Are we standing on the edge of GM abyss? (14/7/2003)

"If anyone says GM is safe, they are lying because the testing simply hasn't been done."

"People compare GM crops with nuclear waste but at least that has a half life. If we release this technology, it will be there forever." - Andy Rowell
"We are standing at a critical moment in history.
Are we standing on the edge of GM abyss?
Western Morning News, 14 July 2003

The same mistakes which resulted in the BSE crisis and the exacerbation of the foot and mouth epidemic are being made again with GM crops, a new book warns.

Devon author Andrew Rowell carried out research of all three issues for his latest publication, Don't Worry It's Safe to Eat.

And he believes his studies have revealed evidence that could result in the "catastrophic" decision to commercial GM crops.

"Before BSE and during the foot and mouth crisis any scientist who was critical of what was happening was silenced, marginalised and had their professional reputation attacked," said Mr Rowell. "This is happening again with biotechnology."

He says few people living in the region could have escaped the devastating effect that foot and mouth had on the farming community and other businesses.

But he said the way in which eminent scientists, who raised legitimate concerns surrounding the decision not to vaccinate cattle against the disease and the efficacy of the contiguous cull, were ignored demonstrated what drove Government decisions.

"Anyone who was being critical of the way it was being handled weren't being taken seriously," said Mr Rowell, an investigative journalist.

"There were major decisions being taken that were based on brutal economic interests and overriding common sense, consumer interests and those of the farming industry.

"On biotechnology, Michael Meacher has come out and said the Government is downplaying the risks and that it hasn't looked at the critical issues.

"Now even the former environment minister can't raise legitimate concerns about this technology without being attacked by the scientific establishment."

The launch of his book, which took him ten months to write and which required constant updating in response to developments, coincides with the Government's much-criticised public consultation on the GM issue.

Mr Rowell said there were legitimate concerns about GM crops' impact on the environment and public health. And he describes any reassurances given by the Government or the scientific community that GM is safe as "worthless".

The majority of research into GM crops, he says, has been produced by the biotech industry and has not been published.

Few independent scientists, he says, are now willing to take on analysis because of the experiences of other experts in the field whose work produced damning results.

"Tony Blair has said, and some in the scientific community have said, that it is safe to eat.

"They admit there are ecological issues to be resolved, but say 'don't worry it's safe'," he said.

"If anyone says GM is safe they are lying because the testing simply hasn't been done."

One of Mr Rowell's biggest fears is for farmers, who he believes will be "caught between a rock and a hard place" if GM crop commercialisation is permitted.

"There will be mounting pressure on farmers to go down the GM route but there is real evidence that consumers don't want it," he explained.

"There's also the issue about liability if something goes wrong, which the biotechnology industry has refused to accept. It makes one think if it is so safe why don't they put their money where their mouth is?"

Mr Rowell, who published Green Backlash in 1996, reaches a number of conclusions in his new book if Britain is to head towards having "safe food".

Among his recommendations are the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, greater import controls, and developing policy that encourages local family farms which would receive a fair price for their produce.

On GM foods, he adds: "People compare GM crops with nuclear waste but at least that has a half life. If we release this technology it will be there forever.

"We are standing at a critical moment in history. We can allow the commercialisation of GM or for once the consumer and the farmer will come first."


The promotion of local produce through campaigns like the Western Morning News' Buy Local project is one means of ensuring a non-GM future for the region.

That is one of the many conclusions reached by Andy Rowell in his detailed publication, Don't Worry It's Safe to Eat.

Mr Rowell said the explosion of farmers' markets - which now number more than 500 and are worth some GBP166 million a year - was evidence of consumer demands for high quality produce.

"But a key element of 'buying local' is the accountability," he stressed. "People know where the produce has come from and how it has been grown."

Increasing demand for local meat, fruit and vegetables - twinned with the rejection of GM-contaminated produce by consumers - means the future for producers is away from GM produce, he says.

In his book he also suggests that EU rules should be changed to encourage "local firms to provide local food for hospitals and schools". Businesses should also be given tax incentives to buy local produce while regional and national targets should be set to increase production and consumption of local food.

"The WMN Buy Local campaign is a great idea," he added. "All we need now is other newspapers, regionally and nationally, to take up the gauntlet."
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