Show your face for a GM Free UK

GM Free Me gallery - including the author, bottom left. Photo: GM Free Me.
GM Free Me gallery - including the author, bottom left. Photo: GM Free Me.
The UK government is determined to bring GMOs to England', writes Pat Thomas, and changes in EU rules mean this could happen as soon as next year. The way to keep them out is people power - so go ahead and declare yourself 'GM FREE ME'!
By adding your face to the gallery you are showing that people power is alive and well and determined to stop the UK becoming a GM nation.

I believe in people power.

It's a belief that rarely lets me down. An informed and motivated populace is one of our best defences defence against corporate lies, political corruption and media laziness.

And frankly doing things together is more effective and fun than trying to change the world all on your own!

I've seen people power work in my own career. My Behind the Label series for The Ecologist is a good example. Armed with the facts about all the toxic ingredients that get put into everyday products such as food and cosmetics, it gave consumers the confidence to make better choices.

It often provoked an indignant response from companies. But over the years, as the momentum grew and public calls for safer products got louder, many manufacturers began to take some of the worst chemicals out of their products.

And now, people power is just what we need

In the UK we need people power again if we are going to stop the juggernaut of GMOs.

The US experience is showing what people power can do in this regard. People who never really thought of themselves as 'activists' has been motivated to take a stand over issues like GM labelling.

Local groups have been formed, money raised, PR organised and a big noise made - often from somebody's back room or kitchen table - on behalf of a better food future for all. When Vermont became the first US state to vote mandatory labelling of GMO products into law that was people power in action.

But in the UK public engagement with GMOs has slipped somewhat due, I believe, to a very effective PR campaigning by biotech companies to make people feel they are too stupid to join in a discussion that is best left to scientists.

As a result GM campaigning in the UK has become a scientific and academic 'battle of the papers' with each side claiming that the 250 references in their paper are better than the 250 references in the other side's paper. It's not exactly the stuff that fuels headline news.

Worse many of the pro-GM scientists aren't scientists at all but simply corporate lobbyists who plot with politicians behind closed doors. They're hired guns whose job is to shoot first and not ask any questions. Ever.

We need good scientific discourse. We need good scientists on our side to show up show the multiple holes in the pro-GM argument. But GM is not just a scientific issue and scientists by their very nature are not activists and academic papers are not campaigns.

By adding your face to the gallery you are showing that people power is alive and well and determined to stop the UK becoming a GM nation.

Raising the volume

What we need is a Big Noise. We need public engagement and it can't come soon enough.

GMOs have been with us for nearly 20 years. In the early 90s a very visible public and media campaign helped keep them out of our fields and off our plates.

Because of the way that the public discussion has petered out in the UK and in many parts of the EU, people could be forgiven for believing that we are 'safe' from GMOs. But the issue has never gone away.

In reality the GM debate has, for some time, been at a stand-off, with consumers and NGOs largely refusing to accept GM and corporations, politicians and regulators trying to push it into farming and food.

This stand-off has allowed the issue to slip beneath the public radar, leaving many unaware of the latest developments or how these might affect them.

But things are changing rapidly. The biggest change is that the EU coalition that has blocked planting of GM crops has broken up. It is likely that before the end of 2014 the European Parliament will allow Member States to make their own decisions on the planting of GM crops.

This may sound like a good idea, but it creates more problems than it solves. GMOs don't respect geographical borders and yet there is no solid provision for what might happen if GM crops in one country cross-pollinate with those in another.

Likewise, guidelines for opting out are very narrow and even require Member States to seek the consent of biotech companies before opting out. For these and other reasons, oversight at EU level is considered crucial to maintain tight control over the planting of GM crops.

If this proposed change in legislation goes ahead, the UK will likely push ahead with planting without any post-marketing monitoring or co-existence measures (necessary to protect organic and non-GMO farmers) in place.

Declare yourself GM Free Me

Now is the time to speak out. Let's not wait for the horror headlines to appear before we get ourselves organised.

The GM Free Me initiative is one way you can begin. It's a visual petition. Not just another selfish selfie, the campaign ask is simple.

Upload a photo of yourself holding the printable GM Free Me card, or if your are so inclined the e-card for tablets and ipads, and join this lively 'national portrait gallery' of real people of all ages and backgrounds who are tired of politicians, regulators, pro-industry researchers and media pushing genetic engineering technology into our farming and food system and ignoring the concerns and opposition of average people.

Once your photo is uploaded it goes onto a map of the UK divided into political constituencies. The more of us in each area, the more power we have and the more pressure we can all bring to bear locally and nationally.

So why not get your family, friends and colleagues involved too. Then share it on social media (and send it to your MP - there's a button for that onsite!) and encourage others to join in so we can really make a noise.

Does it take longer than posting yet another angry tweet about GM? Yes. But not much longer.

And by adding your face to the gallery you are showing that people power is alive and well and determined to stop the UK becoming a GM nation.



Pat Thomas is an author and campaigner, a former Editor of the Ecologist and Director of the Beyond GM / GM Free Me campaign.


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