Letters: It’s propaganda to say GM has been proven safe

These letters appear in the print edition of The Independent, 7 June, 2013

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Steve Connor’s uncritical regurgitation of GM propaganda (“If GM crops are bad, show us the evidence” 3 June) does little justice to a debate of fundamental significance to future human welfare and planetary impact: global agricultural policy.

Industry claims of reduced pesticide use have been challenged in peer-reviewed literature, which indicates the opposite. Lower carbon emissions (primarily through no-till agriculture) are misattributed, since adoption of the latter mostly pre-dates the introduction of GM in 1996. And, of the much-vaunted productivity gains, there is precious little evidence.

What is evident, however, is that the headline-capturing improvements secured in recent years have all been achieved through conventional plant breeding, and at a miniscule fraction of the cost of GM: the NIAB super-wheat (30 per cent potential gain in productivity); Nerica rice (four times as productive as traditional varieties, with higher protein levels, pest, disease and drought resistance); and flood-resistant Scuba Rice to quote just three examples. Non-GM breeding continues to be far more successful for all of the traits for which the GM industry claims indispensability in meeting future food demand.

The argument that no one has died or fallen ill as a result of GM food is misleading and premature. Epidemiology attests that it can take decades for negative health impacts to be recognised in morbidity and mortality statistics.

It is not necessary for GM activists to “put up or shut up”. Their arguments have been articulated over decades in a now comprehensive case against the corporatist industrialisation of agriculture which has proven so consummately detrimental to our landscapes, biodiversity, soil integrity, plant, livestock and human health, socio-economic welfare and food security; and for which GM represents the latest manifestation of long-discredited, ultimately unscientific, reductionist thinking.

Nigel Tuersley, Tisbury, Wiltshire


Steve Connor is quite right that it’s “put up or shut up” time for GM, but he’s got it the wrong way around. It’s high time that those who are so keen that we buy and become dependent on this expensive ‘“technology” put up proof that it’s safe, before we undertake yet another massive and unpredictable experiment with our one and only ecosphere, in addition to global warming.

The idea that something be considered “safe” just because no one has yet shown it otherwise would not wash with Airbus or Boeing; why should it with Monsanto or Bayer?  Thalidomide, Lindane and DDT were declared safe on this basis, as were many other similar products which later turned out to be anything but. If the benefit is great enough then perhaps we may take the risk, as with, for example, a polio vaccine, but not otherwise.

Then there’s the issue of choice: if Mr Connor is happy to eat these products then he is free to do so, but others must have the freedom not to, and to know when their food is tainted.

Dr Ian East, Islip, Oxfordshire


TB threat from badgers is real

Some of your correspondents have misunderstood my comments on the risk of bovine TB spreading to humans (“Badger cull has no basis in science”, 5 June). Bovine TB led to the slaughter of 28,000 cattle last year and cost farmers and taxpayers close to £100m. We want to eradicate this disease to protect the health of our cattle and welfare of our dairy and beef industries.

Bovine TB is a zoonosis. It now presents a very low risk to people in the UK because of our huge efforts to find and cull infected cattle, pasteurisation of milk and inspection of beef at slaughter. However transmission is possible and does occur to humans and other mammals in small numbers. Naturally, if bovine TB continues to spread, and the numbers of infected cattle and badgers increase still further, the risk of infection to other mammals and humans would inevitably increase.

It is wrong to suggest the Government’s policy of TB eradication is not based in science. The Randomised Badger Control Trials, a large-scale scientific study carried out over 10 years, has shown that culling badgers can make a difference in reducing incidents of TB in cattle when used alongside other cattle controls.

Nigel Gibbens, UK Chief Veterinary Officer, Defra, London SW1


In response to Wendy Irvine (Letters, 30 May), it puzzles me that if I suggest monitoring hedgehog numbers in the badger-cull areas, I am shouted down by the supposedly pro-wildlife lobby. I’m not saying badgers are definitely responsible for the dramatic decline in hedgehog numbers, but they might be, and no one yet knows for sure.

Where I live hedgehogs are seen very rarely and badgers can be seen almost nightly when driving. There are few if any of the factors that are often quoted to explain the decline in hedgehog numbers. The hedge system is virtually the same as in medieval times. There is no mass use of slug pellets by farmers, and Defra Stewardship grants mean farming is less intense here than it used to be. Earthworms are very plentiful as evidenced by an explosion in the population of moles. There is very little additional housing development so traffic has hardly increased.

