GM crops, church schism and others

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GM crops and the cost of birds, bees and butterflies

GM crops and the cost of birds, bees and butterflies

Sir: The simple message from the results of the farm scale evaluation (report, 17 October) is that GM herbicide-tolerant maize can be grown commercially, provided the yields per hectare are similar to conventional varieties, but that GMHT rape and sugar beet should not, unless the yields are so much higher that land can be released as wildlife reserve to compensate for wildlife lost in the crop.

Whether seed is created by GM technology or not is irrelevant. It is the herbicide regime which counts. Herbicide used on the GM crops was more effective for beet and rape and less effective on maize. This meant less or more weeds and less or more biodiversity, because weeds provide the foundation for the food chain. We can't have everything. More weeds mean more biodiversity but lower yields, more imports and higher prices. In short, how many bees, butterflies, birds and cornflowers are we prepared to pay for?

We have a marvellous opportunity for English Nature, the RSPB, farmers, scientists and others to come together and search for optimal compromises with much more confidence. These may include different mixes of conventional, GM and organic crops in different areas. We have a route out of the sterile GM debate - if we have to good sense to follow it.

Solihull, West Midlands

Sir: So Monsanto's Roundup is a "plant protection" product, then (front page report, 16 October)? That is sadly not my limited experience in the garden. Whatever next? Warfarin for rat protection, perhaps.

Redlynch, Wiltshire

Church need not avoid gay schism

Sir: If the Anglican Church is to remain true to scriptural values then we have surely reached the bottom line.

There have often been schisms in the past, causing the formation of new denominations. Here might be the third way, expunging the homosexual aspect from the Church of England whilst giving gay and lesbian people the opportunity to have their own church in which to worship (and, I dare say, in which they would feel more comfortable). Such a new denomination could broadly run along Anglican lines, but not be part of the Anglican Communion.

Considerable upheaval and heartache would undoubtedly be involved, as homosexual priests move from their present parishes, and the question would have to be dealt with in a spirit of mutual respect and, above all, love. The Church of England would then be better placed to continue its dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church unhindered by this moral dilemma.

Twyford, Berkshire

Sir: The trap which so many "conservative" Christians seem to fall into when confronted with "liberal" attitudes, is encapsulated neatly by the bald assertion that the ideal for Christian conduct "is revealed by Christ and transmitted through the scriptures" (Professor David Frost, letter, 17 October).

The Bible is the primary source of revelation for Christians, but not the only one. On this basis, the Christian Church has, over the last 2000 years, freely developed and adapted its doctrine, as the will of God has appeared to make itself known by the power of the Holy Spirit. Such change has not always sat entirely comfortably with the word of scripture as previously understood.

Those who would have every aspect of Christian understanding set in stone are bound to be challenged by this process. But they also need to consider that it may be the Spirit, not just the "liberals" they are resisting.

London EC2

Sir: If Professor David Frost is right, then "practising" homosexuals should not offer themselves to the Anglican Church for ordination because their lives do not sufficiently embody the ideal of Christian conduct as revealed by Christ. He generously admits that he, too, falls short of this ideal, as he is a divorced and re-married man - indeed, he says, no actual human behaviour reflects such a standard.

It would seem to follow that true Christian humility should therefore prevent anybody from offering themselves as Christian ministers, for, as Jesus observed, nobody is in a position to start casting stones.

Professor Frost may reply that only those who hear God's calling should offer themselves, as they have been chosen for the task by a divine authority. But if a gay person believes they have been called by God, who on earth has the authority to decide that they must have misheard?

Reader in Applied Philosophy
Middlesex University
London N17

Sir: Perhaps the appointment of aspirant gay bishops to head programmes to help the hungry, the poor and the sick around the world would help keep those issues in the media spotlight.

Isleworth, Middlesex

Middle East sanity

Sir : Michael Swerdlow's proposal (letter, 16 April) that the Muslim countries surrounding Israel - "with so much land to spare" - could easily solve the Arab-Israeli problem by handing over their surplus territory for the creation of a Palestinian state, has the merit of originality. One wonders why no one has thought of this idea before. My only criticism of Mr Swerdlow is that he doesn't go far enough.

