Environmental Linkage

Europeans are wary of GMO foods:

Despite efforts from biotechnology companies such as Monsanto to promote GMO (genetically modified organisms) foods, a new poll announced November 12 shows that as many as 95 percent of European respondents rate GMO foods as potentially unsafe and lacking real benefits.

(I’ve written previously about the propaganda behind GM foods.) And remember the GM Salmon that was in the news recently? Even in the States, where biotech companies’ influence runs deep into government, the GM Salmon might be banned.

Big biotech companies that develop genetically modified (GM) organisms have spent more than half a billion dollars on campaign contributions and lobbying in the past decade, raising concerns about an upcoming Federal Drug Administration (FDA) decision that could approve GM salmon for human consumption, according to consumer group Food and Water Watch (FWW).

But the biotech industry has not wooed everyone in Washington. On Thursday, Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) introduced legislation that would ban the GM salmon – sometimes called “frankenfish” – if the FDA approves it.

Carbon-capture and storage is the much-dreamed-about solution to reducing carbon emissions for coal-fired power stations (and therefore government targets) only so far it remains an act of faith. It requires removing the carbon dioxide from the industrial process and burying it in geological formations underground. Here, the Guardian reports on one of the last throws of the dice for this technology in the UK:

“The plant proposed for Longannet is the last and best candidate we have for building a device that could be fitted to existing power stations to extract and isolate their carbon emissions,” said CCS expert Professor Stuart Haszeldine of Edinburgh University. “All other carbon-capture schemes being considered by the government have either been rejected or withdrawn by their backers. This is all we have left. The government has yet to make its final commitment. It looks good, however.”

Finally, planners are beginning to realise that one of the reasons towns in the UK flood each year is because of the deforestation of the headlands. So, in Cumbria, the Woodland Trust plans to reforest “vulnerable land around the Derwent and Greta rivers” to form natural flood protection.

Share this Story

About Mark Newton

Born in 1981, live in the UK. I write about strange things.


  1. So at last people realise that deforestation is making the ground unstable! A lot of places have been going on about carbon emissions but do they realise that what they cut down (I refer to trees) is what can help reduce them?

    And what about the fresh water shortages that will eventually come along in years to come? We have the technology to turn salt water into fresh water but it is so expensive to build a de-salinisation plant that no-one will invest. The middle-east has them dotted about the place.

    A lot of these problems are ones that the human race has brought upon itself.

    Capturing carbon emissions is a good idea and one that I have always wondered about since I was a wee nipper. Let us hope that things turn out good

  2. Hi Andy,

    Indeed – though the benefits of trees on carbon emissions, in the UK, are minimal – much better to reduce the emissions in the first place.

    I think CCS does tend to be a rather faith-based science at the moment. It probably won’t be up and running (i.e. to be applied to industry) for a few years yet and there needs to be much more urgency to reduce CO2. Though this could be the pessimist/realist in me…

  3. A lot of people consider realism pessimism Mark… says much for the world we live in if the reality of things is depressing. The re-introduction of trees is a long-term solution as well as being a massive project (area wise).

    The human race, in my opinion, is naturally pessimistic… with the odd exception! The main thing the world needs to do is work together but oh no, the bureaucrats put their petty interests and opinions before the welfare of their country and consequentially the entire world. If people would look at the bigger picture instead of wallowing in the self delusions of their own selves then we would get somewhere at least

  4. Carbon capture is indeed faith-based science, but so is an awful lot of opposition to genetically-modified food. We really need to approach both of these issues with the same demands for evidence. Reports like this completely miss the point: “95 percent of European respondents rate GMO foods as potentially unsafe and lacking real benefits.” So? What does a poll prove? It shows what Europeans think and believe; it does nothing to evaluate evidence and provide proof. Using polls as the basis for discussing factual matters is one of the very worst of modern journalistic habits. 95% of Europeans could, to put it bluntly, be completely wrong. The poll is just an irrelevance. It simply doesn’t contribute anything to a sensible debate about the issue.

    There is much wrong with the actions of Monsanto and companies like them – primarily the use of terminator seeds and their claims to ownership of various species’ genetic heritage, both of which are a clear abuse of the technology for commercial gain – but people making baseless and errant claims about the dangers of GM, without evidence, are engaging in precisely the same behaviour as the biotech companies; they are attempting to win a debate without providing evidence. One side relies on political lobbying and multi-billion dollar ad campaigns; the other side relies on people’s base fears. A poll showing 95% of Europeans seem to agree on something they probably know absolutely nothing about shows how successful that anti-GM campaign – spontaneous and low-level as it may be – has been. The fact that we can, for the most part, presume better intentions on the part of the antis than on the part of the biotechnology companies does nothing whatsoever to support their claims about the dangers of GM; belief in their good intent should simply not be taken as proof of their claims. We can make a mistake as grave as any other thinking that way.

