Why We Must Put a Stop to This Sinister Science

Article excerpt


DESPITE deep hostility from the British public, the Government is stepping up its campaign in favour of genetic modification. Posing as champions of progress and prosperity, ministers want European Union controls on GM produce to be drastically relaxed.

According to their public relations spin, once these outdated restrictions are abolished and public scepticism is overcome, then we will enter a brave new world of abundance.

But the propaganda pumped out by the Government remains hopelessly unconvincing. Fairy stories and hyperbolic claims won't feed the world - or protect our health. The hollowness of the ministerial case was illustrated yesterday by the abject interview given on the BBC Rado 4 Today programme by the Environment Secretary Owen Paterson, in advance of a major pro-GM speech he was to make in Hertfordshire.

Paterson came across as an ill-briefed, slightly hysterical mouthpiece for the genetic modification industry. He tried to argue that science was on his side, yet he could only back up his arguments with ludicrous emotional blackmail.

At one stage, he melodramatically argued that, without the acceptance of GM crops, young people in Asia 'will go to bed blind and some will die'. It almost sounded as if he had joined a religious cult which regards genetic modification as some kind of miracle cure.

Paterson had to resort to such nonsense precisely because his case is so weak. Contrary to his messianic rhetoric yesterday morning, GM technology is no panacea for the world's ills. Even after more than 15 years of its intensive use in large parts of the world, particularly the United States, there is little evidence that it increases crop yields, assists global development or combats disease. Just the opposite is true.

There is now a growing amount of research demonstrating that genetic modification has the potential to cause serious health problems and widespread environmental degradation. The public is absolutely right to be sceptical. While we cannot be sure that GM food is safe to eat, we can be sure that the overblown boasts of pro-GM lobby have not been fulfilled.

As an investigative journalist and author, I have always opposed the introduction of genetically modified food into Britain. Why? Because despite the GM pioneers' facade of scientific sophistication, genetic engineering is actually a rather crude, almost cut-and-paste technique of manipulating biology. The process involves moving genetic material across species barriers, which carries the risk, in my view, of triggering unpredictable and irreversible changes in DNA, proteins and biochemical composition.

It is radically different from all previous methods of improving plants and breeds.

The idea that such an approach can be completely safe is either dangerous wishful thinking, or a denial of reality motivated by vested commercial and political interests. The pro-GM lobby are the ones asking us to make a leap of faith. But with each passing year, the case against genetic engineering becomes more persuasive.

Only this month, a report from Flinders University in Australia revealed that genetically modified feed given to pigs may lead to severe stomach inflammations and far heavier uteruses, which can be an indicator of serious disease.

According to some farmers, the stomach inflammations and irritations can also lead to pigs becoming more aggressive. Commenting on this report, the American livestock adviser Howard Vlieger said: 'For as long as GM crops have been in the feed supply, we have seen increasing digestive and reproductive problems in animals. …