The series on genetically modified food that has appeared in The Independent this week has revealed how a bogus cancer link was used by an aid agency employee in Africa to scare farmers away from growing GM crops. It has also revealed that Monsanto, the bête noire of the anti-GM movement, now admits that company hubris over its attempts to introduce herbicide-tolerant GM crops in Europe helped to foster a consumer backlash in this country.
Two decades ago, when the very real scare over “mad cow” disease undermined people’s trust in the safety of the food chain, the news of GM food being sold in Britain was greeted with horror. The mistrustful public mood was not helped by home-grown health scares over “Frankenstein food” promulgated by some within the anti-GM movement.
Yet the fact is that no one had been harmed from eating GM food, and there are now many millions of people around the world who eat it regularly. Similarly, there is no convincing evidence that growing GM crops per se is any more destructive to the environment than non-GM crops. This is not to say that we should automatically accept any new GM crop or food product that comes along. The regulatory authorities have to judge each one on a case-by-case basis, as they do in the United States where GM crops have been grown for many years.
A new generation of GM crops is now being developed with obvious health and environmental benefits. We also revealed this week that British scientists are working on a GM variety of potato – the “super spud” – that is resistant to pests and storage damage as well as being more nutritious. If this boosts yields while diminishing reliance on environmentally damaging pesticides then surely this is a win-win development we cannot afford to miss.