Letter: GM hysteria
Thursday 27 May 1999
As you point out, there are two separate issues, food safety and environmental risk. The risk to food safety is negligible. The thousands of proteins which we need to eat are readily recognisable. Modified proteins which pose any risk will be identified long before they reach the plate. The corporations which are introducing modified proteins to the food chain are not in the business of poisoning people. The ferocity of the American legal system will ensure that Monsanto will disappear in a puff of smoke should a real risk of human health occur.
Risks to the wider environment seem to be more complex. However, one fact is very clear. The introduction of GM crops will result in a significant reduction in the application of pesticides to crops. The countryside will not become soaked in agrochemicals. Crops tolerant to specific herbicides will receive fewer herbicides than at present; herbicides will be applied later in the life of the crop, allowing a wider diversity of species to live in the crop for longer; and the herbicides will produce fewer or no residues, which currently collect in minute quantities in ground water.
Concern about superweeds is also greatly overstated. If the gene which confers herbicide tolerance should be passed on to a wild relative of a GM crop, we still have an array of conventional hormone herbicides.
We have been modifying the world in which we live for thousands of years to grow more food, to build cities, to supply industry with power and raw materials. The correct introduction of GM technology to agriculture should give us an opportunity to reduce the human pressure on the agricultural environment. The single most damaging action we take on an acre of land is to plough it up in the first place. To safeguard those areas which have not come under the plough, and to improve those that have, GM crops should be at the forefront.
W R N TAPP
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