Biological horrors dominated the British press Monday. The main subject was the food war with France, which has refused to import British beef in defiance of a European Union decision that it is now safe and doesn’t carry mad cow disease. British anger with France was compounded over the weekend by the revelation that French cows are partly fed on processed human excrement. The Sunday Times of London reported that British Prime Minister Tony Blair is “furious” with Agriculture Minister Nick Brown for his “personal decision” to boycott French food. Blair is apparently worried this could precipitate a “full-scale trade war.”
According to the front page of Le Figaro of Paris Monday, Brits have already declared a “war of the supermarkets” against France. This referred to a decision by some British supermarket chains to ban French produce. Le Figaro, in a front-page editorial, called for a compromise. It admitted that France’s flouting of EU rules is not “good for our image,” and it said it would be in the interests of neither country to embark on a new Hundred Years’ War.
The Sunday Times, in an editorial titled “Down With the Baguette,” pointed out–as Le Figaro did–that the balance of Anglo-French trade in foodstuffs is vastly in France’s favor. Rejecting calls for an official British ban on French food imports, the paper nevertheless urged consumers to buy British. “We are well placed to win a trade war with the French if they do not see sense,” it said. “If we stop eating French apples, the pips will soon start to squeak on the other side of the Channel.” In an unusually outspoken editorial Monday, the Financial Times of London described the French practice of “mixing sewage into animal feed, in defiance of European law,” as disgusting–”[t]hat is the only word for it.” But the FT was also against bans on foreign food imports, including American genetically modified foods. “[L]et the consumer decide,” was its conclusion. The Times of London’s lead front-page story Monday said that advice of independent British scientists to ban French meat had been rejected by the government.
The main story in the Independent of London Monday said top American and British law firms are launching a series of class-action suits next month to demand “hundreds of millions of dollars” in damages from the principal companies involved in the production of GM seed crops. Targets of the actions on behalf of farmers in the United States, Europe, Central America, and India are likely to include Monsanto, DuPont, AstraZeneca, Novartis, and AgrEvo, the paper said. The actions would allege “anti-competitive behaviour” in the seed market, “questionable corporate behaviour,” and abuse of dominant positions in the marketplace. The Independent said in an editorial, “This legal action may be the best way to force the food companies to do what they should have done from the start: prove that their innovations are in the public interest.”
The Daily Telegraph of London led its front page Monday with the news that British transplant patients who receive pigs’ hearts or lungs will have to sign a pledge never to have children. They will also have to agree to have their current and future sexual partners registered and monitored by the medical authorities, to “use barrier contraceptives consistently and for life,” and never to give blood. Because of a shortage of human organs, the government has authorized research into the use of pigs for transplants, and Britain already has a herd of “humanized” pigs at the ready. But the authorities plan to introduce the stringent safeguards to ensure that pig viruses do not spread to humans, the paper said. So far, nobody has applied for a pig organ transplant in Britain.
The Guardian of London led on efforts by Celera Genomics, a U.S. biotechnology company, to patent segments of the human genetic code before British-led moves are implemented to prevent the “human blueprint” becoming the private property of a few corporations. It said the company “stunned the scientific world” by claiming to have decoded about one-third of the entire blueprint–the human genome–in little more than a month. “The unravelling of the billions of coded sequences in human DNA (the chemical base of all genes) is expected to revolutionise medicine, and pave the way to genetically based cures,” the paper said. “It could also open up limitless opportunities to influence human evolution by manipulating genetic codes.”
The visit of Chinese President Jiang Zemin to France proceeded with a similar amount of protest to that which he encountered in Britain–and with equally strong police efforts to protect him from it. French newspapers reported Monday that Jiang spent three hours at dinner discussing human rights issues with French President Jacques Chirac, but Jiang told Le Figaro in an interview Monday that “in every country human rights should be managed by its own government in full independence” and that the Chinese government opposed any foreign interference in its internal affairs. The president reiterated that China would use force if necessary against the Taiwan “separatists” and against “foreign forces which try to impede the reunification of China.” Jiang estimated that China will need “at least 100 years” to become a developed country.
The shock success of right-winger Christoph Blocher in the Swiss parliamentary elections led many European newspapers Monday, since it came only three weeks after the triumph in neighboring Austria of Jörg Haider, the Freedom Party leader who has praised Adolf Hitler and called SS soldiers “decent men of character.” Blocher, whose Democratic Union of the Center appeared set to win 23 percent of the vote (Haider won 27 percent in Austria), making it the country’s largest party, refuses to be identified with Holocaust revisionists but is in other respects typical of the far right–he is against immigration and the European Union. The daily Tribune de Genève called his victory “unpleasant,” but said in an editorial that he might be “contained” by a coalition government.