'Small Acorns'
It All Began In The Summer Of 1996

The Role Played By Skelmersdale
In The Global Campaign To Ban Genetically Modified Food

How A Modest Town In The North West Of England Triggered The First Major Success In A Campaign
To Remove GM Products From The Global Food Chain
The Effects Of Which Have Reverberated Around The World For Years

"Blame Skelmersdale."
Ethics Man
Guardian, 1 April 1998

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American molecular biologist Dr John Fagan (above, addressing a meeting during his UK tour) spoke at a conference in Skelmersdale in the summer of 1996, just months before the harvest of the world's first genetically modified soya bean crop began flowing from the United States into the international food supply.

Dr Fagan's presentation lead to a local letter writing campaign which triggered the start of the removal of GM products from the shelves of Britain's big food retailers. The effects were ultimately to reverberate around the world. The first multiple retailer to make the leap was the UK's Iceland food chain.

The Role of Iceland

"In the headlines last month came news that another US jury had awarded huge damages against the chemicals giant Monsanto – $2bn in this case, to a couple who successfully argued that use of the glyphosate-based weedkiller Roundup caused their cancers. Monsanto, now owned by Bayer, insists that Roundup is safe, and has announced that it will appeal....All this took me back to March 1998, when Iceland made the groundbreaking announcement that we would make all our own-label food free of genetically modified (GM) ingredients by May 1 that year. This was very much my personal decision, based on the belief that GM food was being foisted on consumers with no real understanding of the potential risks. The central issue was soya beans – which, like palm oil today, found their way into a huge range of everyday foods. We heard a lot of pious claptrap then about how GM was going to feed the world and save the planet, but in reality the chief driver was enabling Monsanto to sell more weedkiller. ....The biotechnology industry fought back, but it was easy to argue that much of what they were doing was frivolous if not downright dangerous. The introduction of an Arctic fish gene to tomatoes, to increase their frost resistance and extend their shelf life, was a prime example at the time. I am proud to be credited with inventing the term ‘Frankenstein food’ to describe GM creations like these. We were the target of a vicious PR operation against us, deploying tactics even more deplorable than those of the highly personal smear campaign recently mounted against my son Richard for his stance on palm oil. But then as now, we stood our ground. The rest of the British retail industry was initially indifferent – but then it became clear that we had really struck a chord with consumers. Very quickly every major supermarket in the country lined up behind us, declaring that their food would now be free of GM ingredients. The pressure was such that their caterers even banned GM food from Monsanto’s own UK staff canteen! I think Iceland can honestly claim credit for the fact that UK food has remained almost entirely GM-free for 21 years until today. The only compromise that we and most others have made is to allow the use of GM animal feed, because this had become prohibitively expensive to segregate, based on categorical scientific assurances that it has no effect on the meat produced....Looking back now, while history’s final verdict on the safety or otherwise of Roundup may not yet be entirely clear, I have no doubt whatsoever that it was Iceland and not the GM industry that was really ahead of its time in 1998, and that this was an occasion when we really were Doing It Right."
Malcolm Walker: We really were Doing It Right on GM food
Retail Week, 18 June 2019

The Role Of Skelmersdale
How Global Effects Can Emerge From Local Actions

"Blame Skelmersdale. When in 1996 Malcolm Walker, head of the £150 million-a-year Iceland Foods, received half-a-dozen letters from the Lancashire town asking him about genetically' modified (GM) foods, he didn't have a clue what they were on about. The next post brought 20 more letters all, again, from Skelmersdale. It was clearly a campaign, but it started Walker thinking. He called, in Bill Wadsworth, his technical director, who ‘put him right’. ‘This GM thing just didn’t sound right,’ said Yorkshire-born Walker, and he wrote back to Skelmersdale saying that Britain’s second largest frozen food company was investigating. The more Iceland found out about genetics, the more Walker was appalled, as much by the speed and secrecy with which the whole food revolution was being introduced as by the major scientific doubts and the lack of choice for consumers. Walker determined to see if it was possible to make all Iceland's 2,000-odd frozen products GM-free. … . just over a year on from the Skelmersdale letters, Iceland has committed itself to removing all GM materials from its own-label foods for as long as possible.... It’s not a crusade, he says, but it is a campaign for something deeply felt and is just the start of Iceland’s battle against GM foods… Food processing is cut-throat and he knows the other supermarkets will try to trip him up. He thinks they are quietly trying to persuade their suppliers to change too. In the meantime, there are rewards. Suppliers are calling in saying they, too, want to change. His staff say they are proud of him. He has received hundreds and hundreds of letters from organisations and consumers. All are in support – except one, from a doctor. ‘Perhaps he works for Monsanto’s,’ says Walker."
Ethics Man
Guardian, 1 April 1998

