Sunday, February 03, 2008

Poland’s Frankenstein GM crop law in the dock


Poland is being taken to the European Court of Justice after it banned GM crops, against the wishes of Brussels.

It was the previous, Law and Justice, government under Jaroslaw Kaczynski which pushed through the Seed Act in May 2006. A Feed Act followed which banned the use of GM in animal fodder.

Not really surprising that the Kaczynski government did that. Much of their support comes from small farms that feel threatened not just by new technological improvements in farming, but of the 21st century in general (and a few other previous centuries, too).

The new Tusk government has said it will maintain the ban - for them it is a 'moral issue' - though some relaxation of parts of the law, on animal feed, for example, maybe possible.

But, at the same time, the government wants to get away from all the Brussels bating that Kaczynski’s government used as sport. No more loggerheads with Brussels, Strasburg, Luxemburg...or wherever it is. But, already, it's back to loggerheads. Problem.

Unlike the last eco-conflict over the Rospuda Valley motorway, environmentalists are rushing to defend the previous, conservative Kaczynski government’s law.

Sir Julian Rose, president of the International Coalition to Protect the Polish Countryside implored the Tusk government not to cave in to the European Commission or the Court of Justice. Polish Radio.

'Don't give up because Poland is a treasure trove of high quality food and the most bio-diverse countryside setting in Europe. It could be the bread basket of Europe for organic and natural foods of the future. This would be the worst moment to suddenly decide that you are going to give in to the corporate lobby and to the European Commission's attempts to force genetically modified food on the public.'
What Rose appears to be arguing for is for Poland to give over its agricultural sector to low yielding organic crops that would increase, drastically, the price of food – at a time when the prices are already soaring, due to the shortage of supply of land.

Organizing your farming sector around growing organics is simply not a viable option, apart from giving over a small amount of land to satisfy middle classes prejudice in the UK and elsewhere.

Termed an ‘independent expert’ in the PR report, someone called Piotr Połanecki, claims that the introduction of GMO would mean changing Poland's farming sector into an ‘industrialized’ monster (something, of course, the communists never really managed to do in Poland).

'The seed regulation and animal feed regulations are very good. Once we introduce them to our environment, GMO plants will contaminate our country and it will be very difficult to enter ecological food markets’.
It works the other way, too. Bans and propaganda against GM has persuaded some African nations to abandon or resist the introduction of crops that would be a great help to them – crops resistant to certain types of diseases, so removing the need to use pestersides; high yield crops so enabling increased production from the same amount of land. But African countries are scared that if they start growing these crops then nobody in Europe might want to buy them.

Are these environmentalists crazy?

Another activist from the Coalition to Save the Polish Countryside thinks not. But Jadwiga Łopata warns, spookily:

‘It is not true that only crazy ecologists are fighting against GMO. In the Coalition we have now hundreds of organizations and VIPs, business and private people and every day someone is joining. So I believe that finally we'll start some debate about GMO and there will be a chance for Polish people to hear what we are facing and how big threats follow from introducing GMO on our table and in our fields. Bog threats’ coming to our ‘table and fields’? She means that GM will destroy the environment and be a threat to our health?

But what threat? Where is it proved that there are dangers to ‘our health’? There simply isn’t any. ‘The science’ – which environmentalists produce when they want to justify authoritarian measures to cut ‘global warming’ – is much more unified on the GM issue than it is about climate change.

The International Council for Science (ICSU), after a review of 50 different research projects concluded: "Currently available genetically modified foods are safe to eat."

A 2003 position paper by the Society of Toxicology found, "The level of safety of current BD [biotechnology-derived] foods to consumers appears to be equivalent to that of traditional foods."

And so it goes on

And what of Americans? They have been eating GM crops for years, and apart from a propensity to vote for governments that seem to think that you can sort the world out by bombing it, they are showing no real ill effects at all.

Only two to three percent of Poles are ‘aware of the issues’ around GMO. I get the impression that some of the people campaigning on ‘the issues’ haven’t got a hang of the facts, either.

But maybe this isn’t about ‘evidence’ or ‘the science’ at all. This is cultural. If you told people at a dinner party in Notting Hill, or even in small town Poland, something had a risk rate of ‘one in a billion’, their reaction would be immediate: “One in a billion! One! You see – there is a risk!”

The unholy alliance of liberals and conservatives in the face of technological progress continues.

27 comments:

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Brad Zimmerman said...

While I can't blame the (millions?) of farmers for resisting this. After all, they are generally low-tech, small-plot (and small-time) farmers. Now, that isn't all farmers but I think it's the vast majority. I don't ever remember seeing any large farm machinery (combines, harvesters, etc) whilst driving around in the countryside but that sort of thing is typical in other countries.

