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GMO Debate

Tired of  the stalemate in the GM discussion? For the last 15 years or so, the polarised positions have been locked between those who believe Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) can save the world and those who think they are a major threat to it. Is it time to move on? After all 29 countries allow the growth of  over one hundred million hectares of GM crops. Can we make a health, safety and risk assessment of what is happening? 

Increasingly both sides are claiming they have science on their side, and accusing the other side of distorting science. We need to look and discuss this long and carefully. it raises the role of science in society.  Peter Melchett, Policy Manager of the Soil Association, produced '7 Sins of Science' that claims that the 'Pro GM lobby' may be guilty of bringing science into disrepute with the public.  Clearly, that is a serious allegation, especially when we see the difficulties science is having in the USA, regarding climate change and evolution. We respond to his points with '7 sins of some scientists'. Nevertheless, there needs to be a bigger discussion of the role of science with this technology 

While there is this growth of GM round the world, the  EU decided not to touch any GM, because of the 'Precautionary Principle (Rio Declaration Principle 15). The PP talks of 'threat of serious or irreversible damage'. What is the main threat? While the absolute moratorium has been lifted, approval for GMOs are more difficult than for pesticides. Present state in EU  see News for latest. Is there a time limit for how long the Precautionary Principle is to act? Should we now be able to say 'we have been precautionary for 10 years, what  evidence has built up to make an appraisal of GM crops. 

In recent years the costs of genome mapping, and finding which genes do what, have fallen dramatically. It means that the GM technology is not just in the hands of very big corporations. Now it is also in the public sector, as witnessed by trials this year of wheat strains that may be resitant to greenfly; any such trait would be in public hands. And in the US individual people are buying gene sequences off the web, in order to make fascinating new products that can highlight contamination.  The priorities for particular traits is changing; it is not just the rich who are setting the agenda. 

In 2009, retailers went to the government asking them to open up the debate, as otherwise customers could not expect to continue enjoying such cheap food. More. The then Labour government ignored the request, the  Coalition government has not looked like doing anything either, until Owen Paterson piped up (see News) at Oxford, as did Mark Lynas. The retailers are fearful of consumer reaction. DEFRA:GM & Food Matters Report. Is it time to readdress consumers as to both the concerns  and the opportunities of GM crops?
And we often hear 'the public doesn't like GM'. Yet when asked in Eurobarometer 2010, it was hardly a hot topic.

The Food Standards Agency carry our biennial face-to-face surveys of people in the UK about their concerns over food safety. Here are the FSA study 2014 results. Again GM concerns come in 7th among general population, behind pesticides, poisoning, additives,  prices and date labels.

They said that concern for GM goes up and down, but is on the up here. Peter Melchett (see below and 7 sins) used the FSA study in New Statesman special  to say  “opposition to GM has actually increased and is now at its highest since polls began”.  That is technically quite correct. But in case you thought that the hordes of GM protestors were at the barricades, have a look at the same graph he quotes and decide if that is what your conclusion would be..…….

Some other GM debates

A group called 'Talking of Food' convened a series of discussions between various proponents and antagonists of GM. Full - unedited videos: 

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Charlie Clutterbuck,
Apr 14, 2014, 4:04 AM