Genetically Modified Food
The Social Issues Research Centre believes in a balanced debate on issues such as genetically modified foods. In place of the hysteria generated by organisations such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth concerning genetic modification, we focus on scientific evidence and rational thinking. The public has a right to be fully informed about all issues which relate to food and health. Scare stories and images of Frankenstein, however, do nothing at all help us make sensible decisions. Nor should we rely simply on the word of companies such as Monsanto, Novartis, and Agrevo.
You will find a number of relevant articles about genetically modified foods on the SIRC site by following the links below.
- Of public interest?. "Genetically Engineered Foods On The Market Appear To Be Safe" says the headline. In an article strongly supportive of GMOs we read: "The tomatoes, potatoes, and wheat we buy in the supermarket have been drastically altered by breeding them with wild relatives, and those products are considered safe"
Genetically engineered crops could be a boon to farmers and consumers, especially in developing countries." So where does this gushing pro-biotech announcement come from? A Monsanto-funded campaign group, or a research centre which serves the interests of the multinational ag-bio companies? Far from it. It comes from a press release issued by the Center for Science in the Public Interest - an advocacy group based in Washington DC.
- The role of science in sustainable agriculture by Boru Douthwaite, Impact and Adoption Specialist, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Ibadan, Nigeria. "Biotechnology is a suit of tools that allows plant breeders to introduce a greater array of novelty into their plant varieties, and select which work, much faster than they could using conventional plant breeding techniques. There is nothing inherently evil or Frankenstein-like about genetically modified plants." SIRC Editorial.
- A rice dilemma. The development of Golden Rice by scientists funded by the Rockefeller Foundation has presented Greenpeace and other anti-GM groups with a moral dilemma. To what extent do these groups wish to be seen as opposing a crop which, through its genetically engineered fortification with Vitamin A, may play a key role in reducing blindness in Africa and Asia which results from a deficiency of that vitamin? Should the moral crusade against imagined 'pollution' by GM crops override specific concerns for the health and welfare of some of the poorest people in the world?
- Daily Mail Bitten. It is rare for British newspapers to engage in dog-eat-dog criticism of each other, except when competing for lurid sensationalism or disingenuous attempts to occupy the moral high ground. It is refreshing, therefore, to read Fordyce Maxwell's critique in the Scotsman of the Daily Mail's distorted coverage of GM issues. The Mail's latest onslaught against science and reason comes in their coverage of the debate within the government's Agricultural and Environment Biotechnology Commission (AEBC). This advisory body was set up last year with a balanced composition of experts on ethics, environmentalists and gene scientists. Its Chair, Professor Malcolm Grant, is known to take a sceptical position in the GM debate.
- GM food U-turn?…If the Prime Minister's alleged change of heart is real then the people who will suffer will not be the right-thinking-organic-food-eating residents of Surrey and Berkshire. The perceived benefits of GM to such people are clearly very small — who needs it? No, the victims of the irrational rejection of genetic modification will be the subsistence farmers in the Southern hemisphere — the people for whom the development of drought or salt-resistant crops might actually mean the difference between life and death.
- Expressing sense on GM. In the Express (17/12/99), Mo Mowlam re-introduces a welcome element of reason into the GM debate, with an article arguing for open minds, informed debate and scientific research. As the new Government Coordinator on GM Foods, it is pleasing to know that she is aware of some of the potential benefits of GM, although it is surprising to find that her priorities, which she declares are the same as the readers', include no reference to the Third World.
- Oxfam berated by eco-activists on GM issues
Oxfam's recent position paper, Genetically Modified Crops, World Trade and Security is a thoughtful and balanced document. It is rightly concerned that the introduction of GM crops in the third world may lead to a consolidation of control of local agriculture by large, agro-industrial companies. It recognises, however, that GM crops, with their higher yields, "could be of benefit to poor farmers in the longer term if applications are directed to their needs."
- Tide turns against Greenpeace
The tactics of Greenpeace anti-GM food activists are, at last, being seriously questioned by the news media at home and abroad. The undemocratic and anti-science nature of their campaign is also rapidly losing them support.
