UK Arms-For-Agriculture Deal - GM Debate Sham
UK Arms-For-Agriculture Deal - GM Debate Sham Exposed
New Labour's fondness for GM technology is regarded by many as being a reflection of its enthusiasm for big business ( http://www.red-star-research.org.uk/index.html ) rather than of a proper understanding of the scientific, environmental, social and moral issues concerned.
After all the largest donor to the labour party (£9 million at the last count) is former supermarket tycoon Lord Sainsbury, now a minister at the Department of Trade and Industry and Britain's third richest man. He also happens to be a personal investor in agricultural biotechnology as well as being a major force in the Cabinet biotechnology committee which plays a key role in determining UK GM policy ( http://www.btinternet.com/~nlpwessex/Documents/LordSainsbury.htm ).
But how fair is this perception? Given a choice between favouring a handful of high turnover businesses or thousands of small businesses, who is going to win out with New Labour (especially when the party is itself heavily in debt and in serious need of some big cheques as grass root membership declines http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/2357617.stm)?
The brief article below from the Bangkok Post (discovered by the UK's 'Small and Family Farms Alliance' - http://www.ruralfutures.org/about.htm ; http://www.guardian.co.uk/Archive/Article/0,4273,3982038,00.html) would seem to indicate whom is being given priority.
In this case it is the arms trade in the form of British Aerospace (one of country's larger companies, now known as BAE Systems) which it appears is now being given special assistance to the potential competitive disadvantage of British farmers.
In essence, the UK government has agreed to promote sales of Thai agricultural produce in return for British Aerospace arms sales in Thailand (Britain is the world's largest arms exporter after the US http://news.bbc.co.uk/olmedia/1935000/video/_1939250_self3_vi.ram ).
Whilst non-temperate products are unlikely to be a major issue with British farmers, some Thai farm products are capable of being produced in the UK and are already a significant 'competitive' challenge for British producers in both domestic and overseas markets ( http://www.quickfrozenfoods.com/news/readnews_test.cfm?article=578 ).
A particular concern is likely to be that whilst British farmers are being told by the Prime Minister to give up subsidies and compete on the international stage, the British government will end up promoting Thai agricultural products that do not comply with all the social, environmental and animal welfare standards that UK producers are required to meet at home irrespective of which national or international markets they are supplying (earlier this year EU inspectors found traces of cancer causing chemicals in Thai poultry imports http://www.foodmarketexchange.com/datacenter/news/dc_ns_index_detail.php3?newsid=12713. The majority of Thai poultry production is by large corporate producers, including multinationals http://www.fao.org/ag/aga/agap/frg/feedback/war/W6437t/w6437t02.htm ).
That such a situation arises from a desire to give preferential treatment to British arms sales abroad is an extraordinary development, especially at a time when thousands of UK farmers are being forced to leave their industry because they are no longer 'competitive'.
The UK government wants to remove subsidies from British agriculture, but at the same time appears willing to provide questionable economic assistance to potential overseas competitors in order to support the British arms industry - an industry, unlike farming, it shows every sign of wishing to continue to subsidise (the British arms industry currently receives about £420 million per annnum in direct subsidies from the UK government. Indirect subsidies are estimated at £570 million http://www.oxfordresearchgroup.org.uk/1programmes-armstrade-reportoutline.htm).
The Thai-British Aerospace deal indicates that the UK government's efforts to persuade British farmers to live or die by 'competitive' market forces is based on a double standard.
Ironically, in this context, it was Labour's independent commission on 'competitiveness' which was supported by former British Aerospace executive, Lord Simpson ( http://news.bbc.co.uk/vote2001/hi/english/newsid_1329000/1329419.stm ) who, like Lord Sainsbury, was given his peerage after New Labour's election victory in 1997.
The latest news from Thailand comes at a time when the Blair government has been attacked for allowing British companies to supply defence equipment and weapons to both India and Pakistan, two countries that have been in a protracted face-off in one of the world's major trouble spots ( http://news.bbc.co.uk/olmedia/1935000/video/_1939250_blair1_vi.ram ).
Most recently Blair used his October meeting with India's Prime Minister at Chequers to push for a deal on the sale of BAE systems Hawk jets ( http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/2345127.stm ).
Meanwhile Lord Paul of Marylebone, chairman of engineering company Caparo since 1978, is the most influential Labour peer from India who personally, and through his company, has donated at least £328,000 to the Party since 1996 ( http://www.punch.co.uk/newarticles.html ). Caparo also provided one of its directors for the Labour government's 'Competitiveness UK Best Practice Working Party' ( http://www.parliament.the-stationery-office.co.uk/pa/cm199798/cmhansrd/vo980902/text/80902w02.htm).
A subsidiary of Caparo (CMT Dynamics - http://www.cmt-engineering.co.uk/) is reported to have displayed their military products at a recent arms exhibition in India at the same time as British government ministers were visiting the country to promote British trade generally. According to 'Punch' the CMT web site states that it 'leads the way as one of the UK's primary manufacturers of fully compliant mounting systems to meet naval, fighting vehicle and aerospace applications'.
Last year the UK government licensed £122 million worth of arms to India, often for spare parts and related equipment for military aircraft, notably for the British Aerospace's Hawk aircraft. Caparo is a British Aerospace approved supplier ( http://www.caparo-engineering.co.uk/introduc.htm ).
So what's the relevance of this to GMOs given that the UK government is launching a national debate where the initial scoping documentation has already been heavily criticised for bias towards the biotechnology industry?
Well put simply, don't expect the interests of 'little' people - farmers and consumers - to be at the forefront of government thinking. Not if what the Bangkok Post reports is anything to go by, that is.
Indeed, the UK government's approach to both the arms industry and the biotechnology sector appears to be part of a wider management style that one recent BBC documentary on the arms trade referred to as a new form of joined-up-government intended 'to frustrate legitimate public interest in a matter of immediate and paramount importance'. ( http://news.bbc.co.uk/olmedia/1935000/video/_1939250_self_vi.ram ).
Or as one anonymous government minister quoted in the Financial Times 8 July put it when commenting on the national GM debate being launched by the government: "They’re calling it a consultation, but don’t be in any doubt, the decision is already taken.” ( http://members.tripod.com/~ngin/090702a.htm ).
Perhaps we should ask Lord Sainsbury what his role was in influencing that decision?
[Footnote: since preparing this piece we see the Observer has also run reports today on both the arm-for-agriculture item as well as the GM debate. The Observer confirms that even the government's own Central Office of Information (which is charged with managing the debate) has accused the government of operating a sham.
According to an internal report from one of the government's own advisers "This inevitably looks like an attempt to curtail the influence of this 'public debate' on the Government's freedom to do what it has always appeared to want to do, namely to accept commercialisation.".
Observer report on arms-for-agriculture: http://www.observer.co.uk/international/story/0,6903,837136,00.html Observer report on GM debate sham: http://www.guardian.co.uk/gmdebate/Story/0,2763,837288,00.html ] MORE LINKS:
Bangkok Post on 19th October, 2002
Britain signs arms-for-agriculture accord
By Wassana Nanuam
Addicted to arms - Tony's secret vice
Independent, 26 April 2002 (based on a documentary shown on BBC 2
(BBC documentary at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/correspondent/1939250.stm Full programme transcript at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/static/audio_video/programmes/correspondent/transcripts/1939250.txt)
The "Academic-Industrial-Military Complex" Engineering Life & Mind http://www.i-sis.org.uk/EngineeringLifeAndMind.php