Chapela inspiring in Norfolk - report on the debate (9/7/2003)

Press article below. First a couple of comments on the debate from the debate's organiser, Nicole Cook:

416 attended 402 filled in cards
371 say no to GM ingredients in their food
28 say yes
3 don't knows

It was a very lively debate which was as expected, dominated by the audience who were knowledgeable and articulate.

Ignacio Chapela was inspiring...
Agriculture: American academic tells audience to resist 'contamination'
Heated debate both for and against GM crops
by Cat Bartman
[slightly edited version at url above - newspaper report below]
EDP - Eastern Daily Press, July 9, 2003

East Anglian farmers were warned yesterday that even small-scale introduction of GM crops would cause mass contamination of their land.

World GM expert Ignacio Chapela said that, because of cross-pollination, Norfolk and Suffolk farmers would not have a choice on whether to grow GM crops once they were introduced.

During his visit to the region, Dr Chapela, from the University of California, described East Anglia as an "epicentre" of the international debate because of high profile anti-GM protests as well as research into GM crops at the John Innes Centre at Colney.

Last night he spoke at a heated public debate on the issue at the Corn Hall in Diss, where more than 400 people turned up to hear and express both sides of the argument.

Earlier Dr Chapela met North Suffolk farmer John Sanderson, who hit world headlines in May 2000 when he led a revolt after discovering his land was unknowingly seeded with GM oilseed rape.

Mr Sanderson, of South Elmham Hall near Harleston, became the first British farmer to destroy his crops after a seed mix-up.

More than 30,000 acres across Britain had been sown with the low-level GM seed because the Government failed to notify landowners in time about it.

Dr Chapela explained the so- called "Mexican maize scandal", in which GM corn was found in crops in part of Mexico despite a ban by the government.

"From my research we have found that you can have contamination in a very few years, maybe six or so. Crops grown in East Anglia could contaminate those in Europe," he said, calling for research into non-GM alternatives.

Mr Sanderson added: "The interesting thing we have learnt. is that cross-pollination can occur so easily, from tractor wheels and people using footpaths through GM crops to insects."

Also at the debate was Prof Vivian Moses, visiting Professor of Biology at University College London and chairman of the pro-GM lobby group CropGen.

The event was part of the Government's national consultation on whether to allow GM crops to be grown in this country and was attended by people of all ages, from local farmers to grandparents and students.

Rejecting Dr Chapela's arguments that GM crops, which are already grown in 22 countries, and genetic manipulation were out of control, Prof Moses said consumption of GM foods had not found any potential harm and crops were meeting the needs of farmers.

Questions covered everything from how genetic manipulation would affect plants, to the effect on the countryside and humans.

Local farmer Ben Gaze was one of the few pro-GM crop voices to be heard.

He took part in a GM trial with sugarbeet four years ago and said the idea was to reduce the amount of sprays used.

"I am quite convinced that the benefits on the third world will eventually be enormous. GM is here and it's going to make a lot of difference," he added.

Another man said that not enough had been done on the ecological impact of GM crops.

"We have spent millions on genetic research and nothing on ecology and nothing on the really difficult bit - human behaviour!" he said.

The public has until July 18 to respond to government questionnaires, which can be obtained by calling 020 7261 8616, or from www.gmnation.org.uk

Norwich City Council is holding two GM debate sessions on Monday.

The first is at 2pm and the second is at 7pm at City Hall. Each session will last about an hour.
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