Thursday, 27 June 2013

Why Not Wheelie Bins in Cornwall?

Because of Cornwall Council’s dysfunctional approach to waste collection and disposal over the last ten years, which was further confused by the move to a Unitary Authority, this subject is still a source of heated debate and dissatisfaction. Residents who live in houses where it would be appropriate often say that they would like wheelie bins. On the other hand, people who live in terraced houses, for example, which front directly onto a narrow pavement, say quite rightly that wheelie bins would not work for them, because they would have to bring them through the house and have them blocking the pavement on collection day.

But from a cost aspect, it makes sense to operate a single system throughout the area, particularly in view of the Chancellors recent decisions around local government.

Some years ago, Carrick District Council wanted to start a separate food waste collection. The idea was that with a separate food waste collection, residual waste (black bag waste) would be significantly reduced, and would no longer attract vermin. This would allow a considerable saving by collecting residual waste fortnightly instead of weekly. That move in itself would encourage a better uptake of the recycling collection. There would be an overall saving, with money being made from both recycling, and composting of the food waste. Additionally, when a resident saw how much food waste he produced, he would adjust his shopping habits to waste less and save himself money on his shopping.

The research which underpinned this proposal showed that in other areas, schemes designed along these lines had been highly successful, achieving all the benefits listed above. However, the then Cornwall County Council were quick to stop the proposal, for the simple and misguided reason that it would deprive the proposed St Dennis incinerator of feedstock.

Since that time Cornwall has moved from being one of the leading recycling counties to being very near the bottom of the recycling league table.

A relatively small food waste container being collected weekly would be cheaper and easier to manage than the standard wheelie bin and would not need specialised vehicles (depending on the design). The residual waste would be cleaner and odour free, eliminating the very prevalent vermin problem. Once the system was bedded in, residual waste, significanty reduced by the removal of food waste, could be collected fortnightly, with a consequential massive saving. Recycling, collected weekly, would increase, providing additional income to offset some of the waste collection costs.

The likelihood of any of this happening in Cornwall is minimal, for political reasons rather than practical ones. The last administration have already shown that political expediency was more important than financial, and so far this administration appears to row the same boat in the same direction!

Friday, 21 June 2013

GM crops - I am not in favour!

A few days ago I listened to Owen Paterson, Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, being interviewed on the Today programme. Subsequently I read a transcript of his speech in which he sought to both open and close the debate on GM food.

It’s safe! We just need to reassure the public that it is completely safe. Job done!

This from the man who is from the Nigel Lawson school of thought on climate change! (Last I heard, Nigel Lawson’s anti-climate change think tank was being investigated for peddling misleading information to the public!)

I have been keeping an eye on the GM debate for some time now and I must say that in this context I find Owen Paterson really scary! Some of his facts are just plain wrong, and others are based on very questionable research. And now the EU President’s Chief Scientific Adviser, Prof. Anne Glover, has declared that there is no substantiated case of adverse impact etc etc. David Cameron has also decided he is in favour of introducing us all to GM farming.

The difficulty is that no one has even attempted to substantiate any one of the numerous cases of adverse impact!

Poor old Professor Seralini got into really hot water by finding that a particular GM maize produced massive tumours in rats. Monsanto declared that the research was invalid because he used the wrong species of rat, with too few of them to provide a meaningful statistical sample. With Monsanto money behind the anti Seralini campaign, it isn’t surprising that his research was widely regarded as discredited. So most people didn’t get to hear that Prof. Seralini used the same type and number of rats that Monsanto used in their original tests on the same maize, but he did it for longer (hence the tumours). But it is the same Monsanto test results which the US Food and Drug Agency use when authorising the product for human consumption.

There is a lot of material out there on the internet which would cause the average person to think twice before welcoming GM food into his home. Some of it strongly suggests that the actual GM process itself can cause serious health problems. Some of it indicates the harmful effects of the weed killer used. A lot of it documents the contamination of normal crops by GM crops even at a considerable distance. None of it, of course, is substantiated to the satisfaction of Prof. Anne Glover!

