By Tony Jeffreys
The government decides soon whether or not to allow commercial growing of Genetically Modified crops in Britain. If it heeded public or scientific opinion it would say no to GM.
Not surprisingly, after the BSE catastrophe, salmonella scares and the like, the public doesn't want their food messed with any more. The government consulted widely throughout the summer. 20,000 people went to 675 meetings; the 'GM nation?' website received 2.9 million hits; 36,557 people filled in and returned the feedback forms. The result?
- 93% believe GM technology is driven by profit not public interest
- 86% would be unhappy about eating GM food
- 84% believe GM crops will cause 'unacceptable interference' with nature
- 54% hope GM crops will never be grown in Britain
- 2% would be happy with GM food in all circumstances.
If politics were a matter of pleasing the people, there would be no commercial growing of GM crops in Britain.
So much for public opinion. What about the science?
It is true that people have eaten food derived from animals fed on GM crops for years with no ill-effects to their health reported so far. But that does not rule out ill-effects appearing in the future! Or new GM crops producing ill-effects.
The damage that has been found so far is to the environment, and environmental damage has an unpredictable potential to damage health in the future.
On 16 October the results are due for release of the government's GM crop trials. The trials have mostly hit the headlines for protestors ripping the crops out of the ground. But enough crops have been grown and enough results collected for the scientists involved to tell the government confidently that they are worried about GM.
Oil-seed rape, sugar beet and maize crops, GM and non-GM varieties, were grown in adjacent fields. The GM varieties were sprayed with Monsanto and Bayer herbicides, intended to be used with the GM varieties that are resistant to them. The non-GM crops were sprayed with conventional herbicides. For rape and sugar beet, damage to insect and other plant populations on the field margins was greater for GM than for non-GM crops.
The damage in the above instance is not caused by GM crops as such, but by the spraying that goes with them. But GM crops do have another proven and worrying drawback: their seeds contaminate adjacent crops, and in time, might make everything GM, whether we want it or not.
If the government heeds the public and now the scientists and decides not to allow GM commercial cultivation, it will be going against the EU which recently decided to lift its moratorium on GM, and it will be going against George Bush who backs the agrochemical companies that developed GM.
The US is pushing the WTO to punish the EU for restraining trade: the EU has decided that foodstuffs containing more than 0.9% GM material must be labelled as such. For George Bush, informing consumers represents restraint of trade!
Great claims are made for the benefits of GM. Its champions say it will lead to increased yields - there is as yet little evidence of this - and could solve the problems of world hunger! We are all in favour of science - if GM could be proved to show substantial benefits to mankind, who would resist it? The fact is, that hasn't been proved and isn't likely to be. 1% of GM research so far is aimed at improving the products used by poor farmers.
We don't need GM to solve world hunger: we need democratic politics, to target science and resources on satisfying human need, not the shareholders of commercial companies like Monsanto and Bayer.
'Tractors and trolleys against GM' protest
Monday 13 October, Central London
More details from Friends of the Earth, tel 0808 800 1111
Green Gloves Pledge: "If the UK government gives the go-ahead to commercialise the growing of GM crops I pledge to non-violently remove GM crops from the ground or support those who take action to remove GM crops."
More details at Greengloves website