    GM makes people feel queasy. Maybe that’s because it’s something to do with their food. Maybe it’s human nature. Maybe it’s just because of the frenzied denunciations with which the very idea was instantly and irrationally greeted by various uninformed do-gooders. I am aware of no great body of evidence suggesting any inherent biological danger in GM whatsoever; indeed, I am aware of a great deal of evidence to the contrary – that food genetically-modified by modern methods is every bit as safe as food obtained from all the crops we’ve genetically-modified by thousands of years of artifical selection. Feel free to provide me with proof of my own ignorance if you feel you have it.

    I have no defence to make of the unethical behaviour of biotechnology companies (or of many companies of any stripe), but attacking GM crop itself is simply missing the point. A valid argument waiting to be made, and a debate waiting to be won, over the ownership and control of genetically-modified strains is going to be quietly lost because of people’s mindless paranoia over so-called Frankenstein food. The chances are that the biotechnology companies will be perfectly well able to prove the safety of their products (not necessarily to quieten the cries of alarm, but the proof will be sound enough all the same, most likely) and their opponents will have missed the chance to properly challenge and question their ethics. The overwhelming majority of opposition to GM is, it seems to me, sadly misdirected and entirely mistaken. We achieve nothing by such rampant irrationality, whatever we might make of the motives of those involved.

  5. Matt – interesting comments there. Personally, I’m happy for many people to be resistant to this, because the propaganda machine has been in overdrive and what those stats show is that people are not buying them.

    Did you read my previous post on GM foods? Here’s the link, and it sums the debate for me.


    The problem mainly lies in the patent, and the patents are destroying parts of the world. No GM crop comes without patents – the patents lock people into debt. GM crops are, also (as I discuss in that previous post) not about solving the world’s hunger problems. See here for that one!


    Most GM crops are simply resistant to a form of pesticide which the biotech firm happens to sell alongside. And any suggestions the companies may have that GM about benefiting the human race are strange, since most crops go to straight into animal feed anyway.

    So I’m happy that people think of it as Frankenstein food – expect for the monster is also the creator, in this case. It’s the one propaganda campaign the biotech firms can’t win, no matter how many people they put into government, or intensively lobby.

    (But it is worth noting that, in a strange way, one also can’t say that it isn’t bad either – the point here being that precious little research has gone into the health effects (to my latest reading around the subject). As I understand it, because it’s a foodstuff, and not drugs, it’s not subjected to the same kind of strict procedures when it comes to determining the effects on the human body.) Though if you were looking for a link on the health implications, here’s one:


    So indeed: tear up the crops and campaign heavily against them. It’s simply a company trying to buy up the food chain.

  6. And that last point, btw, I believe is really worth stressing. Most of what can be achieved by GM – to my knowledge – can be achieved by selective breeding. But when you use GM, you can file for a patent, and own the sequence. Thus you have sole rights and therefore the ability to generate a huge profit when marketed aggressively. You can, effectively, buy up the food chain.

  7. I’m simply not going to take seriously anything that appears on naturalnews.com – it’s one of the most irrational sites on the internet. My particular favourite was their joint obituary for Michael Jackson (who died of a – possibly physician-prescribed – tranquiliser overdose) and Farah Fawcett (who died of cancer), attributing the death of both to the poisoning effects of conventional medicine. I haven’t read that site for a while, but the last time I did I was able to discredit about half of what I read within a few minutes of sensible searching. I’m stating that here for sake of clarity – I’m not going to try and cut down your entire argument on the basis of one site I happen to find particularly ridiculous. I will, however, advise you to check some of their claims, and to browse around some of their articles from outside your key areas of interest to see what you make of them. My opinion: beneath contempt.

    I’m never going to be happy for people to act irrationally, whatever end I might imagine it will achieve. How then will we separate any potential – and inherently inadvertent – benefit from their actions from other potentially destructive consequences? If you have a valid reason for opposing GM, then you must manifest it and win the argument by those means. If not, what grounds do we ever have for criticising others when they make decisions unsupported by evidence? They’ll just invoke their own support for other, tangential ends. We’re into a battle of prejudices and closed minds there.

    There are around 700 studies into the safety of GM food which I am aware of. One of these, which I will attempt to find to you (though it’s likely in a journal, so I will have to see if I can find a PDF to email you), specifically addressed the claim that such studies were few. It found that the interdisciplinary nature of such studies made literature reviews difficult, but by a more extensive search process found a substantial body of them, the overwhelming majority attesting the safety of GM foods.

    Nor do I think hysteria on the part of anti-GM campaigners can be justified by the propaganda of biotechnology companies. By any reasonable standard, surely that propaganda has been massively unsuccessful anyway. Nor am I entirely convinced of the extent of any such campaign; I can’t think of many examples of direct addresses to the public. If anything, I’d say the scientists investing applications of GM technology have probably been remiss in not doing more to reassure the public. Now that’s very separate to commercial efforts by companies to sell their products but at root there is a potentially useful new technology here; separating the question of its usefulness from the ethics of its would-be owners is exactly the opportunity I am arguing we are likely to lose.

