Genetic modification has been presented to the public as nothing more than another step forward in agriculture -- similar to the development of better plants and livestock through selective breeding and methods of cross-pollination and hybridisation.
Yet these existing methods are merely ways of speeding up and directing what are essentially natural processes. Genetic modification, on the other hand, involves the artificial introduction of genetic material into plants -- including from one species into another.
Inevitably there is concern that such foods might have unforeseen harmful effects on human and animal health and on the food chain. There is also concern about the growing of such crops in open fields because the pollen and seeds from the GM plants could not be contained and natural pollination by insects, birds and the wind could not be prevented.
Food safety and the protection of genetic diversity should be of paramount importance. While scientific doubt exists the agri-giants should be denied the government's green light. And there should be no excuses accepted for inadequate labelling of GM foods already in the shops -- consumers have a right to know and a right to make an informed choice.
Some backers of GM foods use the argument that the new techniques would enable humanity to at last overcome the scourge of food shortages.
What cynical rubbish! The world's starving and undernourished millions are not short of food because we do not have the knowledge or techniques to produce enough. The problem is not one of production but of the grossly unequal distribution of wealth.
This very same agri-industry that talks of feeding the world, benefits from policies like the European Union's "set-aside" scheme, which is designed to limit food production in order to maintain prices. Acres and acres of good agricultural land are abandoned to the weeds every year so that growers and producers do not have to lower prices because of surplus production. The starving peoples of the world are not part of this capitalist equation.
In the third world itself there is good land turned over to cash crops like cotton, rubber, coffee and so on. This land could be used to grow food for the people. But the cash crops are needed to earn the dollars and pounds necessary for servicing the debts to the imperialist bankers that these countries are burdened with. The ensuing hunger is a product of capitalism not a lack of agricultural know-how.
In many parts of the third world the need is not for new breeds of super-plants but for enough capital to build irrigation and drainage systems, cash for making improvements to the infrastructure and for agrarian reform to remove the shackles of landlordism.
And food is a problem even in advanced countries. In Britain we lurch from one food scare to another -- one day it is salmonella in eggs and poultry, then it is listeria in cheese, then BSE in cattle, then E-Coli and so it goes on. Successive governments have not inspired public confidence in the handling of these matters and people are, not surprisingly, distrustful of the official advice we are given.
Under our capitalist system, agriculture has been subject to the same process of monopolisation as other sectors of the economy. While small farmers are having a hard time the big syndicates and food producers are more powerful than ever.
The whole business of food production is carried out under the doctrine of market forces. The government only plays a regulatory role to ensure that health, safety and other rules, like those concerning the humane treatment of livestock, are obeyed -- how well this regulation is carried out depends largely on public spending budgets and, as we know, these are always tight.
The whole matter of food production, food safety, and food research shows the backwardness of capitalism.
What is needed is a socialist system of society in which people's needs are the prime consideration, not the interests of private profit makers. And under socialism research and development of new techniques would not simply be regulated -- they would be under full democratic control and geared to meeting our needs rather than the needs of the few who stand to make money from them
And angry Kurds have taken to the streets all over the world to protest at the seizure of Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK) leader, Abdullah Ocalan, by Turkish commandos in Kenya on Monday. Fighting has also erupted in Turkey's second city, Istanbul, with Kurds and Turkish militants setting up barricades in the streets.
Violent clashes are taking place all over Europe and as far away as Russia and Australia by Kurds enraged at the capture of their leader. Greek and Kenyan diplomatic posts have been stormed and hostages taken. Some embassies have been torched. At other demonstrations at least three Kurdish teenagers have set themselves ablaze in protest. In London Kurds rushed the Greek embassy when the news broke that Greece had collaborated in the capture of Ocalan in Nairobi. Over 500 supporters are holding a vigil while the police try to persuade the occupiers to give themselves up.
So far the protests, in the heart of London's diplomatic quarter, have remained peaceful. But a 15 year-old Kurdish girl is in hospital after she set her clothes ablaze on Tuesday outside the embassy.
The hundred or so Kurds holding out in the embassy along with one Greek hostage have vowed to go on hunger strike demanding guarantees of good treatment and prisoner-of-war status for Ocalan, whose Kurdish Workers Party has led the Kurdish resistance in Turkish Kurdistan for over 15 years.