- F.I.T. only for the waste bin
The 'British National Survey on Genetically Modified Foods', currently being conducted by the Food Information Trust, is one of the most blatantly biased and unscientific studies we at SIRC have ever encountered.
- Seeds in the breeze and panic in the air
Reports of the spread of this country's GM suspicion abroad have also been prevalent in both the domestic and foreign media this month. The Financial Times October 12 reported on the recent Greenpeace campaign in Mexico. Charging Novartis with "genetic imperialism" Greenpeace has seized samples from ships anchored in the Gulf and suggested that the seeds may be blown from rail carriages during their transportation and thus may affect and disrupt the bio-diversity of Mexican agriculture.
- Monsanto and the media
Once again it would appear that the much-maligned Monsanto has been re-instated in its rather unenviable position at the top of the British media's hit list.
- The Lancet takes the flak
The controversial decision by The Lancet's editor, Richard Horton, to publish Pusztai's flawed study has, predictably, won him few friends. The friction between him and the Royal Society, whose early comments on Pusztai's work were condemned by Horton as a 'breathtaking impertinence', has escalated into open warfare. Very few scientists are stepping forward to offer support for his increasingly isolated position.
- Pusztai published!
The paper reporting research on GM potatoes - work that most scientists dismissed as fatally flawed - is now published in the Lancet, along with a lengthy explanation of the reasons behind the decision from the editor, Richard Horton. Arpad Pusztai - the sacked scientist whose work has been at the centre of the GM food controversy for the past 8 months - claims that he and his co-author Stanley Ewen have been vindicated, even though Horton makes clear that this is not the case. The debate is no longer about the merit of the study itself, but on the wisdom of publishing it despite serious reservations expressed by the reviewers and the need for numerous corrections.
- Where is the vindication?
Ever since Arpad Pusztai was removed from his post at the Rowett Institute last year for his allegedly incompetent research on GM potatoes, the UK news media has conducted a lengthy campaign to vindicate him. The Guardian, acting as Pusztai's most vociferous champion, led the war against Frankenstein Foods. Most other British newspapers quickly joined in the assault, vying with each other in ever-increasing sensationalism and scaremongering about biotechnology.
- Round up of GM stories
With the arrest of Lord Melchett, director of Greenpeace, at the beginning of the month and the growing proliferation of direct action campaigns organised by them and other green interest groups, the tide of media contempt for all that is GM seems to be on the wane and the foundations for the 'greens' once unified front seems to be becoming increasingly shaky.
- The real scare story
The government's Select Committee on Science and Technology has at last called for the introduction of a Code of Practice governing media coverage of scientific matters. Such a recommendation, which still lacks definition and teeth, is long overdue. Had such a code of practice been in operation in February of this year, for example, the debate on GM foods might have been very different. It might have been based on fact and rational argument rather than on hysteria and pure fiction.
- The flight of reason
In the last week the Home Secretary Jack Straw has proposed measures to lock up people who have done no wrong simply on the basis of a couple of doctors defining them as suffering from severe personality disorders. This blatant, radical challenge to liberty and human rights, however, has passed almost without remark. Instead, the country has been in the grip of a media-generated panic about issues surrounding the work, and subsequent treatment, of an obscure biochemist called Arpad Pusztai.
- The hidden side-effects of the GM food scare
A Blair spokesman recently said that the Prime Minister has "a sense of frustration that the debate [on GM foods] is not being conducted in as fully informed a manner as it could be." It is certainly true that the use of emotive terms such as 'Frankenstein Foods', the unseemly scrambles for the moral high ground and the distortions of science in the service of competing ideologies have hardly been conducive to calm, rational consideration of the GM issues.
- GM Foods OK in US
It seems ironic that in the United States, a country obsessed with food safety and prone to whimsical dietary fads, confidence in genetically modified foods is very high. There is no talk of 'Frankenstein' Food. Nor is there the irrational fear about so-called 'tinkering with nature' which occupies the mind of so many British consumers. Instead, the large majority of Americans see GM foods as having many benefits, both now and in the future.
Our regular Media Watch section also contains balanced reviews of new articles covering genetically modified foods (GMOs) and related issues.