Frankly, I wouldn't really blame the banks either for refusing to loan the cash needed to bring these farms into the 21st century. There's no point when you're only farming 1-5 hectares, if that. You can only grow so much during the 2-3 growing seasons per year on a small farm. E.g.: just enough to live on.

I honestly think that the easiest and fastest way to get Poland's farms into the 21st century and to start producing cheaper, more affordable food is for several enterprising firms to buy up all the little farms and run them like any other business. Of course, that makes the assumption that these "family farms" would be willing to sell ...but given the right price, I believe most of them would.

Farming co-ops aren't necessarily a bad idea but I honestly wonder if Poland's farmers would be interested in pooling their labour/time/money together with their neighbors.

I just don't honestly think they're interested in making a lot of money through a lot of hard work. Rather, a bit of money through a bit of hard work.

Oh and one other little farming note: With the price of Christmas trees being through the roof... why the hell aren't Polish farmers growing them? The pine variety would obviously grow well here and the prices would be fairly low because they'd be local rather than imported as the vast majority are. Tree farming isn't a particularly intensive farming business and it is entirely possible to run them on just 3-5 hectares of land.

Again, this sort of thing makes me think that Polish farmers aren't interested in doing any more work than what's absolutely necessary because they get by right now and that's good enough.

geez said...

And what of Americans? They have been eating GM crops for years" ... "they are showing no real ill effects at all."

Just read the other day that 1 out of every 3 American children are now classified as obese. Not just overweight. Obese.

I'm not sure if there's a correlation with GM foods and if there is one what it is.

But I do know from experience that Polish bread from just about any bakery is tastier and more satisfying and filling than any bread I remember having ever eaten in the US or Canada (and that includes Polish immigrant bakeries).

And there's one in a billion risk of what? That seems extremely low. A bit of exaggeration the other way in favor of GM foods, no?

Then again, has anyone seen that new Will Smith movie, "I am Legend"?

BTW, Brad, just curious.... Do you think there's anything wrong with:

Polish farmers aren't interested in doing any more work than what's absolutely necessary because they get by right now and that's good enough.

Is productivity all there is to life? Or what's most important in life? Why do anymore work than what is "absolutely necessary"? Who decides how much work is "absolutely necessary"?

Also yesterday, I was very much impressed by an incredibly inspirational, hard-hitting speech given by Michelle Obama at a rally at UCLA. I thought Barack was a great speaker and indeed he is. But she knocked my socks off. My guess is that her UCLA speech should be on youtube within a couple days.

beatroot said...

Geez - you have just thrown a large genetically modified red herring into the pot.

Just read the other day that 1 out of every 3 American children are now classified as obese. Not just overweight. Obese.

Can you try and explain to me why that sentence is in a comment about GM? Does GM have more 'secret calories'. Is there something in its genetic cide that makes us eat more?

This is the kind of nonsense that is trotted out everytime GM comes up. Why the irrationality?

Anonymous said...

Beatroot, have you been here long enough to notice the decline in food quality? Poland had to lower its sausage standards to EU levels because German wurst couldn't compete.

Also, the middle class chattering class bating is getting a bit tired. Laws are passed by powerful lobby groups, not by dinner parties in your head.

beatroot said...

...dinner parties in my head.....? Not in my head mate, have been in loads of them.

And you can remain in your nostalgia dreamland, but Polish food production was rubbish during communism, so don't try the 'Polish commie good old days' trick. It won't wash.

And again - what the hell has sausages got to do with GM?

geez said...

How about your red herring, BR? The bit about one chance in a billion of there being a problem? I'd say it's rather less than that. That said, I'm not convinced one way or another on the issue of GM foods.

And I do think people eat more if their food is less satisfying.

And I have noticed that imported Krakus ham ain't what it used to be. Much more fat and strange irridescent (sp?) coloring. I don't even buy it anymore.

geez said...

Meant to say that there's a bigger potential problem than one in a billion.

Anonymous said...

Re: food quality
I said nothing about communism. I'm talking about the last ten to fifteen years.

I don't deny people have dinner parties, nor even that you get invited to them. But agricultural policy is determined by the Monsantos, Unilevers and Smithfield Foods of the world, not your host(ess) who - quite rightly - bemoans the poor quality of food.

The push for GMO foods is part of the drive to standardised, "rationalised" food production, as described in Fast Food Nation and The Macdonaldisation of Society etc. It may be efficient but it's not tasty.

jannowak57 said...

Is Poland becoming the home of the Luddite? PO is pandering to the most primitive and backward elements in Polish society, and ignoring science. The village idiot who has not the slightest understanding of GM crops or the educational background to even comment on the issue now holds a progressive farmer back.

This is all quite simple if you choose not to agree with GM food production refrain from growing it and buying it, but don’t impose yourself on someone else. This agricultural technology has been around for a long time and no correlations have been developed showing any detrimental effects.

The analysis of the Polish agricultural sector shows it to be a national disgrace, a giant welfare scam on the part of an entrenched group of backward and ignorant people. You can not make an economically self sufficient life on a 7 to 12 hectare plot unless your growing dope. In this case the EU has made a bad situation more entrenched by supporting agricultural activities that make no economic sense.

Poland would be best served by destroying the small holding using regulations, taxation and law to force off the land these small landholders. Thus creating much larger farms, which are economically viable.

A logical agricultural policy would be to buy up the smallholdings and provide financial assistance to progressive farmers willing to work larger holdings with modern agricultural methods.

beatroot said...

Geez
You are demonstrating the very confused level of what passes off for debate about GM that I am talking about. Can you give me an example of a scientifically respected review of the evidence that there is a danger to health from digesting GM food? And I do mean a ‘review’, not some one off whacko study that Greenpeace jump on to ‘prove’ that GM ‘causes’ cancer of something?

And where do get the figure that ‘there must be more than one in billion’? The only place you will find it is in your imagination. And that imagination is fed by the irrational anti-risk culture of which I was alluding, satirically to.

Jan – likening Geez’s attitude to Luddites is probably an insult to Luddites. They were crafts people trying to hang on to their craft. I don’t think Geez’s craft is anything to do with GM food. .

Anon: said nothing about communism. I'm talking about the last ten to fifteen years.

I hate to disappoint, but the system of farming 15 to 10 years ago was based on the mess leftover from communist times. And no it was not better then. The rubbish they used to sell in those horrible little shops – I had to throw alot of the potoatoes away for instance, because they were so black.

I would say it is much better now. There is a much better range to choose from thanks to supermarkets. And supermarkets helped keep the price down. And we are going to need more mass produced food sold in large retail units if we are going to continue to be able to have access to food at a decent price.

But there again: even nostalgia ain't what it used be, eh?

jannowak57 said...

It was not my intention to link Geez with the Luddites but rather suggest that irrational techno phobia prevails in Poland. The Luddites wanted to resist the onslaught of mechanization and mass production in order to protect their jobs.

I often wonder if they pass legislation in Poland in total disregard to their EU obligations, why bother if you have treaty obligations preventing such actions?

The Polish agricultural sector employs are large number of people producing a very tiny portion of GDP per capita.

During the PRL food was not only of poor quality but at times dangerous as processing was primitive and not subject to proper controls. Ever hear of a food recall in the PRL. The consumption of foods purchased directly from peasant farmers was enormous; none of the dairy products purchased this way were pasteurized.

geez said...

And where do get the figure... one in a billion

I got it from your:

"One in a billion! One! You see – there is a risk!”

That's ok, I often don't read my own stuff, either.

Also the risk and danger, to whatever it amounts, is not simply or necessarily a matter of digesting food. There can be other health, environmental, economic, and indeed political risks involved. As to the latter: who decides what we mostly eat?

Methinks, too, you are rather cavalierly throwing around weird Wired ideology/epithets without really coming up with anything science-based to counter the studies used by the folks opposing GM.

Again, I don't have much of a horse in this race.

beatroot said...

Jan
It was not my intention to link Geez with the Luddites but rather suggest that irrational techno phobia prevails in Poland.

But Jan, it is not really surprising that small farmers in rural, traditional communities in Poland fear GM. It’s obvious why. It threatens their way of life.

What is much more shocking is western liberals from advanced societies that have no faith in technological progress and when GM is no threat at all to them. They have no faith in the authority of science, reason. And we can hardly blame the backward elements in Poland, that you rightly identify, when their political representatives – both PO and PiS – are equally backward and conservative. And we cannot really blame them either when western liberal structures like the EU give out very confusing signals about GM or anything that has a miniscule risk (which all advances in technology will always, and have always, involved).

So I think that this says more about a crisis in the identity of ‘the west’ than it does about poor farmers in Poland.


Geez
the "One in a billion! One! You see – there is a risk!” was a satire on western liberals irrational fear of risk. They think one in a billion is a 'risk', when it plainly is not.

Why?

geez said...

First you need to establish how much and what kind of risk there is to do this or that. You haven't scientifically demonstrated that there are not significant risks involved with GM foods. You've just pulled an exagerated number out of the hat to ridicule people who question GM foods.

Brad Zimmerman said...

geez: Even homeless and unemployed people manage to survive for awhile, so I guess hardly anyone needs a job - technically.

