IoS letters, emails & texts (12 October 2008)

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Prince Charles's assertions that suicides in India have been exacerbated by the introduction of GM are gratuitous and deeply worrying ("Charles targets GM crop giants in fiercest attack yet", 5 October). As Geoffrey Lean rightly points out, suicides were occurring long before GM crops were introduced, and we cannot condone using the tragic situation faced by some farmers in India for political point-scoring by NGOs.

The reality is that genetically modified crops are already helping over 12 million farmers around the world by delivering more consistent yields of higher quality crops. The vast majority of these farmers are resource-poor growers with small plots of land whose lives can be significantly improved through GM technology.

Prince Charles should ensure that he looks to both the science and the facts before making such rash and inflammatory statements.

Dr Julian Little

Agricultural biotechnology council

London WC1

The Prince of Wales has every scientific as well as social, ethical and moral justification for rejecting GM crops as a way to meet the world's food needs. GM crop technology is a crude and imprecise process that always disrupts natural plant host gene functions with unpredictable and unknown consequences. It is therefore not surprising to find that GM crops have failed to deliver on their promises of improved yields. There already exist numerous underexploited, highly nutritious, versatile and tasty crops such as African rice, finger and pearl millet, fonio and tef that are naturally adapted to grow on marginal land and under harsh conditions and which can meet world food requirements as the ravages of climate change take a deeper hold.

If new crop varieties are needed, then traditional plant cross-breeding augmented with the biotechnology tool of Marker Assisted Selection (gene mapping), to guide and accelerate this process is a safe and more powerful way forward. MAS helps us to work with rather than against nature's functioning as the Prince of Wales generally suggests, and can produce new varieties of crops with genetically complex properties such as enhanced nutrition and taste, pest or blight resistance, drought resistance, salt tolerance and higher yields, which is currently beyond a GM approach.

Dr Michael Antoniou

King's College, London School of Medicine, London SE1

As usual Charlie pontificates from a confused platform. He may have a point re the problems caused for small farmers in India by globalisation – but why conflate that with the entirely separate issue of GM which could be problematic if handled badly but could equally prove a great boon to humanity. As with any knowledge it is what we do with it that counts and therefore what is needed is a rational debate, not the kind of emotive twaddle he goes in for – you can't just try to shut the lid on Pandora's box.


via the message board

Thanks to Ms Lakhani for a brave and powerful article ("Ignored: the mentally ill killed by drugs that are meant to help them", 5 October).

The psychiatric profession in this country has enormous power; they are the only profession who can incarcerate and forcibly administer drugs to people who have committed no crime. It is time that they became openly accountable for their actions and acted with more humility and humanity. As biomedical research progresses, the illnesses that have once been thought of as psychiatric, such as MS, are being increasingly found to have physical causes and psychiatric treatment inappropriate.

I have no experience of schizophrenia but do have severe ME. This has been classified as a neurological illness by the World Health Organisation since 1969 and it has repeatedly been proven to be a physical illness of ongoing infectious cause. Despite this, the UK psychiatric profession has taken the millions in research and treatment funding for themselves while insisting that ME is imaginary. This has prevented sufferers from receiving any biomedical treatment.

Name and address supplied

It is a telling indictment of how far this country has travelled down the road of red-clawed capitalism that the British Communist Party's policy (as presented by its General Secretary, Robert Griffiths, Letters, 5 October) is merely to unwind the damage done by a generation of Thatcherite (Labour and Tory) privatisation. In 1979 only 9 per cent of British industry was in public ownership – yet even that sounds like communism compared to the free-market bear-pit that is Britain today.

Peter McKenna


It is quite amazing to see the way governments and world leaders are rallying around in an attempt to solve the economic crisis and yet their individual and combined responses to issues such as climate change and genocide, I can only describe as underwhelming. I find this situation difficult to comprehend, but rather sadly I suspect it comes as little surprise to anyone.

Gavin Mulligan

Great Finborough, Suffolk

Peter Mandelson rehabilitated? Surely not until he regrows his trademark moustache.

Keith Flett

London N17

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