Preview of Ethical Consumer, Issue 187, Nov/Dec 2020

Ethical Consumer November/December 2020 6 NEWS Food & Home Liz O’Neill, Director of the UK umbrella campaign group GM Freeze tells us how. The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is planning what could be a pivotal public consultation on the status of gene editing in UK food and farming and it’s important that people who value a responsible, fair and sustainable food system take part. Gene editing is the latest form of genetic modification (GM). It focuses on making small changes to DNA rather than moving genes between species but is prone to errors and even the tiniest changes can have devastating unexpected impacts. The first gene-edited crop to be grown commercially is a herbicide- tolerant oil seed rape, engineered to withstand repeated spraying with particular weedkillers. Gene editing is as risky as more established GM techniques and will support the same kind of industrial, exploitative farming. However, it has much better PR. Plans for a gene editing consultation were announced in response to a well-orchestrated attempt to use the Agriculture Bill to deregulate gene editing. Amendment 275 (later withdrawn) would have allowed Ministers to classify gene editing as non-GM and, therefore, exempt from the legal safeguards that have protected our food and our farms for the past twenty years. At the time of writing details of the consultation are still under wraps. Sign up for GM Freeze action alerts at www.gmfreeze.org/ emails to ensure you don’t miss the chance to have your say. What’s going on with Oatly? In recent weeks, Oatly has faced widespread boycott calls, after it was announced that the company had accepted a $200 million investment from private equity firm Blackstone. The firm is part owned by Stephen Schwartzman, who is reportedly a donor for Trump, and has been accused of financial links to companies accused of deforestation in the Amazon. As it is only a relatively small holding of 10%, Oatly’s score has fallen just 0.5 in our table since the investment, still leaving it with a robust 12. The brand lost the half mark under Political Activities, due to Blackstone’s political donations and lobbying. Blackstone itself receives an Ethiscore of 4 in our ratings, losing full marks under Environmental Reporting, Climate Change, Pollutions & Toxics, Human Rights, Supply Chain Management, Political Activities, Anti-Social Finance and Tax Conduct. However, the investment does not necessarily mean a shift away from ethics for Oatly itself. Crucially, as a private equity firm, Blackstone is a passive investor. Unlike shareholders in a publicly traded company, Blackstone does not have any control over the running of the company. Oatly remains above many other manufacturers in our guide to plant milks – www.ethicalconsumer.org/food-drink/shopping-guide/vegan-non- dairy-milk. Oatly says it needed investment to grow and reach more mainstream customers and took investment from Blackstone rather than a specialist green investor to show private equity the benefits of green investment. “Our bet is that when Blackstone’s investment in our oat-based sustainability movement brings them larger returns than they would have been able to get elsewhere a powerful message will be sent to the global private equity markets, one written in the only language our critics claim they will listen to: profit.” But many Oatly consumers have accused Oatly of “selling its soul”. The fact that some of the profits from your purchase will go to this investor is reason enough to avoid the brand, alongside the other links mentioned above. If you do want to avoid Oatly, the following brands of oat milk were our recommended brands. l The Bridge , an Italian organic and vegan company, was a Best Buy in our guide. l Ecomil and Rude Health were recommended buys. Ecomil is a Spanish organic and vegan company whilst Rude Health is a UK company that sells organic oat milk. See an extended version of this article on our website – www.ethicalconsumer.org/food-drink/should-we-boycott-oatly DON’ T MISS THE CHANCE TO HAVE YOUR SAY ON RISKY NEW GMOS © Stepanenko Oksana | Dreamstime.com

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