Personally I cannot prove that GM food is bad for you. I haven’t yet heard from anyone who can prove it is not; they would need another decade of tests at least to do that. Meanwhile – watch what you eat! Most supermarkets will no longer guarantee that their poultry products (including eggs) have not been fed on GM feed. They claim that the problem is that non GM feed is too difficult to source! In Europe, something labelled as GM free may have a little bit of GM stuff in it (I can’t remember the permissible threshold). Happily most European countries are saying ‘non’, which I consider to be the first good reason I have heard recently for staying in Europe!

Here is the letter I have sent to my MP Sarah Newton, a devout Tory, Deputy Party Chair, who will toe the party line and do nothing to rock the boat:

21 June 2013

Mrs Sarah Newton MP
House of Commons
London SW1A 0AA

Dear Sarah

GM Food
During the past few weeks, culminating in Mr. Owen Paterson’s speech, there has clearly been an orchestrated move towards ‘reassuring’ the public about GM food. I find this deeply worrying and I would be grateful if you could pass my concerns to Mr. Paterson, so that we can be reassured that Mr. Paterson has acquainted himself with all the scientific opinion on the subject, as well as where it is lacking, and not just that promulgated by the industry and the US Food and Drug Agency.

My concerns rest on the following facts.

First; the assumption appears to be that the GM crops being grown in the USA have been adequately tested. But the FDA bases its approval of GM products on tests carried out by the manufacturers of the product, with no independent verification. (There is evidence that these tests are sometimes inadequate and sometimes misrepresented.)

Second; while Prof. Anne Glover, Chief Scientific Adviser to the EU President, has said that there is ‘no substantiated case of adverse impact’ on health (clearly discounting all the numerous health issues which have arisen in the USA during the last ten to fifteen years or so), it is equally true that there is no evidence to show that GM food does NOT do harm. Since GM food does not require to be labelled as such in the US, evidence in either direction would be hard to substantiate.

Third; despite Mr. Paterson’s assurances, I have not been able to discover any evidence that crop yields have been significantly improved over time by the use of GM seed, indeed in some cases rather the opposite. As against that, agroecology, as suggested in 2010 by Olivier de Schutter, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, has been shown to be capable of improving yields significantly in many different contexts.

Fourth; Mr. Paterson believes that growing GM crops would be good for the environment. Up until now this has been shown to be not the case in several different situations from the US to South America to India. One purpose of GM crops is that they can be grown in large areas of monocrop cultivation. This method of agriculture requires that quantities of weed control chemicals need to be used. Experience in the US has shown that after a few years, in order to control poison-resistant weeds, on Monsanto’s recommendation, extra chemicals need to be mixed in to make a more poisonous cocktail. Thus the land, which has already been stripped of nutrients, is drenched in ever increasing amounts of chemicals. Tests already show that in 18 European countries there is significant Glyphosate in the population’s urine, and there is plenty of evidence that Glyphosate is harmful to humans. This can only have come from food which has been sprayed with the chemical, and growing poison-resistant GM crops in Europe can only aggravate that situation.

In the US it is now clear that contamination of a crop in one area from GM crops in another area can be carried hundreds of miles by wild life or wind, which makes a nonsense of buffer zones. (See farmer interviews in the video clip linked below.)

I was greatly relieved to hear that Mr. Paterson is against the patenting of seed. The possibility that we in Europe might fall into the traps set by Monsanto and their like in the US and India is frightening. I would also hope that should we be in the position of allowing GM produce into our food chain, it would be adequately and prominently labelled as such, so that unlike our American cousins we would be able to choose whether or not to buy.

