Leading Article: Less spin, more science

Share
Related Topics
WHEN THIS newspaper called for a moratorium on the introduction of genetically modified crops last February, more than 400 readers immediately wrote to us in support. Hundreds more letters followed. To date at least 2,000 readers have backed our campaign. Their concern is reflected throughout the country. According to the polls, the vast majority are uneasy about GM foods and crops. And, as we report on page one today, the Government's own research suggests that only 35 per cent feel they can trust the Government. Our campaign for a moratorium on GM crops - and for the clear labelling of all foods that contain modified material - has been dismissed as Luddite, even hysterical. We deny the charge. But given the dereliction in matters of food safety by previous governments - and the clumsy spin put on the matter of modified foods by this Government - it is not surprising that there has been confusion.

Consider the events of last week. First Royal Society scientists dismissed the work of Dr Arpad Pusztai with its claim that rats were grievously harmed when fed GM potatoes. Then the British Medical Association warned that such food and crops might have a cumulative and irreversible effect on the environment and the food chain. That was followed by the disclosure that the Government's Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Robert May, agreed with those lobby groups which have demanded that the GM crops now being tested should not be approved for commercial use until at least 2003.

Next there was the first clear evidence that these crops pose a threat to wildlife: researchers at Cornell University had discovered that one of the world's most beautiful butterflies died when it came into contact with pollen from maize with a pest-resistant toxin engineered into it. Finally, on Friday, the Government issued its own review of the subject which declared that there was "no current evidence" that such technologies were "inherently harmful". It announced a "tough" new voluntary code on GM plantings. Critics, like the BMA, said that the moves were not robust enough, while countryside lobbyists said that previous voluntary codes have proved ineffectual.

Vested interests lurk behind so much here. The multinationals, even those with no interest in genetic modification, are determined to oppose calls that sovereign governments, rather than companies, should determine whether the import of GM foods and seeds be restricted. Such a shift would undermine the new freedoms they have acquired at the World Trade Organisation - thanks to international agreements which give free trade primacy over all other considerations. The Government relies on "independent" experts, many of whom gained their expertise in the pay - direct or indirect - of the same multinationals; it then adds to the impression of its partiality with secret meetings in which ministers try to spin the issue, even down to trying to fix which "independent" scientist appeared on the Today programme to support the Government line.

Ambiguities lie behind the claims and counterclaims. It is true that GM technology offers plants with new resistance to pests, so fewer chemicals will be needed. But in the case of GM soya, US farmers now use increased volumes of even more toxic chemicals than before, because the crop is resistant to them and everything else is not, boosting yields enormously. It is significant that the GM giant Monsanto earns half its $9bn income from just one such pesticide, Roundup. Its impact on the vast arable plains of America gives only a hint of the damage it would wreak in Britain's tiny fields and hedgerows.

In the Third World it is true that GM crops offer the possibility of feeding the starving; but they would probably also, like the hybrid seeds of the green revolution which wiped away famine in India in the 1970s, drive the poorest people off their land to make way for those who can afford the new technology. The shanty towns will mushroom.

The key question is: will the benefits outweigh the disadvantages? To answer that we need more information and less spin. That is why, today, we again urge the Government to declare a three-year moratorium on modified crops, and insist that all products containing modified organisms are clearly labelled. That is not hysteria. It is common sense. It is also good science.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Creative Director / Head of Creative

£65K - £75K (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Creative Director...

Recruitment Genius: Female Bank Weekend Support Workers

£8 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: You will need to be able to follow instr...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Luxury Brand

£18000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This global wholesaler and reta...

Recruitment Genius: Store Manager - Department Store

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This organization is one of the founding names...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

'You’re just jealous', and other common misconceptions about the Protein World advert

Hannah Atkinson
David Cameron has said he is not going to “roll over” and let Labour leader Ed Miliband and the SNP’s Alex Salmond wreck the achievements of the last five years  

After five years of completely flaccid leadership, I'm glad something 'pumps up' David Cameron

Joe Sandler Clarke
Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence