Sunday, 29 January 2017

Will US force the UK to water down GM food rules in a Trade Deal with the USA?

Newspapers are already carrying stories about how the UK may be forced to accept GM food from the USA under a trade deal. But how realistic is this? The answer, ultimately, is probably no, but the probability is that the UK Government will start off by vacillating. This will re-ignite the British GM food controversies that exploded after the first US imports of GM food neared European shores in 1996.

American farmers will undoubtedly press the US Government to demand that the UK abandon EU rules about labelling of GM and to scrap rules which ban imports of milk and beef products from cows treated (in the US) with somatropin (BST). BST is a GM growth hormone enzyme that makes cows more 'productive'.

I actually doubt that the US will achieve a total victory here, although they might be offered some concessions.  The idea that consumers want to know if a food product is made from GM food is well entrenched in British consumer culture, and it is difficult to see how the UK Government could afford to row back from the labelling of GM foods, at least in principle. We should remember that it was the Daily Mail which campaigned vigorously against GM food in the late 1990s with tasty headlines such as 'Frankenstein Food Fiasco'.

There will be a lot of talk about how the UK will now be able to give authorisation to grow GM crops, but the fact is that the big retailers won’t stock anything that has to have a GM label. As a result there is little prospect of commercial GM farming in the UK starting anytime soon. In addition, a lot of US food cannot be sold in the UK since it contains GM food products and the US does not allow GM food to be labelled to allow supermarkets to know the difference between GM and non-GM US food.

It is perhaps even more unlikely that British politicians would be allowed to legalise imports of milk and beef from the US. There is plenty of evidence that cows treated with BST suffer adverse health effects, not least from the side-effects of increase in milk they are induced to yield, and the animal welfare lobby in the UK is, if anything, rather stronger in the UK than even (other) EU countries generally.

Ultimately the areas of conflict are likely to be what the trade negotiators will say are 'marginal' issues. But anti-GM food campaigners won't see it that way. You can see from the coverage of the run-up to the (now abandoned) attempts at a US-EU trade agreement and also the TPP (involving anti-BST Canada) that there were arguments about standards for testing how much GM food and BST milk there is in food imports from the USA. The UK will be under great pressure to water down the 'zero-tolerance' approach to food imports that demands certification on non-GM content that currently obtains under EU rules. The EU didn't give way in its negotiations, but will the Brits have the same resolve? Maybe, eventually, after some prodding from the Daily Mail and a campaign from environmental groups.

Another major point of controversy of course will be the adjudications mechanism used to decide disputes between the US and the UK in a bilateral trade agreement. The proposed EU-US trade deal fell down ultimately precisely on this point. Campaigners in Germany and other EU states pointed out that the adjudication mechanism would allow privileged access by multinational corporations to get their way over environmental and social legislation without any recourse to democratic accountability. Now, at first sight you'd expect the UKIPers under their 'take back control' slogan to involve rejection of such tyranny. Surely much worse than the EU which was at least subject to political pressure from democratically elected politicians? But no, because to some the 'take back control' slogan is but a cover for giving even more control over our lives to the corporations!

We can look forward to a big and long row about the UK-US trade deal!

David Toke is author of 'The Politics of GM Food' (2004, London: Routledge)


Monday, 9 January 2017

How Scotland could double the amount of low carbon electricity being generated for the same amount of consumer spending

A new report written by me has just been published by the Scottish Green Party on how spending on renewable energy rather than nuclear power will result in around twice as much low carbon electricity being generated . It explains how the Scottish Government could be given new powers to fund renewable energy out of the monies that Scottish consumers would otherwise have to pay for new nuclear power.


See Scottish Green Party press release

Executive Summary:

This report argues that the costs of delivering the UK s low carbon programme could be reduced substantially if the Scottish Government were given powers to fund its own renewable energy programme. This could be done by giving the Scottish Government control to spend money that would otherwise be added to Scottish electricity consumer bills to fund the Hinkley Point C (HPC) nuclear power plant (and any other new nuclear plant). UK electricity consumers will each have to spend around £16 a year extra for 35 years to pay for HPC. If Scottish consumer s money was spent on supporting renewable energy rather than paying for their share of Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant then, even on conservative calculations, nearly double the amount of electricity would be generated from wind power as from Hinkley C. The costs of onshore windfarms and also offshore windfarms even on current prices need much less support from consumer surcharges to generate an equivalent amount of electricity compared to HPC. Wind power costs are falling rapidly, with some especially low prices being reported in Denmark and The Netherlands. Under such a programme organised by the Scottish Government the cheapest onshore windfarms could start generating in 2020 and offshore windfarms organised under a new, Danish-style framework, could be online in 2026. The Scottish Government s own preference for renewable energy over nuclear power lends support to the suggestion that the Scottish Government should be able to use Scottish consumers money to pay for new renewable energy rather than new nuclear power. Moreover the best value for money for Scottish consumers in terms of generating non-fossil fuels is likely to come from the Scottish Government having powers to fund its own renewable energy programme from Scottish consumer bills. This is because the Scottish Government will be able to decide on what contract length to offer wind developers, for example offering to pay guaranteed prices for 20 years rather than 15 years as done by the Westminster Government now with renewable energy. Also, the Scottish Government will be able to organise a much more effective offshore windfarm programme than is being done by the Westminster Government. The Westminster Government s methods are increasing the costs of offshore wind by leaving too much uncertainty to be dealt with by developers. The Scottish Government could organise a much cheaper offshore wind programme on the lines done by the Danish Energy Agency. This is likely to lead to lower costs and less confrontation in the courts over planning issues than is the case with the current offshore windfarm programme.