Genetically modified crops are just killing conversation
`Who has the right to condemn a species as a weed. Who's going to stand up for weeds'
Thursday 17 June 1999
"Yes," said the woman with the blue hairdo. "It means they've been having a lot of really boring conversations. I never get inside a discussion on GM food but I run screaming for the exit."
"That's not the point," said the man at the bar. "We can't avoid talking about these things! We've got to face up to it. After all, if the Government has conversations with people who are pro-GM, well, sooner or later they've got to have conversations with people who are anti-GM. Namely, us! And we should know what we think."
"Us?" said the resident Welshman. "You think Tony Blair is going to call us lot in for a chat?"
"Not us specifically," said the man at the bar. "But the public. You never hear of the public being consulted, do you? GM pressure groups, oh yes, but never public pressure groups!"
"Yes, you do," said the lady with blue hair. "You hear about it all the time. Focus groups, they're called. If what you hear is true, Tony Blair is consulting the public all the time, and people criticise him for listening to public opinion too much. Now you're criticising him for not listening to the public. If I were Tony Blair..."
"Yes? What would you do if you were Tony Blair?" I asked her.
"I'd stop smiling so much and get a new haircut," she said suddenly, and then shut up.
"Did you hear Alistair Cooke having a go at us on his Letter From America on Sunday?" said the resident Welshman.
"What, us here?" said the man at the bar. "Us here in this pub? What a nerve!"
"No, no, no!" said the Welshman testily. "The British generally. He said we were all stick-in-the-muds and wary of progress. The Americans were great, he said. They embraced new techniques while we stood fearful on the edge. We resisted pasteurisation of milk against TB and fluoride in the water against tooth decay and everything like that, and here we were, fearful of GM foods while Americans breezed into it."
"What a traitor!" said the blue-haired woman. "We send him over there in 1930 to spy out the land, and now, a mere 70 years later, he's suddenly gone native!"
"He's also gone a bit doolally," said the man at the bar. "He's not comparing like with like. All those things like pasteurisation and fluoride were brought in to combat pre-existing ills! But GM techniques are not pre- existing! We are protesting against something new and untried."
"You're the one that's not comparing like with like," said the Welshman. "GM food is new and untested. But so was fluoride and pasteurisation."
"I'll tell you what you're all leaving out of account," said the man with the dog, neither of whom had spoken thus far. "You're ignoring the fact that we've just had a BSE scare that taught us not to trust governments or scientists. `Don't worry about meat!' they all said. `It's perfectly safe!' They then admitted they were wrong. Now they tell us not to worry about GM foods. No wonder people are worried."
"I'll tell you another thing you're all leaving out of account," said the landlord, who rarely got involved. "You're leaving out of account the fact that most vegetables we eat have already been genetically modified. We wouldn't have big cucumbers and big melons if we hadn't been messing around with their paternity for scores of years.
"And another thing. We mess around with vegetables and fruit and think it's all right, but when we mess around with people, it's called racial engineering and fascism. What Hitler was doing with the Aryan race is exactly the same as what Monsanto is doing with wheat. But one is Nazi racism and the other is agricultural research."
"I don't think Monsanto is planning any holocaust," said someone. "They're not trying to eliminate any race."
"Yes, they are," said the landlord. "They're trying to eliminate whole species of weed. But who has the right to condemn a species as a weed? Wheat was a weed before it was genetically modified! Who's going to stand up for weeds, eh?"
There was a pause. It might have gone on a long time had not the Welshman suddenly laughed.
"Tell you what," he said. "I think I see now why the Government gets involved in so many conversations with the GM people."
"Why?" we asked.
"To avoid getting into conversations with the public like this."
To mark Tolstoy's 186th birthdaybooks
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