Stop GM Foods: Why we must end this now

Joanna Blythman warns of the catastrophe that scientists could unleash on our food

GENETICALLY engineered foods are the biggest threat in history to the safety and integrity of our food chain. Yet there is a good chance you just ate them for breakfast.

Genetically manipulated ingredients are turning up, unlabelled, in everyday items such as bread, cornflakes and margarine, despite every indicator of public opinion showing that we don't want them.

Such products are the thin end of a very dangerous wedge. They represent the initial applications of a new, unpredictable technology which when it goes wrong - and it already has - could have catastrophic, irreversible consequences.

Despite the biotech industry's clumsy attempts to portray genetic manipulations of our foods as natural, unthreatening extensions of natural breeding and "improving" techniques, the truth is that gene technology is being used to create huge, accelerated changes in food that could never occur naturally. This offers big business the prospect of mixing and matching genes to create new, profitable food "constructions", even to the extent of swapping genetic material across species barriers.

But nature is a beautifully organised and complex system. When we start tinkering with that even the cleverest geneticists cannot predict the knock-on effects.

Once altered genes are released into the environment, there is no way of recalling them or predicting what changes they might trigger. New-variant CJD - the human BSE - can theoretically be eradicated in time. When genetic manipulations of our food go wrong, we will need to live with them for ever.

The new gene food revolution is being brought to us by the same profit- driven corporations that gave us pesticides and drugs to prop up the miserable conditions of factory-farm animals. The text remains the same. Only this time it is gene foods that are going to give us better food and save the world from hunger.

We have every right to be cynical. Far from feeding the world, genetic manipulation of the food we eat will simply tie up control of food production - right down to seeds - in their hands. You can forget about organic food, too. Released into the environment, altered genes can end up anywhere.

Gene foods are being foisted on British consumers against our will. A clear majority wants them banned, a call backed by the Conservatives. Yet, only last week, Tony Blair showed how cosy he has become with the biotech industry by dismissing this as based on "prejudice", and preferring to take "best scientific advice" from the same discredited committees and civil servants - wined and dined by the Monsantos of the world - who got it so spectacularly wrong with BSE.

Is this just stupidity? Mr Blair's gene food expert, Jeff Rooker, the Food minister, has already shown himself to be out of his depth. He assures us that gene foods are strictly tested before being released on the market and tells us there are only four foods on the market anyway, so what's the fuss? The truth is that scientists cannot even agree how you can test for safety, because the ramifications of genetic manipulation of foods are so far-reaching, and genetically manipulated ingredients are now in at least 60 per cent of processed foods. Nick Brown, the Minister of Agriculture, says he will get tough and make sure gene foods are all labelled. Come off it. We already know they aren't.

At best, labelling is a token gesture towards informing consumers. Once altered genes are released into the environment, any link in the food chain can be affected.

The Science minister, Lord Sainsbury, who seems to be dictating the Government's gene food policy, has huge commercial interests in the biotech industry as well as being a financial backer of the Labour Party.

We know through leaks that the Department of Health has already asked supermarkets to give it confidential information, gained from loyalty cards, so it can monitor any adverse health effects in shoppers who eat genetically engineered food.

Indeed, it seems desperate to force gene foods down our throats - even to the extent of making government propaganda films in supermarkets.

We are in an extremely frightening situation. Huge risks are being taken with our precious food chain by corporations that will play fast and loose with the environment and public health to line their pockets. Our would-be defenders are in bed with them.

It's down to us to use every consumer trick in the book to call a halt to gene foods now. If we push hard enough, we can make that happen.

Joanna Blythman is a specialist food journalist and author of `The Food We Eat' (Penguin, pounds 6.99)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
newsIt was due to be auctioned off for charity
Voices
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
Arts and Entertainment
Bianca Miller and Katie Bulmer-Cooke are scrutinised by Lord Sugar's aide Nick Hewer on The Apprentice final
tvBut Bianca Miller has taken on board his comments over pricing
News
in picturesWounded and mangy husky puppy rescued from dump
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - 12 Month Fixed Term - Shrewsbury

£17000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Helpdesk Support Technician - 12 ...

The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Planner

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...

The Jenrick Group: World Wide PLC Service Engineer

£30000 - £38000 per annum + pesion + holidays: The Jenrick Group: World Wide S...

The Jenrick Group: Project Manager

£35000 per annum + Pension+Bupa: The Jenrick Group: We are recruiting for an e...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'