Letters: Traditional agriculture beats GM

These letters are published in the print edition of The Independent, 5 July, 2013

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One would think, reading some of Owen Paterson’s statements on GM technology, not that he has “swallowed the industry line on GM crops” (4 July) but that he is knowingly cheerleading for the biotech companies, rather than having a care for the environment which is his ministerial responsibility.

He should read the research comparing US and western European agricultural practices, by a team led by Professor Jack Heinemann of the University of Canterbury, New Zealand, which found that “the combination of non-GM seed and management practices used by western Europe is increasing corn yields faster than the use of the GM-led packages chosen by the US”.

Europe has higher crop yields and less reliance on herbicides and insecticides. In other words, Mr Paterson, we are doing far better than we would be if you had your way. But money talks louder than the facts.

Lesley Docksey

Buckland Newton, Dorset

Hugh Pennington (letter, 24 June) thinks that GM is the best way to see off potato blight. He is perhaps unaware that non-GM traditionally bred blight-resistant potatoes, marketed as Sarpo, have already been successfully developed by the Savari Research Trust, a not-for-profit company based in North Wales. Six of its varieties are on the UK national seed list.

Despite promises of supercrops for the past 20 years, the special features of most GM crops are still related to either herbicide resistance or pesticide production. More complicated traits seem to have been much more elusive.

Golden rice (designed to contain high levels of vitamin A) has not been ready and waiting for 15 years as stated by Owen Paterson – it has been at the research stage for 15 years but has been difficult to produce. The International Rice Research Institute reports that it hasn’t yet been tested for effectiveness in reversing vitamin A deficiency, or for toxicity, and is still not ready for commercialisation.

However, there are many supercrops bred by modern conventional breeding techniques, much more quickly and less expensively than GM crops. For instance, Drought Tolerant Maize for Africa has produced 34 new non-GM drought-resistant maize varieties which have been grown in 13 African countries since 2007, resulting in higher yields and a more assured food supply.

Conventional breeding seems to be outpacing GM in this field.

Elizabeth York


Mags for the lads  – and the lasses

John Moore raises an important point about censorship (letter, 4 July). Hannah Pool’s campaign seeks to ban (or remove from sale in certain stores) items that are legal. Lads’ mags are characterised by photographs of young, semi-clad women and are mainly sold to young men.

Meanwhile, another group of magazines (Closer, Now, Chat,  Take a Break etc) is aimed at  young women and is also  characterised by photographs  of young, semi-clad women, as  well as editorial content that encourages prurience, envy and schadenfreude.

I would not wish to chair a debate on the moral equivalence of the two kinds of publication, I simply conclude that you pays your money and you takes your choice.        

Nigel Scott, London N22


I know what I’ll do, John Moore.  I will start publishing magazines with naked men on their covers, with penises both erect and flaccid, and get the local newsagent and sweet shop to make them readily visible. So that we can let the “lasses” have a good giggle, you understand.

No? Then why should women have to be the subjects of “harmless fun” for the lads?

Sara Neill, Tunbridge Wells


Economics lesson

If schools in future could be run for profit, then could students negotiate how much money is spent on them annually before taking up a place and then renegotiate every year? What would stop students changing schools every year  to the provider offering to spend the most?

Kartar Uppal, West Bromwich


Spice of death?

Having recently reduced my salt intake by a half on the advice of your health correspondent who reported (5 April) that by so doing “death could be prevented”, I was sorry to learn that I am going to be obliterated in a billion years, as research from the University of St Andrews suggests. Might as well go back on the salt!

Dr Nick Maurice, Marlborough, Wiltshire


Food fit for a lord

Knowing the reputation millionaires have for being notorious penny-pinchers, may we assume that Lord Freud is sending one of his staff to the local food bank to get food for him?

Gordon Whitehead, Scalby, North Yorkshire


One way to bridge the divide in Egypt

One way of bridging the divide between secularists and Islamists in Egypt would be to recall the view of many Muslims living in the West who see a secular state as defending the right to religious freedom and therefore protecting Islam.

Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im argues that only a state whose institutions are free of religious bias can enable Muslims truly  to practise their faith, because then they are free from compulsion to do so.

The Qu’ran says: “There is no compulsion in religion.” A precondition is that, as in the US, the state is not permitted to have an official religion. Apart from that, Muslims can practise their faith as enthusiastically as they wish, as Christians do in many Western countries; everyone is free to believe or not believe.

This may be essential to a resolution of this crisis because it settles a question of principle.

Antony Black, Emeritus Professor in the History of Political Thought, University of Dundee


Failings of the rude generation

I am so pleased that most of the letters in The Independent support the idea that it is rude to disregard others and carry on a conversation on the phone when an interaction such as shopping is going on.

My background as a mental health nurse has demonstrated that people’s psychological health can depend on friendly interaction with others. With so many people living on their own, you may be the only person that day who looks them in the eye and says: “Good morning.”

A friendly smile can mean so much to the lonely, the mentally ill or the elderly. Having a chat to the person on the next table in a coffee shop can be so lovely, and I believe both parties benefit.

I encourage families to eat together too and hold a conversation. Unfortunately, I think we have bred a whole generation of people who would rather interact with machines and I fear they will lose the ability to hold a human conversation – but I am hopeful we can challenge this.

Linda Dickins, Wimborne, Dorset


Speaking on a mobile phone while at the supermarket checkout is appalling behaviour and I am shocked that Sainsbury’s did not support the cashier who refused to serve this very rude woman. There are many other instances where speaking on a mobile is rude, such as when buying bus or train tickets, paying the bill in a restaurant, paying a taxi driver, in a quiet zone on a train and so on.

If this incident leads to an improvement in behaviour, so much the better. We have become a nation where good manners are no longer the norm.

Maria Twist, Sutton Coldfield


If Jo Clarke now intends to talk on her mobile in front of staff at Waitrose because a Sainsbury’s checkout person refused to serve her for doing so (“I’ll go to Waitrose instead”), I trust that such bad manners will receive an equally dusty response from anyone who works for this civilised company.

Andrew Keener, New Malden


Now that we have bus and cycle lanes in our towns and cities, I feel we should also provide special lanes on our pavements for those imbeciles who insist on staring at their smart phones while they are walking along crowded streets. At least it will help to prevent elderly people from being knocked over by their inconsiderate behaviour.

Ivor Yeloff, Hethersett, Norfolk


So hard to get the right teachers

I agree wholeheartedly with the idea of the new “tech level” for sixth-formers to run alongside A-levels. But, as with so many innovations in education  these days, the idea is one thing, the delivery is something else entirely.

Where are the suitably qualified and experienced teachers going to come from? They will have to be able to deliver the “stretching subject knowledge” and have the “hard-nosed practical experience” that will be required.

Anyone with suitable qualifications and experience will already be working in the business world and earning quite a bit more than the average teacher. Why change?

Teaching, as I know from personal experience, is a  rewarding profession in many  ways other than financial, so maybe there will be some disenchanted business employees who will prefer to put something back into society.

But will schools be able to  attract enough highly motivated, suitably qualified teachers by 2016? I doubt it.

Louise Thomas, Abingdon, Oxfordshire


Why on earth is Michael Gove unveiling a new “tech level” to run alongside A-levels when there is an existing BTEC National Diploma course (roughly equivalent to three A-levels) which is aimed at those who require a more technical-based education?

Alan Gregory, Principal Engineering Design Systems Engineer, WorleyParsons Europe, Stockport


CHCs still support Welsh patients

John Henderson (letter, 1 July) mentioned the value of Community Health Councils (CHCs) in monitoring the quality of local health services. I couldn’t agree more.

Whereas they were abolished in England in 2003, here in Wales they are still alive and very  much kicking.

We’ve got a statutory duty to represent the interests of patients and support people who wish to make a complaint about their care, and we still have rights backed by law to enter and inspect health premises in our area.

Each CHC has a council of voluntary members drawn from our local communities, supported by a small team of paid staff in local CHC offices. We think they’re still a really good idea.

Dr Paul Worthington, Maes-y-Coed, Pontypridd