Ocalan had been playing hide-and-seek with the Turks for the past month following his failed attempt to gain political asylum in Rome last January. He entered Kenya using false documents provided by the Greek government who say they were trying to persuade the Kenyans to let him stay in Nairobi.
Ocalan was dragged outof his car by Turkish commandos on Monday apparently on his way to the airport after failing to win Kenyan asylum. He was then bundled onto a Turkish jet bound for Istanbul.
Israel denies any hand in his capture. The Greeks blame the Kenyans and the Kenyans blame the Greeks. But the United States, which has the whip-hand in Athens and Nairobi, said it was extremely pleased at the news of Ocalan's capture.
Greek President Costas Stephanopoulis has denied any role in the Kurdish rebel leader's capture though he conceded that the government may have made "mistakes" in Nairobi. But Greece's ruling social-democratic Pan-Hellenic Socialist Party (PASOK) is under fire from all sides in parliament.
The major conservative opposition party, New Democracy, slammed the government's handling of the Ocalan affair, calling it "bizarre", "dangerous" and "childish". And within PASOK'S own ranks there's calls for the Foreign Minister's resignation.
PASOK MP Costas Bandouvas said his government's conduct was "shameful and a blot on modern Greek history ... rather than protecting him we handed him over and this act is a black page for the government".
In Turkey there's jubilation in the ranks of Bulent Ecevit's Democratic
Left-led government. His supporters have been dancing in the streets rejoicing
at the capture of Turkey's most wanted man. Ecevit no doubt thinks this
coup will boost his chances of re-election in April.
Gloating Turkish television has shown film of a dazed or drugged Ocalan surrounded by hooded guards on his way back to Turkey. He's now in an army camp on Imrali island near Istanbul facing the death penalty charged with "treason" and "mass murder".
And Turkey has ordered its troops back into the Kurdish "safe-havens" of northern Iraq in yet another attempt to crush the PKK backed by the feudal Kurdish chiefs who run the territory under the protection of Anglo-American warplanes.
Kurdish demands for solidarity with their demand that Turkey starts negotiations with the PKK to end the conflict and grants prisoner-of-war status for Ocalan as the leader of a guerrilla movement must be supported.
* The Kurdish community in London is organising a protest in London this Saturday 2Oth February. This will assemble 1.00 pm Whitehall Place to march at 2.OOpm to Trafalgar Square for a Rally at 3.00pm.
Hundreds of trains were cancelled and at one stage 36 stations were closed. These included the busiest central London stations such as Charing Cross, Piccadilly, Cannon Street and Covent Garden.
The LU management has tried to put a brave face on it and massaged the figures but could not hide the extent of the strike from commuters.
Many tried to avoid delays by driving into work and got caught in massive traffic jams. Things were not helped by the closure of the Mall for surface repairs.
RMT general secretary Jimmy Knapp reported that the action was "solid". And the union accused LU of putting passenger safety at stake by running trains through three consecutive closed stations.
The strike came just days after LU had refused an invitation from RMT to meet at the arbitration service Acas.
Instead LU invited the union to discussions at the LU headquarters. But union negotiators soon realised the meeting was a sham and that LU had no intention of serious negotiation ... so they walked out.
Labour Transport Minister John Reid criticised the strike as "unreasonable, unnecessary and damaging to the long-term future of the Underground."
He meant it might put off companies thinking of buying the parts of the tube that the government is planning to sell off.
But he plainly revealed that the Labour government is far from neutral in this dispute.
The RMT was also involved in another industrial action. Members employed by the rail maintenance firm Jarvis will strike for a week between 20 and 26 February in a dispute over pay and conditions.
The firm, which is sub-contracted to Railtrack to maintain track in Scotland, Wales and the West Country, is offering bribes to workers not to strike.
They are offering £100 bonuses to those willing to scab in the south and £300 to those in the north.
RMT assistant general secretary Bob Crow said: "We have been trying to resolve this issue for nearly a year and it would be far simpler if the company sat down and negotiated sensibly with us."
The union has been engaged in a long dispute with the many maintenance firms subcontracted to Railtrack.
Railtrack itself criticised the contractors last week over their safety record and demanded improvements.
The demand came after a sharp rise in the number of track maintenance workers injured and severe criticism from the railway inspectorate, MPs and rail unions.
A record 111 "unsafe acts" were listed in the four weeks to 14 November last year. Over the past year, two workers have died and 58 suffered severe injuries.
Unsafe incidents included "near misses" of workmen on the line, incorrectly isolated sections of electric rail and wrong positioning of signs warning of temporary speed restrictions.
On one occasion a worker on night shifts spent the day between
shifts on a safety course and was then required to resume work the same
night. There have been a number of incidents relating to workers making
errors through tiredness.
Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams MP, who missed the vote to meet Prime Minister Tony Blair, welcomed the result commenting that he hoped Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) leader David Trimble would "take strength" from the vote.
And, as we went to press, Sinn Fein held their first direct talks with the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) -- something they have been requesting since 1997. Persistent UUP refusals to meet throughout the process leading to the Good Friday Agreement, has been the source of much division and delay.
Support from the Unionist camp was split 29 for (UUP and Progressive Unionist Party) and 29 against (UUP and four other Unionist parties). Ten government departments, North-South Council, cross-border bodies, British-Irish Council and civic forum have now been agreed.
The shadow ministerial report by First Minister (UUP) David Trimble and Deputy First Minister Seamus Mallon (SDLP) was broadly supported by Sinn Fein, but Gerry Adams pointed out certain areas of disagreement.
Sinn Fein are particularly concelled that, among other things, the Equality Agenda -- a key plank in their strategy -- remains in the hands of the ministers. Gerry Adams said it was a "negative step" that a separate department is not yet being set up.
The big thorn created by the Unionists that continues to bedevil the process is over decommissioning (handover) of IRA weapons.
Last weekend's Sunday Times interview with Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, in which he allegedly suggested that Sinn Fein should be excluded from the Executive until IRA decommissioning begins, is part of continuing attempts to stall the process.
The Irish premier's supposed view was strongly backed by John Bruton last weekend, but by Monday Ahern denied that he had said Sinn Fein should be "barred" and stated clearly that there could be no Executive without Sinn Fein.
Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness MP graphically iilustrated the absurdity of expecting the IRA to decommission under present circumstances, by displaying a grenade fragment to members of the Assembly which he said had been used by loyalists in an attack upon nationalists in his constituency.
He said: "The background to all of (the decommissioning arguments) is ongoing attacks by the Red Hand Defenders and Orange Volunteers." He said the hardware had been divided up between UVF, UDA and Ulster Resistance loyalists -- the latter associated with Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).
The SDLP's Seamus Mallon MP argued that Sinn Fein showed "courage" in maintaining its stance against anti-Agreement republican elements, and said that any decommissioning had to be undertaken by " a voluntary act or not at all."
The pressure, with the 10 March deadline date for transfer of
powers from Westminster loomming, is now on the British government to follow
through on the Assembly decisions and to resolve the decommissioning issue
before, as Gerry Adams wanred last weekend, the peace process is put seriously
The demonstration was organised by Trident PPloughshares 2000, which aims to eliminate nuclear weapons in Britain by the millenium.
The demonstration was supported by Labour MP Dennis Canavan, the Reverend Norman Shanks who is the leader of the Iona Community and Scottish Socialist Party leader Tommy Sheridan.
Former Scottish National Party Leader William Wolfe was one of those arrested.
He said: "The only way the people of Scotland will get rid of this immoral, illegal obscenity is by becoming independent from Westminster rule."
Strathclyde police said that they arrested 37 demonstrators while Ministry of Defence police arrested another 11.
* British Nuclear Fuels Limited, still state owned, is planning to use its train network te transport food as well as nuclear waste.
Residents of Cricklewood north London,were told by BNFL officials that the company's freight subsidiary, Direct Rail Services is in discussions with supermarket chains Tesco and Sainsbury's on the proposal though both companies deny this.
BNFL chairperson Sir John Guinness last week told local MP Ken Livingstone that there are "no technical reasons whatsoever" to stop these trains from transporting foods, as well as flasks containing spent nuclear fuel.
BNFL has admitted that contamination from transportation of spent nuclear flasks running on the DRS network has been found to be as high as 25 times over the international safety litnit.
There will be a mass detnonstration on Saturday 20 February marching
from Hyde Park to Cricklewood to protest at the transportation of used