I don’t enjoy killing things and I think badgers are beautiful animals, but given that badger culls are likely to go ahead, I would like to see plans to monitor hedgehog numbers in those areas too.

Patrick Cosgrove, Chapel Lawn, Shropshire


Mosque attack is attack on peace

The burning of a London mosque (report, 6 June) is as abhorrent as the burning of Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses in 1989 and the Nazi book-burnings in Berlin in 1933. Such incendiary acts are designed to fan the flames of hatred and should be condemned by all  peace-loving people.

Stan Labovitch , Windsor


Last thing Syria needs is more arms

Mounting concern from MPs about the Government’s stance on whether to arm opposition forces in Syria is completely understandable (“Cameron relents to give MPs vote on Syria”, 7 June). While William Hague talks of the “carefully controlled circumstances” under which weaponry might be dispatched, the Government has provided no adequate detail on this.

The urgent question that MPs must ask David Cameron and his colleagues is this: what credible safeguards can be put in place that will ensure UK-supplied weaponry is not used to commit human rights abuses in Syria? And what guarantees can the Government provide over such safeguards?

The difficulties are legion. How can the UK effectively monitor the use of its military equipment? How will officials, sitting in Whitehall or the Ministry of Defence, prevent weapons being transferred  from one opposition group to another? And how do they stop the theft or forcible seizure of arms by extremist groups, including ones allied to al-Qa’ida? MPs and the public will need convincing answers to these and other questions before they are ready to believe that sending weapons to Syria might actually relieve Syria’s suffering, not make it worse.

Kate Allen , Director, Amnesty International UK , London EC2


For Christ’s or Allah’s or Buddha’s or Ron Hubbard’s or David Icke’s sake, please, if you find you’ve backed the wrong side in the Syrian civil war, accept it. Please don’t do a Tony Blair and use the rumour of the use of WMDs (in this case chemical weapons) to justify arming the rebels.

Consider the possibility that Russia may be correct in believing that regime change imposed on an Arab state by the West would be another disaster. Also consider that a victory by Assad would be a major setback for al-Qa’ida and its militant Islamic fundamentalist allies.

Losing face over a bad decision hardly compares with the extra thousands of people losing their lives if this tragic civil war is extended by the West supplying more arms.

John Lewis


This issue needs to be settled through co-ordinated international backing for a meeting between Assad and the Syrian opposition forces. Those who oppose such a meeting can only do so because of their hidden vested interests.

Brian Woollard, London W5


Male doctors are the problem

Those quoted in your report on female doctors and the NHS miss the critical point (“Health minister Anna Soubry criticised for suggesting female doctors who work part-time after having children are a drain on NHS”  5 June). What about the male doctors? If all doctors who are parents were expected to invest some of their time in raising the next generation of employees, then the debate about women doctors in the NHS would end. The problem is how male doctors work, not how female doctors work.

Duncan Fisher, Crickhowell,  Powys


Soldiers in the classroom

Michael Gove has announced  his latest back-to-the-future initiative, harking back to the 1950s: soldiers without degrees can train to be teachers in two years, rather than three.

Is Gove’s motivation a response to: a) the need for more teachers; b) the need to have professionals who will blindly follow orders, however stupid; or c) both?

Gove’s dictatorial behaviour has made the profession unattractive for creative and hardworking qualified teachers.

Jane Eades, London SW11


Green dad

Following Dominic Lawson’s article (“There are green vested interests too... ” 3 June), I would like to declare a vested interest in a green economy: my one-year-old son. Had I but the means, I’d be lobbying hard on his behalf for a cleaner energy future. Lawson disingenuously says that climate change doesn’t threaten the planet, but it threatens every animal on it, including us. And none more so than our children, who will have to live with what comes next.

Dr Richard Milne, Edinburgh



Reading the correspondence on proposed new scoring systems which allow room for expansion at the top (Letters, 6 June) makes me think we should go back to having percentage scores as we were able to before grades were introduced. This can give unlimited flexibility. I clearly remember a mathematics teacher giving several of us a score of 105% in an end-of-term exam. The possibilities are endless.

Pat Johnston, Hexham, Northumberland