"The only major food retailer to refuse to ban genetically modified food has changed its policy on the issue. Britain's biggest supermarket chain Tesco refused, in recent months, to bow to pressure to issue a ban on GMs in its own-brand products saying competitors' claims they could achieve totally GM-free status were open to question. However, today Tesco said that a recent survey of customers had confirmed that many were concerned about GM products and one in four wanted them removed from Tesco shelves. Tesco said in light of this it would remove GMs from all products where it was practical to do so and said it was already ‘energetically’ seeking reliable sources of genuine GM-free ingredients…. Over the last three months Sainsbury's, Asda and Safeway have all moved to ban GM foods from their shelves in line with Iceland supermarkets - the first multiple retailer to take the decision."
Press Association, 27 April 1999

"Skelmersdale in Lancashire claims to have started the UK public opposition to GM foods. Hmmm. Something to do with members of its large transcendental community, who in the early 1990s were made aware of these things before anyone else. We do know it is now a hotbed of opposition and that it was letters from concerned locals that set Malcolm Walker, of Iceland supermarkets, thinking. Now some townspeople have published Britain's first independent monthly magazine devoted to GM issues, with the catchy title GM-Free. Details: 01695-50504."
Eco Soundings
Guardian, 24 March 1999

Advertisement For 'GM-Free'
Published In Ecologist Magazine, Vol 29 No 6,  October 1999

ecologistOct1999gmfree.jpg (45534 bytes)

"‘Genetically engineered foods are dangerous; pre-market testing is inadequate and cannot eliminate all possible dangers. Moreover, these foods are not even necessary; the reasons for developing them are commercial, not nutritional. Until they can be shown to be safe, and safe for everyone, these foods should be banned. At the very least they should be clearly labelled, so that people can choose whether to eat them or not.’ This was the message of Dr John Fagan at conferences in London, Skelmersdale and Mentmore, at a London press conference, and in radio interviews throughout the country, at the beginning of June [1996]. John Fagan, Professor of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry at Maharishi University of Management, was visiting Britain for the launch of the Natural Law Party's campaign to ban genetically engineered food. Dr Fagan, who was on a tour of Europe to promote this campaign throughout the continent, is famous for the ethical stand he took against genetic engineering when in 1994 he returned $600,000 in US government grants and withdrew a further $1.2m of grant applications then under consideration. The biotechnology industry, Dr Fagan said, has been blocking attempts to introduce compulsory labelling of genetically engineered foods. In May this year, a meeting of the Codex Alimentarius Committee on Food Labelling, under the auspices of the United Nations and World Health Organization, was persuaded by delegates from the US and other industrialised countries to delay full discussion of this issue for another two years. But by then the number of genetically engineered foods on sale in the shops will have increased hugely. Speaking with Dr Fagan at the conferences in Britain were Dr Geoffrey Clements, leader of the Natural Law Party, and Dr Mike Antoniou, a lecturer and researcher in genetics from London who shares Dr Fagan's views on genetically engineered foods."
Campaign To Ban Genetically Engineered Food
Transcendental Meditation News, July/August 1996

The 1990s

"The Natural Law Party, best known for its attachment to meditation and 'yogic flying', is calling for Dorset to declare itself the first 'genetically modified food free county'. The party's Dorset spokesman, Dr Gerald Napper, is urging the county council to the lead the way in the battle against the controversial food-stuffs.... Dr Napper has put forward a seven-point action plan to the county council to discourage the growing of genetically modified crops and the sale and consumption of genetically modified foods in Dorset."
County Is Urged To Set Trend On Modified Foods
Dorset Evening Echo, 3 September 1998

