Try Red Pepper in print with our pay-as-you-feel subscription. You decide the price, from as low as £2 a month.More info ×
In September last year Professor Gilles-Eric Séralini, a respected French scientist, published the results of the longest running study of Monsanto’s herbicide-resistant ‘Roundup Ready’ GM maize (NK603) and its associated ‘Roundup’ herbicide (generic name Glyphosate).
His toxicology results found that these widely available products caused organ damage, increased rates of tumours and premature death in rats. Monsanto’s GM maize is widely used as animal feed in Britain, and a recent study by Friends of the Earth revealed the active ingredient of Roundup had found its way into the urine of people in over 18 European countries. There were now serious emerging questions to answer about Glyphosate and GM technology. Yet the UK authorities responded by either condemning the study – in the case of the almost comically pro-GM Food Standards Agency – or ignoring it.
Several months later, government ministers, led by food and environment secretary Owen Paterson, announced that they intended to force the EU to relax regulations on GM crops. Not satisfied with this bit of promotion alone, David Cameron went on to pledge £395 million from the UK Aid budget to support private initiatives involved in spreading GM crops in Africa.
Why is the government so confident that the UK public will not object to its recent efforts to support GM technology? Partly because very few people in the UK ever got to hear about Séralini’s study.
Monsanto and the other major agrochemical companies have a far-from-pristine record when it comes to playing dirty with critics. Séralini is no exception. Within hours of the study’s release, an orchestrated media campaign swung into action to discredit it.
At the centre of this process was the UK-based Science Media Centre (SMC), an organisation which claims to be independent and to ensure that the public have access to the best scientific evidence – but in reality represents the interests of biotechnology and chemical companies. The SMC quickly circulated highly critical quotes about the Séralini research from scientists who work closely with the biotech industry. Few of these scientists had ever actually conducted a toxicology study.
SMC director Fiona Fox later said that she took pride in the fact that the SMC’s ’emphatic thumbs down had largely been acknowledged throughout UK newsrooms’. Few newspapers had covered the story, and those that did ‘used quotes supplied by the Science Media Centre’.
Despite these criticisms of Séralini’s work, the journal in which it was published stood by its peer-review process and refused to bow to pressure to retract the research. However, the damage was already done. The SMC’s efforts ensured that few British people heard about the study and those that did were misled into thinking that the findings were not robust.
Answering the critics
As Prof Séralini arrives on these shores for the first time to defend his work and answer his critics, the claims of the SMC look increasingly fragile. The European Food Standards Agency (EFSA), which has very close links with the biotech industry, was initially highly critical of Séralini’s study. Many were, therefore, surprised when EFSA published guidelines for long-term animal feeding studies designed to assess the toxicity and carcinogenicity of GM crops, effectively validating his methodology.
Séralini’s work showed that 90-day tests commonly done on GM foods are not long enough to see long-term effects like cancer and organ damage. The first tumours only appeared after 4-7 months. In July the European Commission and French government announced that they were commissioning new long-term studies on the potential health risks of GM food and feed.
Prof Séralini spoke to a packed room in Edinburgh yesterday, and free public meetings in London, Manchester and Newport will be happening in the next couple of days alongside discussions with UK, Welsh and Scottish parliamentarians.
The initiative, put together by Citizens Concerned about GM, with support from a range of individuals and NGOs, will also feature some good news from unexpected quarters. Resistance to GM in its birthplace, the USA, is having a renaissance. The founders of Food Democracy Now!, a grassroots movement who are at the forefront of the battle against big agribusiness in the States, have been working with over 650,000 farmers and citizens to challenge the stranglehold of GM and its attendant herbicides.
Come along and decide for yourself.
GM Health Risk week is a week of discussions and debates examining new evidence into the risks GM food poses to human health, the food system and democracy. Internationally renowned scientists and commentators including Professor Giles Eric Séralini will present evidence and begin discussions in locations around the UK. See www.gmhealthriskweek.org for details of your nearest event.
Hsiao-Hung Pai meets people affected by the fire, and finds sadness and suffering mixed with a continuing wariness of the official investigations
Chris Williamson MP, winner of the election's tightest marginal, Derby North, and recently reappointed shadow minister for fire services, talks to Ashish Ghadiali about Jeremy Corbyn, the housing crisis and winning from the left
The Corbyn-supporting group is preparing for another election at any moment, writes Adam Peggs – and now has the potential to create powerful training initiatives, union links and party reform efforts
’We believe in you. We are with you. We will never forget.’ Grenfell solidarity sweeps East London in mass banner drops from housing estates
Michael Calderbank profiles Jeremy Corbyn's new supporters in parliament
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) continues to witness devastating political violence, but the world refuses to act. Ishiaba Kasonga and Serge Egola Angbakodolo ask why?
When fire safety has become a privilege for the rich, it’s time to stop austerity and fund emergency mass works to raise standards immediately, writes Jane Shallice
The election result has irreversibly changed political discourse in the UK, writes James Fox
In commemoration of the 30th anniversary of Bernie Grant's election to parliament, Ayo Wallace explores the life and legacy of his radical representation of Tottenham's black communities.
Across Britain, hundreds of thousands of people have now taken part in mass rallies for Corbyn's Labour. Eli Regan soaks up the atmosphere in Warrington
Contribute to Conter – the new cross-party platform linking Scottish socialists
Jonathan Rimmer, editor of Conter, says it’s time for a new non-sectarian space for Scottish anti-capitalists and invites you to take part
Editorial: Empire will eat itself
Ashish Ghadiali introduces the June/July issue of Red Pepper
Eddie Chambers: Black artists and the DIY aesthetic
Eddie Chambers, artist and art historian, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali about the cultural strategies that he, as founder of the Black Art Group, helped to define in the 1980s
Despite Erdogan, Turkey is still alive
With this year's referendum consolidating President Erdogan’s autocracy in Turkey, Nazim A argues that the way forward for democrats lies in a more radical approach
Red Pepper Race Section: open editorial meeting – 11 August in Leeds
The next open editorial meeting of the Red Pepper Race Section will take place between 3.30-5.30pm, Friday 11th August in Leeds.
Mogg-mentum? Thatcherite die-hard Jacob Rees-Mogg is no man of the people
Adam Peggs says Rees-Mogg is no joke – he is a living embodiment of Britain's repulsive ruling elite
Power to the renters: Turning the tide on our broken housing system
Heather Kennedy, from the Renters Power Project, argues it’s time to reject Thatcher’s dream of a 'property-owning democracy' and build renters' power instead
Your vote can help Corbyn supporters win these vital Labour Party positions
Left candidate Seema Chandwani speaks to Red Pepper ahead of ballot papers going out to all members for a crucial Labour committee
Join the Rolling Resistance to the frackers
Al Wilson invites you to take part in a month of anti-fracking action in Lancashire with Reclaim the Power
The Grenfell public inquiry must listen to the residents who have been ignored for so long
Councils handed housing over to obscure, unaccountable organisations, writes Anna Minton – now we must hear the voices they silenced
India: Modi’s ‘development model’ is built on violence and theft from the poorest
Development in India is at the expense of minorities and the poor, writes Gargi Battacharya
North Korea is just the start of potentially deadly tensions between the US and China
US-China relations have taken on a disturbing new dimension under Donald Trump, writes Dorothy Guerrero
The feminist army leading the fight against ISIS
Dilar Dirik salutes militant women-organised democracy in action in Rojava
France: The colonial republic
The roots of France’s ascendant racism lie as deep as the origins of the French republic itself, argues Yasser Louati
This is why it’s an important time to support Caroline Lucas
A vital voice of dissent in Parliament: Caroline Lucas explains why she is asking for your help
PLP committee elections: it seems like most Labour backbenchers still haven’t learned their lesson
Corbyn is riding high in the polls - so he can face down the secret malcontents among Labour MPs, writes Michael Calderbank
Going from a top BBC job to Tory spin chief should be banned – it’s that simple
This revolving door between the 'impartial' broadcaster and the Conservatives stinks, writes Louis Mendee – we need a different media
I read Gavin Barwell’s ‘marginal seat’ book and it was incredibly awkward
Gavin Barwell was mocked for writing a book called How to Win a Marginal Seat, then losing his. But what does the book itself reveal about Theresa May’s new top adviser? Matt Thompson reads it so you don’t have to
We can defeat this weak Tory government on the pay cap
With the government in chaos, this is our chance to lift the pay cap for everyone, writes Mark Serwotka, general secretary of public service workers’ union PCS
Corbyn supporters surge in Labour’s internal elections
A big rise in left nominations from constituency Labour parties suggests Corbynites are getting better organised, reports Michael Calderbank
Undercover policing – the need for a public inquiry for Scotland
Tilly Gifford, who exposed police efforts to recruit her as a paid informer, calls for the inquiry into undercover policing to extend to Scotland
Becoming a better ally: how to understand intersectionality
Intersectionality can provide the basis of our solidarity in this new age of empire, writes Peninah Wangari-Jones
The myth of the ‘white working class’ stops us seeing the working class as it really is
The right imagines a socially conservative working class while the left pines for the days of mass workplaces. Neither represent today's reality, argues Gargi Bhattacharyya
The government played the public for fools, and lost
The High Court has ruled that the government cannot veto local council investment decisions. This is a victory for local democracy and the BDS movement, and shows what can happen when we stand together, writes War on Want’s Ross Hemingway.
An ‘obscure’ party? I’m amazed at how little people in Britain know about the DUP
After the Tories' deal with the Democratic Unionists, Denis Burke asks why people in Britain weren't a bit more curious about Northern Ireland before now
The Tories’ deal with the DUP is outright bribery – but this government won’t last
Theresa May’s £1.5 billion bung to the DUP is the last nail in the coffin of the austerity myth, writes Louis Mendee
Brexit, Corbyn and beyond
Clarity of analysis can help the left avoid practical traps, argues Paul O'Connell
Paul Mason vs Progress: ‘Decide whether you want to be part of this party’ – full report
Broadcaster and Corbyn supporter Paul Mason tells the Blairites' annual conference some home truths
Contagion: how the crisis spread
Following on from his essay, How Empire Struck Back, Walden Bello speaks to TNI's Nick Buxton about how the financial crisis spread from the USA to Europe
How empire struck back
Walden Bello dissects the failure of Barack Obama's 'technocratic Keynesianism' and explains why this led to Donald Trump winning the US presidency