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Why the GM Wheat Trials at Rothamsted Give Me Pause for Thought

Posted: 30/05/2012 00:00

I knew the issues surrounding GM food were controversial but never did I imagine that my taking part in a protest would induce such a backlash. Naive? Possibly. Bewildered? Definitely. One of the Green Party's greatest strengths is its fierce emphasis on democracy and freedom of speech. Do we all of us agree all of the time? Absolutely not. We wouldn't move forward as a party if we did. So while I knew there would be fall out from my decision to attend I hadn't expected a lack of debate or listening.

I was never advocating violence. Not that I think strong protests don't have its place in society; look at the passion behind the student demonstrations against the Vietman War. They were instrumental in changing public opinion and withdrawing American troops. But I think perhaps I had never explained properly my reasons for protesting against the GM trial at Rothamsted. This was not about pre-meditated violence but about a community feeling hopeless and voiceless. I wanted to lend support to those who feel are dismissed as "luddites" for expressing their concerns over the GM trial.

An accusation which I am heartily sick of seeing is that the Greens are "anti-science". Some people think that to be an environmentalist and a progressive scientific thinker are mutually exclusive. What rot. As a society, scientific research is imperative for us to progress and evolve. What I am not in favour of is research taking place where not enough safety measures have been put in place or I feel that publicly funded research will be hijacked by commercialism. The debates over the science seem to be in danger of masking the bigger issue - the production of patentable plants. At the moment, especially in light of the lobbying scandal, the separation of big business, with the emphasis on profit and huge capacity for lobbying politicians, from independent scientific research seems unlikely.

On Sunday, after our friendly picnic and listening to a band, it became clear that the police wouldn't let us anywhere near the GM field, so most people simply went and sat at the entrance to a public footpath where the police line prevented them moving any farther.

Despite the savvy pro GM PR campaign from Rothamsted and the "eminently reasonable" arguments presented by the scientists, most campaigners and the public at large subscribe to the precautionary principle when it comes to GM. Safety concerns and the bottom line are not good bedfellows.

The world still produces enough food for its population. Instead of developing and investing in unnecessary GM crops, surely the overriding priority for the scientific community, policymakers and politicians is to work towards solving the problem of food losses. The FAO have calculated that 1.3 billion tons of edible parts of food produced for human consumption gets lost or wasted globally every year. This is an incredible one third of total production. Take the recent bumper harvest in India this year. Millions of tons of wheat are rotting because India ran out of warehouse space to store it whilst at the same time hundreds of thousands of its citizens are starving. Solving systemic problems such as these must surely take precedence over promoting GM technology and the fallacy that it is the only way to solve the world's food crisis.

 

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