When crops burn, the truth goes up in smoke (18/11/2003)

This is an article full of lies and distortions but then what would one expect from the Chairman of Sense About Science. It might better have been titled, "When Taverne speaks, the truth goes up in smoke".

When Taverne claims, "Several scientists have received threatening letters, including a bomb threat, for taking a public stand in the GM debate." Few readers will realise that none of these claims has ever been independently verified or that Prof Mike Wilson who claims he called the bomb squad to his house in repsonse to a hoax call, says he did so in 1998. So why has this suddenly surfaced 5 years later in support of a claim that "protests over genetic modification are moving in the same direction" as violent animal rights protests.

Despite the implication, in this and other articles, of some sort of "attack" on GM scientists or farmers, no evidence of such a thing has ever been produced. And for a good reason, it has never happened.

On the other hand, intimidation of scientists critical of this technology is an issue - an issue that the likes of Taverne are desperately trying to cover up.
Thunderer: When crops burn, the truth goes up in smoke
by Dick Taverne
The Times, November 18 2003
November 18, 2003

Yesterday the BioIndustry Association, in a report endorsed by Tony Blair, called for stricter legislation to deal with animal extremism, as it threatens the development of lifesaving medicine. Sadly, the protests over genetic modification are moving in the same direction.

Several scientists have received threatening letters, including a bomb threat, for taking a public stand in the GM debate. Crops have been vandalised. Farmers taking part in field trials have been terrorised. Indeed it is now clear that some anti-GM campaigners adopt the tactics of animal welfare terrorists who try to stop all animal experiments.

Most opponents of GM crops condemn violence, just as most anti-vivisectionists condemn animal rights terrorists. Violence stems, however, from passionate belief, which is blind to reason. While Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth may condemn violence (but not breaking the law to destroy crops), they reject reason, distort facts and ignore evidence.

Consider the testimony of Greenpeace to a House of Lords Committee on Genetic Modification in Agriculture. Lord Melchett, then director of Greenpeace, was asked: "Your opposition to the release of GMOs, that is an absolute and definite opposition . . . not one that is dependent on further scientific research?" He replied: "It is a permanent and definite and complete opposition."

Consider the reaction of anti-GM campaigners to the recent farm-scale evaluation trials. In the case of two out of three GM crops tested there were fewer bees and butterflies. In the third case there were more. The co-ordinator of the trials emphasised that these showed the effect of a particular herbicide in particular circumstances and could not be taken as a general verdict on genetically modified crops. But Friends of the Earth claimed that the trials "confirmed that GM crops harm the environment" and Greenpeace called for a total ban.

Consider the way that green lobbies refuse to take any account of evidence from international experts on plant science. The National Academies of Sciences from Brazil, India, China, Mexico, the United States, the Third World Academy of Sciences and the Royal Society all agree that there is no evidence of harm to human health from GM crops and that they have great potential for the Third World. The experience of 280 million Americans, who have safely eaten GM food for nearly a decade without even a single lawsuit, is equally ignored. Instead anti-GM lobbies constantly refer to its dangers to human health.

Consider the opposition to golden rice, modified to contain a gene for vitamin A, which may save millions of children from blindness. Greenpeace ridicules this claim, saying that to benefit, a child would have to eat 3kg of the rice a day. No mention is made of the estimate from the developers of the rice, that the amount needed is just 200g. In the view of protesters, because the cause is just, ends justify the means, which include distortion of evidence.

The anti-GM campaign has become a crusade. Its champions are not just motivated by a laudable concern for the environment, but have become eco-fundamentalists, followers of a new kind of religion, to whom evidence is irrelevant. But when campaigns become crusades, crusaders are more likely to turn to violence. Rejecting reason is a dangerous game. So far in Britain we have avoided the dogmatism and intolerance of the American Religious Right. Unfortunately, green fundamentalists seem determined to make up for their absence.

The author's book The March of Unreason will be published next year.

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