency brake' may be solution for veto issues 


As member states bickered over controversial veto and institutional issues in the EU Constitution on Tuesday, alternative ways are being sought to break the deadlock. In the end, Foreign Ministers agreed to meet again next week. Read all about it here 


Now we have heard the lot!


At least, that's what Spectre's coterie of hardbitten aging reds thought. Then we came across this item in EU Observer: US to ask for enlargement compensation: Washington will ask for financial compensation for the EU’s enlargement, it has emerged.

According to the Spanish news agency EFE, the US will ask for a deal to counteract the negative economic effects of the EU expanding to ten new members.

Washington is expected to present its demand to the WTO shortly.

A spokesperson for the European Commission in Washington is quoted by EFE as saying that the EU would then study the demand "to determine if there is basis for negotiation".

This, we have decided, is simply too weird to require any further comment.


Commission's working time proposals cause alarm


European Trade Unions have expressed alarm at a new proposal from the European Commission, which they claim opens the door to the lengthening of working times in the EU. Read what’s bothering them here

Parliamentarians refused permission to visit Guantanamo


Since receiving an invitation in his capacity as a member of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, Dutch Socialist Party (SP) Senator Tiny Kox has been looking forward to visiting the US concentration camp at Guantanamo Bay. Unfortunately, the Bush junta has decided not to allow parliamentarians to visit the site. 

The original plan was to go to Guantanamo on 28th January, but this was postponed at the last moment, ostensibly due to bad weather and the non-availability of a military aircraft. At this point it was announced that the US administration was fully in accord with the visit, but tht a new date must be found which was suitable from all points of view. Some time later The Secretary General of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly forbade his secretary to have anything more to do with preparations for the visit, claiming that it was taking up too much time and costing too much money.  Some time  after this, however, the chair of the Assembly's defence and security committee said that the US would now allow only ambassadors and police officers to visit the camp. Senator Kox is now demanding that these obstacles be removed and that the visit be allowed to proceed as arranged. In this, moreover, he has the full support of the Chair of the Dutch delegation to the NATO Assembly, conservative Senator Jos van Gennip.

Kox points out that "the need for such a visit is greater than ever, given recent revelations about the treatment of prisoners by US military personnel in Iraq. . Human rights organisations such as  Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have repeatedly expressed great concern over conditions in Guantanamo."

 End the occupation!


Although outright apologists for the Abu Ghraib torture regime have been thin on the ground (but not nonexistent), few in the corporate media have bothered to denounce the more open and ongoing violations of human rights by the US-led occupation forces in Iraq -- the house demolitions, the killings of protesters, the sniper attacks on children during last month's siege of Fallujah and the everyday humiliation of Iraqis, whose democratic right to national independence is violated every day that the occupation troops remain in their country.  Green Left Weekly, Australia's socialist newspaper, gives full coverage of the issues surrounding Iraq as well as Australian, regional and international affairs. Go here


Greenpeace Not Guilty


Congratulations to Greenpeace USA have been acquitted of all charges of "conspiracy and illegally boarding the ship" under the obscure, rarely used 1872 'sailor-mongering' law, originally designed to stop prostitutes paying cabin calls. In the last couple of weeks over

80,000 people have e-mailed Bush and Attorney General John Ashcroft to condemn this prosecution, which has been highlighted in Spectre. Thanks to any readers who took part in the action.

We hear, however, that 36 Greenpeace activists may end up in court over protests against Exxon Mobil (ESSO), the world's largest corporate producer of global warming gases. Exxon are refusing to pay a $5 billion damages cost over the Exxon Valdez oil spill. The activists who peacefully entered Exxon Mobil's headquarters in tiger suits now face felony charges. Read more at www.greenpeaceusa.org/trial Greenpeace

Liberation Day


Too late to go on our Action page, we're afraid, but the folks at Liberation, the UK anti-colonialist, anti-racist monthly, have let us know that they "are pulling all the stops out for a bumper turn out on Saturday evening to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the founding of Liberation". Venue is Conway Hall. Red Lion Square. Doors open at 6.30 for a prompt start at 7pm to allow for a crowded programme. Jeremy Corbyn will compere and Tony Benn will be one of a variety of speakers and entertainment to conclude with a Salsa, all ending at 11.30. The Workers Beer Company will supply the refreshments and Chilean food will be served. Entrance at the door is £10 and £5 unwaged. Tickets from the office (020 7435 4547) beforehand are £8 and £4 Magnificent Raffle, with many prizes, the first prize a return flight to Cyprus.


We have seen this on tourists' teeshirts but this is the first time we've noticed it appended to washing instructions on a garment label -

The label is bilingual because the garment was exported from the US to Canada. The French is a direct translation of the English until you get to "We are sorry that our President is an idiot. We didn't vote for him." Interesting this isn't included on the English version. This is obviously because, while the Bill of Rights appears to have been junked, it is highly unlikely that US customs inspectors can read anything other than their own language.