Back in reality, though, yes there is more to life than work, work, work. That being said, have you actually seen the average farm in Poland? Not just one farm, but many farms? "Destitute", "run-down" and "grossly inefficient" spring to mind.

If Polish farmers want to be "Organic" with a capital O, I say go for it. Get certified and promote as such. I'm guessing right now though that most of them aren't technically organic. Nothing is ever advertised as organic and I've never known a Polish business not to advertise what can be advertised.

Nonetheless, I still stand by my Christmas tree idea. It's not hard, it's profitable, fine for small-plot farmers and allows farmers to still hold down a day job.

Oh and creating laws that drive farmers off their land (jannowak57) is WORSE than the mess we've got now. Let the market economy deal with those small farms. If the price is right, they'll sell. If it isn't, so be it.

PS: I happened to be shopping at Alma yesterday. While the Polish apples looked like they'd been through hell and were practically dripping with wax, the imported Italian ones (Südtiroler Apfel and Rivoira) looked great - almost entirely unblemished. Guess which ones we ended up buying.

PPS: They taste great, too.

beatroot said...

You haven't scientifically demonstrated that there are not significant risks involved with GM foods.

There are many many reviews which say just that, Geez. No risk has been found in GM in terms of health to those that digest them.

So why do you say that there might be a risk?

This is the daftness of what is called the 'precautionary principle'. This says: "Just because we have not found a risk does not mean that there might be one."

That is not a rational argument, but unfortunatly it is part of policy making in loony organizations such as the EU - which has sent out very mixed signals on this and many other things.

If there is no demonstratable risk, then there is no risk. Period.

Anonymous said...

Another spin on the "GM foods COULD be unsafe" hysteria: we know that pesticides ARE unsafe and yet we eat food sprayed with 'em all the time. Occasionally, as currently seen in Japan, people do get sick or seriously ill.

So, go with the devil you know or the one you don't (and might not be a devil at all)?

-Brad, from work (can't be bothered to login).

geez said...

Yea, lotsa reviews commissioned by biotechnology concerns say there's no risk.

Why shouldn't we believe them?

Maybe for the same reason we shouldn't have believed the tobacco companies.

And there have been animal studies that have indicated that there have been problems associated with critters having eaten GM feed.

Since the release of GM foods in the US in the mid-nineties, the incidence of food-derived illnesses has doubled.

I'd like to find out why this is so and to find out if there is any connection to GM foods. Problem is, corporations like Monsanto lobby like hell to ensure that independent studies are not funded by government.

And get this! These biotech agribusinesses are also spending lots of money through surrogate institutes (whose relation to real science is a bit suspect) to push through the corporate agenda:

http://www.gmwatch.org/sart.asp?paid=8

Again, the risk and danger, to whatever it amounts, is not simply or necessarily a matter of digesting food. There can be other environmental, economic, and indeed political risks involved.

opamp said...

Is Poland becoming the home of the Luddite?

What do you think reducing budgets for science and education for the last 18 years results in? Enlightenment?

Anonymous said...

Opamp. This respond is for you.
Enlightenment? No longer – we just trying to catch up with “western” level of education so in order to achieve this we can simple “reduce” our education. Why to learn so much, so many subjects if others learn so little and its ok.
Many Americans (and not only) don’t know basic history, geography but they talking big science. All for MONEY. They have no morals and for money the do / state anything.

Bravo geez - you are brilliant. They (beatroot) so ignorant, they care only about themselves, they stomach and .. pocket.
Beatroot is saying there is no danger? How he is so certain, how easy he believes them (egg. Monsanto – it’s in they interest to convince people about GM – this means big MONEY)

Health hazard, dangerous – yes in Fact very! Half Americans are Sick (and not just, Australians facing similar problems) not just Obese but, mental problems, hyperactivity, aggression (out of control -especially among kids) - They (science) do not talk about this! Why nearly every third person is on ANTIDEPRESSANT (if life is so beautiful). This subject it’s more complex then you think.
And pollution is another (ignored!) aspect.

I’m polish and I tell you – we survive war and didn’t grow the DOPE, you have no war and grows (as we are speaking) the dope (probably to be able to survive) Ha ha PARADOX.

I can give you many examples:

20 – 30 years ago – obesity was unknown in Poland, can’t recall anybody I know to be on antidepressant (although the life was harsh), can’t recall any food poisoning (even amongst those “Village Idiots” as Mr. Nowak called them). In contrary I can give you many examples of food poisoning in Australia and no action from government departments. In Poland similar businesses will be closed forever. We can spend all day talking, as they saying “Talking is cheap”.

You want GM food - your choice stick to it! - Good Luck, but do not tell others how to run they households.
And Do Not Pollute Our Crops – or else we take you to the Court (very American stale)

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