I know that a significant number of farmers polled in the UK by the Farmers’ Guardian said that they would like to grow GM crops. I hope that they, as well as Mr. Paterson, will watch the video clip (link below) of Michael Hart, a Cornish farmer who went to North America specifically to get first hand advice on GMOs from American farmers. It is interesting that the poll of UK farmers also discovered that only 15% would be prepared to eat the product themselves! It is interesting also that there is a growing movement in the US for food producers, where they can, to label their food ‘Certified Non-GMO’ as a result of pressure from the general public. Unfortunately many of those producers have difficulty in sourcing non-GMO ingredients. Furthermore, it is reported that many patients are being prescribed an organic diet by their doctors, specifically to avoid GMOs.

There are a number of studies which indicate adverse effects both from the process of genetic modification and from the chemicals which go with it. Even if we believe that these publications are not conclusive, they should not be dismissed without further study.

Although I am concerned about the effects of GM food on the nation’s health I am far more concerned, given adequate labelling of food products, about the potential harm to our environment, our biodiversity, our wild life and our pollinating insects. It is already evident in this country that large areas of monocrop farming are having a serious effect. (Ironically, the bee population in conurbations such as London is flourishing away from our chemical based agriculture.) The introduction of GM farming, with its sophisticated chemical controls, would inevitably mean an increased assault on our environment.

Mr. Paterson has suggested that he wishes to reassure the public that GM crops are safe and beneficial. But stating it does not make it so, nor will it reassure us. There needs to be proper independent, substantial and robust peer reviewed research, on the crops, and the chemicals that go with them including the degree of their continued use. This research should include the effect on human health, and particularly on the beneficial gut flora which is within all of us.

You will recall the efforts made by the tobacco industry to discredit the evidence that smoking is harmful to health. Equally I am sure you have been aware of similar tactics (often using the very same 'experts'), used by the oil industry to discredit the proponents of the encroaching climate crisis. It has become clear to me in my reading that the GM industry in America has been taking a similar approach. We need to be more certain than we can be at this time that the introduction of GM crops would be beneficial and safe before allowing it or encouraging it to be grown in our fields, because this is a genie which cannot be put back in the bottle.

Yours faithfully

Tim Thomson

Cc Shadow Environment Secretary

Below are details of only a small selection of the available published material, much of it from neutral and peer reviewed sources.

Link to video by a Cornish farmer, Michael Hart, who went to America to find out farmers’ views on GM farming - ‘GM crops Farmer to Farmer’

Link to UN report on ‘Right to Food’

Influence of soy with the gene EPSPS CP4 on the physiological state and reproductive functions of rats in the first two generations
New Ermakova peer-reviewed paper (2009)
Russian Academy of Natural Sciences "Modern problems of science and education" № 5, 2009 UDC: 612.82, 57.02

The Lancet, Volume 354, Issue 9187, Pages 1353 - 1354, 16 October 1999
Effect of diets containing genetically modified potatoes expressing Galanthus nivalis lectin on rat small intestine
Dr Stanley WB Ewen FRCPath, Arpad Pusztai PhD

Eur J Histochem. 2004 Oct-Dec;48(4):448-54.
Ultrastructural analysis of testes from mice fed on genetically modified soybean.
Vecchio L, Cisterna B, Malatesta M, Martin TE, Biggiogera M.

Holes in the Biotech Safety Net by Doug Gurian-Sherman Ph.D

A month has now gone by and I have not yet had the courtesy of a reply!

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Do We Miss The Empire?

Are we still imperialistic meddlers? We (UK, our politicians, our Government) do so often come across as having tunnel vision – and furthermore the tunnel appears to have a bend in it a short distance ahead, cutting off any extended vision! We just don’t seem to be able to see the consequences of our actions.

Forget our interference in the Middle East from early in the last century, brought about by our desire for oil and our belief in our own racial superiority. But we invaded Iraq on the say-so of probably the worst President the US has ever had, and when Bush declared to the world that the mission had been accomplished, he clearly didn’t understand what he had started. And to this day Blair claims that Iraq is a better place now than it was under Saddam Hussein: there are many who disagree!

