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
Guardian, 1 April 1998
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 Skelmersdale 'Small Acorns'
GM Story Of 1996 Shows
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 didnt sound right, said Yorkshire-born Walker, and he wrote back to Skelmersdale saying that Britains 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.
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.... Its not a crusade, he says, but it
is a campaign for something deeply felt and is just the start of Icelands 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 Monsantos, says
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."
"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:
"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 ofDr 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 . 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."
"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."
"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'."
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."
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
"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."
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 ."
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
Bulgaria approves law to ban GMO crops
Reuters, 18 March 2010
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