I find it hard to understand, for example, why densely populated Muslim countries such as Morocco or Turkey should wish to hand over chunks of their real estate to the Palestinians, who have their own land after all - albeit one that lies under temporary occupation. Wouldn't it make more sense if the Americans, with vast tracts of empty territory at their disposal, could donate some of their rolling acres to the millions of Jewish Americans in their midst for the creation of a vibrant new Jewish state in the US? The Israelis could then move over en masse to America! This would solve the Arab-Israeli problem at a single stroke - and it would enable over a million Palestinian refugees to return to their ancestral homes in Palestine from which they were so cruelly evicted in 1948.

Admittedly, such a visionary scheme has no chance of acceptance. But then even the brilliantly crafted Geneva Accords, precisely because they are reasonable and sane, haven't the slightest chance of acceptance either. This is because we are dealing with people, on both sides, who are neither reasonable nor sane.


Sir: As one concerned with the Near East for the past 45 years I wish to address just one aspect of the latest scheme put forward for the achievement of peace, namely the treatment of the 1948 refugees' right of return. The majority of the original refugees have unhappily died in forced exile. For the most part, therefore, we are now talking about an inherited right.

I fully accept the justness of all the grievances of what is now the Palestinian nation. But all grievances have to be weighed in the balance for the sake of co-existence in a world where nobody can expect total justice. And the most dispensable grievances are those which do not derive from a direct but from an indirect injury: for example, a grievance maintained rather as a filial duty.

I do not overlook the reality of such a grievance, or suggest that it is trivial; indeed I am aware that filial duty is far more keenly felt in Jewish and Arab societies than in most of western Europe. I simply point out that its satisfaction, especially if likely to prove impossible, ought rationally to be abandoned for greater benefits. Otherwise the grievance just becomes a poisoned chalice, handed down from parent to child.

The descendants of Greek, German, Balkan, Armenian refugees might well consider that they have a right of return to Anatolia, East Prussia, Silesia etc. Clearly, however, the world would be in an even greater mess if they were to become intransigent about it.

The Palestinian contributors to the Geneva Accords deserve every acknowledgement of their courage in avoiding such intransigence.

The Hague, Netherlands

Post pay claim

Sir: Before we moan at the postmen going on strike again, we should consider something. The average postman earns £12,000 a year. They are asking for £300 a week, up from £250, which would mean they'd earn £14,400 per annum. How can they and other people who provide services to London live on these wages?

The next time you drop off your child at the private school in your 4x4, and go to a restaurant or theatre in the evening, recognise that without sensible pay and realistic housing, we will soon have no nurses, postmen or teachers. And of course many workers in the leisure sector on the minimum wage earn even less.

There needs to be a sensible discussion on how this problem can be resolved, that doesn't lead to redundancies to pay the rest a little more.

Richmond, Surrey

Diplomatic victory

Sir: Like a cowboy builder who "accidentally" destroys a listed building to construct a dodgy mate's conservatory without planning consent, Bush has got away with it ("US wins UN vote on Iraq", 17 October).

Crawley, West Sussex

Gun laws

Sir: Alex Swanson (letter, 15 October) rightly points out that there is little correlation between the level of gun crime and gun control. However gun control exists to protect the public from unbalanced individuals who with access to firearms might misuse them. The current laws ensure that legally held firearms are not concealable and do not have a rapid rate of fire, like handguns and pump action shotguns. I would however legalise under license single-shot target pistols, which have limited lethality.

High Wycombe, Bucks

Right to life

Sir: Your report on a family dispute in America over the right to life of a seriously ill woman (16 October) stated that "it couldn't happen here". However, many disabled people still fear the judgements that may be passed on their quality of life when they go into hospital. The real issue in Britain for disabled people is the use - without consent - of "do not attempt resuscitation" notices. We are aware of disabled people who have, by chance, discovered such notices in their medical records. Luckily, they lived to tell the tale.

Assistant Director, Public Affairs
Disability Rights Commission
London WC1

Second last chance

Sir: Of course you can have neither a penultimate nor an ultimate ultimatum (letter, 15 October) and, even if you could, both would be tautological. But you can have a simple penultimatum; indeed, as someone always about to join the Procrastination Society, I find them invaluable.

London SE27