Afghanistan has been a more complex problem in many ways – certainly some reaction to the 9/11 attack was necessary. However when the US starts something it seldom knows how to finish it, and it seems likely that when we all pull out of Iraq, the nation building will go into reverse.

Syria: now that is a real mess. It seems that Assad was responsible for the start of the uprising, in conjunction with climate change. He failed to support farmers during extreme drought conditions and to survive, the farmers were forced to move to the cities, where work was scarce, accommodation limited and discontent was rife.

Meanwhile we went in to Libya with all guns blazing, to claim our bit of the Arab Spring. I don’t suggest that that particular action was not justified – many lives were saved. But in the aftermath, our rhetoric was not constructive, with the result that the Syrian ‘rebels’ assumed that we (the West) would do for them what we had done for the Libyans. We did very little to discourage that view, whittering on as we did about Assad’s time being up etc. etc. Because we made it very clear which side we were on, the rebels thought they were onto a winner, in the mistaken belief that the West had their back; and of course that drew in a few outside interests like Al Qaeda, and other wannabe jihadists – until gradually the rebels (or ‘opposition’) became an increasingly fragmented collection of groups, mostly with differing agendas.

What next? Oh, yes! We and the French vetoed the continuation of the European arms embargo on Syria! I don’t know who we think we are but a superpower we are not. All other European countries opposed this veto, but we knew bestand that veto certainly fired up the rebels. It also had a few other rather serious consequences. First, Russia indicated that it would consider it permissible to send arms to Assad’s forces. Then Lebanon became involved and Hezbollah sent in the troops to support Assad, which put the rebels in retreat. All this has increased the mass of refugees to neighbouring countries, who are scarcely equipped to cope. Another interesting consequence is that Austria has withdrawn her troops from the UN Peacekeeping force in the Golan Heights, making the border between Syria and Israel more vulnerable and sending out all the wrong signals. Israel of course is, as usual, a little paranoid as well as being well armed!

But why did we insist that the arms embargo be lifted? Oh yes, to send a signal which was supposed to make Assad come to the negotiating table! Yeah, right…As if he needs to! He has no scruples about wiping out anyone in his way – and if we do send in arms, who do we send them to? We just don’t know who is in charge or who will be in a week’s time. But by our grand gesture we have opened the floodgates, provoking an escalation in hostilities, and increasing the potential for neighbouring countries, with their sponsors, to be drawn in. Each side of the conflict is being brutal, and probably each side is using chemical weapons – why wouldn’t they? Assad is rightly confident that Obama’s ‘red line’ on that subject was meaningless.

If we had used different rhetoric after Libya, proclaimed our neutrality regarding Syria from the start, and worked to broker a deal from that neutral position instead of saying ‘Assad must go!’, thousands of lives could have been saved, thousands of refugees might still have a home, and neighbouring countries might have stayed at home.

But Assad’s approach to human rights is unacceptable! Of course it is, as was Saddam Hussein’s and Gaddafi’s, both erstwhile Western allies, loosely speaking, (remember the Blair embrace?) but so is Saudi Arabia’s, so is Bahrain’s. And consider the consequence of a rebel victory in Syria! I know what it would not be – peace!

We cannot remodel the world’s nations in the way some would like. It is presumptuous in the extreme to try, particularly in the light of a strong groundswell of opinion in England against letting anyone enter, or interfere with, the UK!

Our ‘special relationship’ with the USA has dragged us into no end of scrapes – why do we think it is so valuable? It is after all a two way street, isn’t it? Maybe we should just acknowledge the fact that the USA is on the way down and China is on the way up, and that we are a little peripheral country who ought to mind its own business! The only reason we are occasionally invited to the top table is because we are a nuclear power – and there seems to be a diminishing justification for that! It draws in the terrorists like moths round a flame, but if a terrorist went nuclear, who would we fire ours at? We would be like a blind man in a crowded room with a machine gun.

I try to live by this maxim; ‘Happiness lies in being content with what you’ve got.’ It works for me; perhaps it would work for Britain.