How Sainsbury’s Is Hand-in-Glove with the GM Agenda
Sainsbury’s told The Therapy Book in March of this year that it doesn’t sell any GM foods.
But we have now discovered that the Sainsbury family has been at the forefront of the development of GM foods in this country for some time.
The team of British plant scientists which recently won £6.4 million from the Gates Foundation to develop GM cereal crops are from the John Innes Centre in Norfolk. The John Innes Centre is a co-funder of The Sainsbury Laboratory, which sits upon John Innes Centre land.
So what is The Sainsbury Laboratory or TSL?
The Sainsbury Laboratory
TSL was founded by Baron Sainsbury in 1987 with an ostensible remit to research "plant-microbe interactions". In fact, much of TSL’s work is involved with genetic modification.
For instance, in 2010, TSL was given permission by Defra (Department for the Enivironment, Food and Rural Affairs) to experiment with growing blight-free GM potatoes, despite a Welsh blight-free version being already in existence which had been developed using conventional breeding techniques.
Around this time, £1.7 million of public money was poured into TSL for a wide range of work which included the research into GM potatoes.
One of the project leaders at TSL is Jonathan Jones, who often appears on the BBC trying to persuade viewers to the safety and benefits of GM foods. But the fact that Jonathan Jones was once linked commercially with Monsanto is never mentioned.
As Jonathan Matthews, the spokesman for GM Watch, pointed out:
“The frontman for the latest GM push in the UK is being portrayed as a dedicated public servant doing science in the public interest. But it now appears he not only has vested interests in the success of GM but even has had commercial connections to Monsanto.”
Matthews is referring to the fact that Jonathan Jones founded Mendel Biotechnology, whose biggest customer and collaborator at the time was Monsanto.
Good food champion
But there is also the question of why such a respected brand as Sainsbury’s, which is so linked in shoppers’ minds with good quality and integrity and whose marketing, until last December, was fronted up for 11 years by good food champion Jamie Oliver, is being allowed to be besmirched by this association with genetically-modified foods and Monsanto.
Perhaps an explanation could be found in one of Britain’s richest men, Baron Sainsbury ~ who has been described as a shining example of all that is wrong with mixing business and government.
It was as a mere David John Sainsbury in 1997 that he had the Baronacy of Turville conferred on him, as well as an honorary science degree, by Tony Blair, who then made Sainsbury Science and Innovation Minister. The fact that Sainsbury gave the Labour Party substantial donations, thought to amount to some £16 million, over time, is said not to be relevant.
At the time of his appointment to Tony Blair’s government, Baron Sainsbury put his 23% stake in Sainsbury’s supermarkets into a pseudo-blind trust, with the ability to replace the trustee at will. He currently owns about 5.85% of the family business and wields considerable influence from the House of Lords.
So how is TSL funded? By tax payers money, either via government departments or through the substantial tax breaks which his foundations benefit from.
To break it down, TSL is funded by The Gatsby Foundation (founded by Baron Sainsbury), the John Innes Foundation, the University of East Anglia, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) from which Baron Sainsbury organised the funneling of £800,000 a year of tax payers’ money while the BBSRC was under his political remit.
As Science and Innovations Minister, Baron Sainsbury went to America with members of the BioIndustry Association lobby group of which his own company, Diatech, is an associate member. Diatech took out a patent for a genetic sequence of the tobacco mosaic virus, which is used to genetically modify plants and this was developed at The Sainsbury Lab.
Also while holding his ministerial post, Sainsbury held a substantial stake in Innotech Investments Ltd. At the time, Innotech had money invested in Paradigm Genetics, which was involved in developing GM technology with Monsanto. In 2008, Baron Sainbury transferred £340 millions-worth of his shares to Innotech Advisers, thus saving himself £27 million in Capital Gains Tax.
The case for GM foods
Some are demanding to know why monies funneled into foundations which give their benefactors huge tax breaks, and why additional tax payers’ money, is being used to develop GM crops, when consumers in this country have made their feelings about GM foods very clear.
The John Innes Centre scientists say that they believe that their work will help “struggling maize farmers in sub-Saharan Africa”. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation money will go towards experimenting on cereal crops so that they will be able to receive nitrogen from the air - as peas and beans do - rather than needing chemical ammonia spread on fields.
This reflects the carrion cry of the pro-GM lobby’s message which is: “How else will we feed eight billion people?” ~ in other words, the number that the population of the world is predicted to reach by 2030.
However, apart from the fact that those figures can be shown to be wildly over-guestimated, and that world population figures are flattening out, the other consideration is that GM crops as the saviour of the world is turning out to be a bit of a myth.
How do we know this? By looking at where GM crops have been planted so far.
GM crops are grown in some 29 countries on 3.7 billion acres of land. The US is by far the largest producer, with just less than half of the world’s GM plants being grown in developing countries.
But in the US, where 85 per cent of cereals are GM, crop yields have not increased and it has also been discovered that they create more problems than they solve. There are now very many scientific studies indicating that GM foods are harmful not only to human health but also harmful to the land they are grown in.
In addition, a study from the Union of Concerned Scientists published in April 2009 showed that genetically engineered crops do not produce larger harvests. Crop yield increases in recent years have almost entirely been due to improved farming or traditional plant breeding, despite more than 3,000 field trials of GM crops.
Failure to yield
Pete Riley, campaign director of the group GM Freeze, said there was a realisation by many farmers across the world that "GM is failing to deliver".
"If you look in America, yields haven’t increased by any significant amount and often go down," he said. "Now we’re seeing real, major problems for farmers in terms of weeds that are resistant to the herbicides which GM crops have been modified to tolerate."
But even African and other developing countries are starting to turn against GM crops.
Mike Childs, head of climate for Friends of the Earth, said:
“There is a strong grassroots movement against GM in the developing world largely because, where GM crops have been introduced, they have over-promised and underperformed.
"The solution to feeding Africa doesn’t start with GM technology and certainly not with the GM crops that are being peddled by the big multinational companies like Monsanto."
Duncan Green, head of research at Oxfam, said that changing over to planting GM crops would lock farmers into buying seeds and pesticides from western suppliers and would threaten the tradition of seed swapping which practised by 80 per cent of African farmers.
"When you talk to people in developing countries about how to increase yields, GM comes pretty low down the list," he said.
Emma Hockridge of the Soil Association said:
“We need to be honest about the failures of certain technologies – such as GM – to provide food for a growing global population.
“The majority of the world is fed by small, local, often agro-ecological or organic farmers. Their systems are better for the environment and for animal and human welfare and they offer more resilience to challenges such as oil and fertilizer price rise shocks.”
A spokesman for TSL said that he could not comment on the questions raised about Baron Sainsbury. He did not deny the results of the study produced by the Union of Concerned Scientists. However, he said that…
“This appears to look at herbicide and insect resistant crops, i.e. crops not specifically engineered to increase yield but to reduce the need for pesticide.”
He cited another paper, Economic Impacts and Impact Dynamics of Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis)Cotton In India, which shows higher yields for Bt cotton.
However, higher yields of cotton won’t help to feed the starving millions.
Addendum: A spokesmen from Sainsbury’s, the supermarket, said that Baron Sainsbury only owns a 5.85 % stake in that business and is not involved with its day-to-day running.
© The Therapy Book 2012
About the author
Ishtar Babilu Dingir writes on alternative and holistic health for The Therapy Book, where this article was published.
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