Responses to Taverne - Sense and GM science (4/3/2004)

Sense and GM science
Thursday March 4, 2004
Letters, The Guardian

A leaked report announced that the government plans to wear down opposition to GM with "solid, authoritative scientific argument". How ironic that the first phase (How science can save the world's poor, March 3) is rolled out in the same paper that leaked the report.

Less surprising is that the mouthpiece is Dick Taverne. He should know better than to make the misguided claim that we have a moral imperative to grow GM crops to help reduce poverty and hunger. Bodies better placed to comment, such as the British Overseas Aid Group, have said "claims that GMOs are necessary for the food security ... in developing countries should not be used to promote acceptance of GM by the UK public".

The false promises of golden rice are well documented - a person would have to eat 9kg a day to gain any extra benefit. But this is beside the point. Blindness is not caused by lack of vitamin A in rice, just as hunger is not caused by a global lack of food. Both are caused by poverty, which GM crops are unable to solve. Dick Taverne ought to know better, but his blind faith in GM and association with propagandist groups like Sense about Science means he is more blinkered than the activists he seeks to disparage.
Ben Ayliffe
Greenpeace UK

Thousands of farmers go out of business each week because prices are so low, due to the World Bank's insistence that poor countries "put exporters first", resulting in chronic oversupply. GM crops can put more pressure on prices. The only rational way to help the developing world is global supply control agreements and free access to the main markets. The real beneficiary of GM is the biotech industry.
Peter Robbins

Noble ideas about feeding the world are being used to cloak ambitions of economic dominance. In the case of GM foods the objective is quite simple - corporate monopoly of seed supplies. The free-market response to this claim is that competition will frustrate monopoly. But competition will inevitably lead manufacturers to tinker genetically with their products year on year, and effective testing of each "new model" will prove impossible.

Equally impossible is eradication of any maverick species spawned as a consequence of the market imperative. Scientists can only claim true success in any GM adventure when they can demonstrate not only  satisfactory performance of their products but also infallible means of destroying any pathogenic offspring. The government is using a pseudo-scientific justification of GM to conceal its acquiescence to global, corporate control of key food supplies - a policy with truly catastrophic potential.
Prof Roy Butterfield
Southampton University

If the biotech industry is so certain of the benefits of GM (Filipino islanders blame GM crop for mystery illness, March 3), why does it resist demands to accept liability for any negative outcomes of planting GM crops, as at the recent meeting in Kuala Lumpur on the UN's biosafety protocol. NGOs support the adherence by developing countries to the precautionary principle.
Andrew Scott
Intermediate Technology Development Group

With little evidence, green activists have turned a nation against GM, using emotive terms such as contamination and flying genes. Shops must show GM signs, but we aren't to be told how often lettuce has been sprayed with pesticides.
Geoffrey Watson
Winchester, Hants


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