"The Natural Law Party has congratulated the Local Government Association for its decision today to recommend that all local councils ban the use of genetically modified foods. The Association's Committee for Public Protection voted to advise the 500 authorities in England and Wales to impose a five-year ban on GM foods, in their schools, care homes, and meal services.... The Natural Law Party was the first political party to take a firm stand on this issue, and has been actively campaigning since June 1996 when it launched its Campaign to Ban Genetically Modified Food. Last October, the Natural Law Party began approaching local councils encouraging them to ban genetically modified food locally and make their area a 'GM-Free Zone'."
Natural Law Party supports Local Government Association call for ban on GM food
UK Natural Law Party National Press Release, 24 February 1999

"The following letter from Henry & Sally Brighouse, Natural Law Party representatives in Stroud, tells the story of the rising waves of support to make Stroud the first GMO-free city in the UK: 'When 500 people turned out to deliver a carefully worded document of concern about genetically modified organisms to Stroud's five supermarkets recently, it was clear that a deep concern felt by the people of Stroud was coming into focus. The event was a milestone in a process of education that started three years earlier with the arrival in Stroud of the Natural Law Party's clear and persuasive leaflet outlining the dangers of GM food. We handed it out wherever we could, and took a copy to our then MP who blandly assured us there was nothing to worry about because government regulatory procedures were quite adequate to protect the consumer.... The Natural Law Party had established its identity as the party with a clear understanding of the issue, and the NLP's leaflet about GMOs became increasingly in demand in local shops and cafés. The 1997 general election gave us a new MP, David Drew (Labour), who was more receptive to our concerns and wisely realised that the GMO issue was a serious vote-catcher, in spite of government pro-GM policy. We had gained a voice in parliament. The focus of the campaign was to keep writing letters by the dozen, inspired by our large ongoing exhibition in the Mother Nature food shop in the centre of town.... Our campaign to ban GMOs continues with rising support to make Stroud the first GM-free town in the country."
'The Stroud campaign for safe food'
Natural Law Party News Bulletin, April 1999

In 1996 the Natural Law Party in Great Britain produced the world's first 'street level' mass produced anti-GM campaign leaflet aimed at informing the general public on the subject

To View Copy Of Original Leaflet
Click Here

"Public opposition to GM foods in Europe has been mounting for more than two years, especially in Britain and France. Both Prince Charles and Paul McCartney have come out against the stuff. Now the protests and the tabloid headlines about 'Frankenstein Foods' have reached such a pitch that they're reverberating across the Atlantic. Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman, a longtime backer of biotechnology, admitted as much in a key speech in July. So did Heinz and Gerber when they announced the same month that they'll go to the considerable trouble of making their baby foods free of genetically modified organisms."
Frankenstein Foods?
Newsweek, 13 September 1999

Nearly A Decade Or More Later

"Long-term environmental risk assessment of GMOs should be improved and member states allowed to establish GMO-free zones, EU ministers agreed last week."
EU ministers back GMO-free zones
EurActive, 8 December 2008

"In 2009, 12 EU Member States (including Ireland) formally requested the EC to recognise the right of every Member State to implement blanket bans on GM crops. The Commission may do so in 2010. More than 260 EU Regions, over 4,500 municipalities and other local entities (including 19 Local Authorities in Ireland), and tens of thousands of farmers and food producers in Europe have already declared themselves GMO-free, expressing their commitment to prohibit the use of genetically modified organisms for food and farming in their territories: http://www.gmo-free-regions.org ."
GM-free Irish label good for business
GM-free Ireland Network, 17 November 2009

"Bulgaria's parliament voted on Thursday to tighten a law that effectively banned cultivation of genetically modified (GM) crops for scientific and commercial reasons in response to public fears. The ruling centre-right GERB party decided to drop a planned moratorium on GMO production because the new law would keep the European Union member GMO-free, deputies said. 'There will be no field on the country's territory where GMOs can be cultivated,' Kostadin Yazov of GERB's parliamentary group, said. Non-government organisations, farmers and citizens have rallied for over two months against the government's initial plans to replace a ban with a licensing regime, which they feared would flood the Balkan country with GMO crops. The new law bans GMO cultivation in nature protected areas and large buffer zones around those areas and fields with organic crops which effectively means scientific experiments and commercial cultivation will be impossible in the Balkan country. The amendments also forbid growing crops approved by the European Commission such as the genetically modified potato, Amflora, developed by German chemical maker BASF, and three genetically modified maize types, made by U.S. biotech firm Monsanto. Under the law, fines for perpetrators were raised to up to one million levs ($698,300). Protesters said they were happy with the new law."
Bulgaria approves law to ban GMO crops
Reuters, 18 March 2010

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