2 opinions on GM crop commercialisation from today's Scotsman - one from Anthony Jackson and one from Tony Trewavas

A letter in a Scottish newspaper that appeared under Trewavas's name turned out, much later, to have been written not by TT but by someone who posted poison pen attacks out of Monsanto. That only emerged after Greenpeace had successfully sued the newspaper for libel!

One might easily think today's piece from TT had come from exactly the same source given that it is full of dubious marketing hype rather than objective science or agronomy.

Particularly despicable is the claim that Indian farmers have "seen yields nearly double"! In fact, most have faced severe losses. TT similarly claims that US farmers growing insect resistant (ie Bt) GM crops have seen incomes increase by GBP150 an acre. In fact, even the US Dept of agriculture in an official report on the subject concluded:
-Bt insecticide GM corn has had a **negative** economic impact on farms.
-GM crops do not increase yield potential and may reduce yields.

The report concluded: "Perhaps the biggest issue raised by these results is how to explain the rapid adoption of GE crops when farm financial impacts appear to be mixed or even negative." ('The Adoption of Bioengineered Crops'    US Department of Agriculture Report, May 2002)

The answer is of course farmers being fooled by spin and hypebole from corporate-friendly propagandists like Trewavas. For more on TT, see:

The Scotsman, 9th June 2003
The GM Nation? debate takes place on Wednesday at the Quality Hotel, Gordon Street, Glasgow, from 6pm-8pm. Entry is by ticket only, call 0207-261 8616.


USING GM insect-resistant crops, one million of China's poorest farmers have seen incomes rise by 25 per cent and pesticide use drop by 80 per cent, writes Anthony Trewavas.

Indian and South African farmers have also seen yields nearly double, Spanish farmers, incomes have risen by GBP100 a hectare and US farmers by GBP150 an acre from GM insect-resistant crops. These crops kill roundworms in cattle, but have no effect on bees, birds, fish and earthworms.

African scientists have made GM virus-resistant sweet potatoes that will increase yields three-fold.

Scientists have made GM vaccines in food against deadly respiratory viruses, cholera, infant diarrhoea, and Norwalk-like viruses that cause food poisoning; you eat and become immune.

HIV-suppressing spinach and rape that treats blood clots, GM vaccines against cervical cancer and anthrax, safer insulin and products to help cystic fibrosis sufferers digest food, have all been produced in food crops.

To improve nutrition, scientists have produced GM potatoes with higher protein content and rice containing human milk proteins. GM vitamin A and iron-enriched rice will help reduce the deaths of many millions of Third World children and women from disease and post-natal disorders. 200 million people have eaten GM food for ten years. The Royal Society asked those who claimed that GM food might damage health to produce evidence. They got nothing!

The UK can put its head in the sand but the world is changing around us. We can try, like Canute, to order the GM tide back or decide that knowledge, not unfounded prejudice, is the way forward.

Prof Anthony Trewavas, of Edinburgh University, is a Fellow of the Royal Society and a former government adviser on GM issues.

GM CROPS and food have not been proved safe. There have been no long-term health tests on either, writes Anthony Jackson.

"No evidence of harm" is not equivalent to "there is evidence of no harm". The health committee of the Scottish Parliament, after taking evidence from government advisers and the Royal Society, declared that releasing GM crops into the environment violated the precautionary principle, and called for full toxicological testing of GM crops and food.

There is an ongoing debate, and when the scientific community is so split, and there is no evidence of safety, GM crops should not be released into the open environment, where the effects will be irreversible; GM food should not be allowed into the food chain, where the effects are unknown.

Where GM crops have been grown, there is evidence of environmental damage.

"Superweeds" resistant to multiple herbicides are widespread in North America, necessitating the use of even stronger herbicides. Research has shown the soil structure is altered by GM crops, and DNA survives in the soil for 400,000 years. The effects of GM DNA will be very long-term indeed.

The efficacy of GM crops is also questionable. When weeds become resistant to the same herbicide as the GM crop, it is next to useless. Yields are also hotly disputed.

There is also worldwide consumer rejection; even in the US, 92 per cent want GM food labelled and only 25 per cent think GM food is safe.

This is because genetic modification is not just a simple advance in crop breeding. It is the random insertion of a gene from a separate organism, generally using a virus, into plant DNA, which we do not fully understand. This is not  precise; it is crude science.

Anthony Jackson supported and campaigned on behalf of the Munlochy Vigil against GM crops.
Western Morning News, 07 June 2003

 Hundreds of people across the Westcountry have been denied access to the national debate on the commercialisation of GM crops in Taunton today. Since the beginning of the week when the consultation kicked off in Birmingham, organisers - the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs - have been inundated with calls from the region's residents asking to book a place.

But as the venue - Taunton's Holiday Inn - can accommodate only 100 people at one time, Defra decided to organise an extra meeting earlier in the morning.

Pat Wilson, speaking for the department, said: "This is the first time since the debate started that we had to organise an extra meeting.

"However, the hall cannot accommodate more than 100 people at one time and there are health and safety regulations which prevent us from allowing more in."

John Watson, co-owner of the Riverford Organic Farm in Totnes and a staunch anti-GM campaigner, was refused entry to the meeting.  He said: "I rang them and they said both meetings were fully booked. It's a shame they advertised so late that there was going to be another meeting in the morning.

"I would have liked to approach the scientists and ask them a really important fact about the commercialisation of GM crops in this country.

"If someone decides to spend millions of pounds on developing a super crop like the genetically engineered Chardon maize and then they refuse to produce any information about it, then surely something must be wrong. It's a shame I won't be able to raise this point."

The meeting today is part of a nationwide consultation organised by the Government and aims to give ministers an indication as to whether the British public desire the commercialisation of GM crops or not. The consultation, called GM Nation?, includes two other strands - an economic and a scientific review - and the results are expected to be published in September.