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The Independent Online
We're no GM Luddites

The call for a moratorium on the release of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and, its concomitant, the adoption of the "precautionary principle" is neither anti-science, nor anti-progress (Comment, Alan Ryan, EDUCATION, 1 July).

We, who support this call, are far from being Luddites. But we do fear that the release of GMOs could have far-reaching and unimaginable consequences and, therefore, we demand a cautious approach.

We realise that GMOs cannot be wished away, and that the issue will never be resolved with 100 percent certainty: for certainty is an act of faith of which, in this case, we require a little more.

If, as Alan Ryan says, the debate moves between issues, then it is because they are both complex and interconnected and also, admittedly, because media interest is not maintained by repeating the same points incessantly. But, it is also because we are dealing with a variety of concerns, which range from unforeseen environmental changes through to human consequences.

While to claim that consumers are being poisoned by GM food is a rather emotive response - we are, no doubt, poisoned by many things in the food we eat and the air we breathe.

While much of the debate is based on different and irreconcilable sets of value judgements, we question the claims - made elsewhere by the biotech industry - that GM crops will constitute a revitalised "Green Revolution" and provide a solution for poor farmers in the South [Third World].

Our own work with low resource farmers - in Africa and India - in the conservation and utilisation of their own seeds and resources has dispelled this myth. We also question the morality of false promises which are to be realised through technical quick fixes - when we are all aware of the politics that are involved.

While I agree with Alan Ryan that there is a need for rational debate, clear thinking and a less emotive tone to the argument, there is still cause to remain positive.

The general public, at last, is questioning not only the word of scientists, policy makers and politicians, but asserting a fundamental human right - that of choice - which the unfettered and premature release of GMOs, both here and abroad, might foreclose.

Dr DAN TAYLOR, Director

Find Your Feet, London SE1

Understanding is `weak'

Alan Ryan displays a curiously weak understanding of political and societal dynamics in dismissing the case against GM crops and food. He asserts that we should not look at the "need" for these crops - has he not noticed that the public have to take the risk while Monsanto get the benefit?

So "need" is a perfectly reasonable hurdle to raise.

Years of industrial farming's "innovations" have produced a markedly degraded rural environment, loss of wildlife and negative impacts on rural society. In answer to this, we meddle with biological systems (more complex than mere chemical ones). The same proponents of these previous innovations say of GM crops that "this time we will get it right". And Ryan accuses the organic movement of ideology!


Campaign Centre Director

Greenpeace UK

Bus drivers earn their due

I wonder how many of your readers thought as I did when seeing your headlines ("We're driving our lecturers away", EDUCATION, 1 July) comparing the salaries of a bus-driver to a young university lecturer - with the implied shock that they should be the same.

Why should a young lecturer expect to earn what, say, a London bus-driver earns - with the latter's skill, responsibility, patience and dreadfully unsocial hours of work?

Surely it ought to take some years for a young lecturer to match the bus driver's salary.

We still have a topsy-turvy, academically slanted attitude in this country, which bears no relation to reality, practically or justice. Isn't it high time we confronted these attitudes and gave them serious thought.


Bathford, Bath

City pay overtakes both

Few would argue that a bus driver - trained, carrying a weight of responsibility and working in a stressed environment - doesn't deserve as much to live on as a young university lecturer ("We're driving our lecturers away", EDUCATION, 1 July) .

The comparison with the salaries - often ten times bigger - of young guns in the media or the City would have been far more telling.

It is true that our academics will leave the country in ever increasing numbers if we do not pay them enough - just as it is increasingly hard to attract responsible family men into driving London's buses and trains.


Didcot, Oxford

`Right answers' are vital

So, "real mathematicians are not interested in right answers" ("Working it out together", EDUCATION, 1 July).

How dare we handicap the nation's primary school children in this way, and say that it's OK as long as you can think laterally?

Lateral thinking isn't going to help you calculate mortgage repayments, help save for a holiday, or open many job opportunities for you.

I applaud the introduction of the numeracy hour - but, for heaven's sake, do not give the impression that knowing the right answer is somehow irrelevant.


Kumon maths instructor

Kenilworth, Warwickshire