Right of Reply: Douglas Parr

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The Independent Culture
The campaign director of Greenpeace replies to Charles Arthur's article on genetically engineered food.

AT LAST, issues with a scientific background have landed where they belong - in the political arena. The issues that confront us with genetically engineered (GE) food are, at root, political. They are issues of power and control over new technologies and the nature of future agricultural policy. Sadly, the Government pretends these can be dealt with by scientific committees examining the minutiae of gene insertion.

With all these questions about GE food and crop safety, has anyone looked at the alternative? In terms of what consumers want and environmental impact there's one winner - organic food. A paper in Nature magazine last year showed that yields of soya and maize were the same from organic agriculture as they were from intensive conventional farming. Why then does Britain have one of the lowest rates of organic agriculture in Europe?

None of this is to say that the science is unimportant - far from it, it is essential. But there are limits to what science can tell us. In this, just as any other argument, you have to look at what values you bring to the (dinner) table. Science cannot answer the political and societal questions: Are gene-foods and crops necessary? What are the alternatives? How fair is it that the British public take the risks and the benefits go to an American multinational? What is acceptable risk? (and there are risks - as even Monsanto's chief executive accepts). If you examine these questions, you may well conclude that we should ban GE food and crops. But coherent answers are conspicuously lacking from government. Tony Blair complains he is frustrated about the debate. Frankly, so are we. Greenpeace has been campaigning on this issue for 10 years now.

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