Genetically Modified Language: The Discourse of Arguments for GM Crops and Food

Genetically Modified Language: The Discourse of Arguments for GM Crops and Food

Genetically Modified Language: The Discourse of Arguments for GM Crops and Food

Genetically Modified Language: The Discourse of Arguments for GM Crops and Food


The GM debate is as much a war of words as of facts. Food and farming are being changed forever - yet whether for good or bad is the subject of an increasingly bitter argument. Those promoting GM have mounted an intense campaign, characterising their opponents as terrorists and Luddites, governed by ignorance, irrationality and hysteria. Yet public opinion remains unconvinced and antagonistic. As the argument intensifies and the voices on all sides get louder, Genetically Modified Language cuts through the confusion and controversy to the issues and ideology at the heart of the disagreement.Guy Cook subjects the language of the case for GM to a careful and detailed examination. He looks in turn at the persuasive strategies used by politicians, scientists, the media, biotechnology corporations, and supermarkets, showing how their arguments mix together scientific, commercial, ethical and political criteria, and are seldom as factual and straightforward as they claim. Through analyses of recurrent words and phrases, and of the constant comparisons made with other international issues, he shows how the GM debate has become inseparable from the wider political conflicts of our time. In a final chapter he turns to public reactions to all of the arguments.Throughout this analysis, the campaign for GM is seen as exemplifying disturbing trends in the contemporary use of language for public information. Language which purports to seek clarity and neutrality, and to be a vehicle for informed democratic debate, is in fact achieving the opposite effects: obscuring the issues and manipulating opinion.Written in a clear, accessible style and drawing on illustrative examples, Genetically Modified Language is an insightful look at how language shapes our opinions.


Genetically modified plants will change the nature of life on Earth.

As a general statement, this is something on which both proponents and opponents might agree. But their interpretations of this sentence would be very different. For proponents, GM will fight plant pests, lessen environmental damage, combat world hunger, improve nutrition, and create 'tastier fruits and vegetables'. For opponents, it will damage wildlife, create new health risks, exploit poor farmers, undermine democracy, and disrupt Nature-without bringing any benefits.

Along with many others, this book critically analyses the case for GM. Uniquely, though, rather than simply rehearsing the arguments, it focuses upon the language being used, and goes into minute detail about apparently trivial choices of wording. It is written in the belief that understanding how people talk and write about GM can be as important to making up our minds about it as the scientific facts; and, more generally, that such analysis can provide crucial insights into the nature of power, conflict and decision-making in the contemporary world.

Why language? And why focus upon apparently trivial details of its use? An analogy may help. One purpose of a window is to show us the world outside, so that we can gather information about what is going on there. So when we look through a window we do not usually focus upon the pane, but through it. To rest our eyes on a smudge on the glass would seem foolish, especially if there was something important, and potentially dangerous to us, happening outside.

Language could seem in some ways comparable: one of its functions is to convey information about the world. We treat it as a transparent medium through which we perceive important facts and ideas. Thus, when deciding on a course of action, we feel we should be interested,

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