    We can argue the toss over the possible benefits or otherwise. To an extent, I’m less concerned about that because I feel it is a subsequent point – with both sides committed to sound investigation and analysis, those questions will be answered, reasonably, rationally and accurately, in their own time. Testing regimes and safety requirements around the world vary; I would support the tightening of these, but I would say that about many aspects of life. If dangers are shown up by such a method, then we will have grounds to act. If they are not, and benefits are shown, then we will likewise have a solid basis on which to make decisions. Either way, I simply see no benefit to supporting irrational opposition unless it’s to win an argument about which minds have been prematurely made up. We can and should question the ethics of the approach likewise, but that’s the part that’s being buried by hysteria. In doing that, we create a likelihood of biotechnology firms proving the safety of their products and gaining an incidental ethical free pass; acting rationally and separating the issues for sake of evidence and debate offers us the potential for an ethical application of whatever beneficial uses the technology may in the end prove to have.

    The argument about dangers to human health simply should not be the part of the debate that it is: it simply hasn’t the evidence to support such an enlarged role in the argument.

  8. The second letter to the editor here [PDF] – http://www.jic.ac.uk/staff/philippe-vain/PDFs/Vain-NB-2007.pdf – provides some figures for the high, and increasing number of studies into the safety of GM foods. It gives no summary of the finding of those studies – I’ve previously read a related study which did; I’ll try to find it, but I’ll say again, for the sake of argument, I’m less concerned about that than the basic principle that the research is being done and that, not baseless claims of man-playing-god-with-disastrous-consequences, is the basis on which such things ought be decided. If that leads us to conclude they are indeed a great peril, so be it, but I see no evidence.

  9. Matt – point taken, but I found it quickly and it pointed to a scientific journal report, so you shouldn’t overlook that.

    Secondly – I’m not sure you’ve read the posts I’ve linked to, which address much of what you’ve said. Let me know if you have or do, because I hope it will have some food for thought.

    I think we’re going to have to agree to disagree on this one. You’re pro-GM, and at a basic scientific level there is nothing wrong with the concept. I studied at university (Environmental Science) how gene-crops could be used to remediate contaminated land. That was fair enough. The problem isn’t with the science, but who owns the science, and that is why much of what you’re saying is utopian to me I’m afraid.

    Also, this assumes there is a level playing field (or ought to be – which is very nice, but not what is happening): the massive influence of biotech firms in government (just Google Monsanto and their reaches into the US government – even their own scientists taking a place there) does not create a level playing field. For over a decade they have filtered out into newspapers how safe and wonderful their products are and that they are the second coming.

    Being nice and ethical does not work with these firms. It will never work. It’s utopian to believe so. So again, I’m happy for people to rip up their crops.

    GM crops do not contribute to solving world hunger. GM crops are about the patents and the business practices. It is nothing more than a business making money and exploiting the food chain for their own commercial gain – and thousands and thousands of people are dying because of them.

  10. A critical review of the Seralini study claiming to show liver disease i rats can be found (in translation) here: http://www.food.gov.uk/multimedia/pdfs/acnfp9612a2 Several reviews of this study have criticised it for its reliance on purely statistical observations (there are no microscopic findings associated with Seralini’s study) and the fact that those observations themselves do not appear to be statistically significant.

    The final paragraph of that naturalnews article is just a screed – the use of the phrase ‘no legitimate study’ just a huge alarm bell pointing to logical fallacy: it’s a pre-emptive statement of the intention to ignore as illegitimate anything with which the authors disagree.

  11. PS also worth adding that GM crops are not science. They are products of science. It’s not being anti-science to be against them.

  12. PPS – are we actually arguing completely different things here? I’m afraid I’ve not much time to follow this thread now, but you’re trying to explain with certain articles (Are they peer-reviewed and who funded the research?) that GM foods are safe to eat; and my point is about the fact that it’s nothing to do with food safety but how the technology is applied that cripples people.

    Also: we’re looking at articles into rats, and not human health.

  13. And my point was that so little research has been done in the first place – it’s food, and not drugs, so therefore doesn’t have the same safety requirements.

    But what about the environmental impact? That’s something we’ve neglected in our science round-up.

    A f*ckton of research has been done into that, and much of if proving that GM crops a) offer little or no increase in yield and b) accompanied with the over-use of pesticides leads to huge amount of resistance in pests c) in fact, organic and sustainable faming is often better for third world farmers (better water retention, less financial investment in pesticides). I’ll find the links tomorrow if you’re interested.

  14. Comment 11: I’m fine with that. I agree with the distinction, but don’t think it’s particularly at issue.

    Comment 12: No, we’re not arguing separate things. I’m saying that criticism of GM crops on the basis of their supposedly injurious effects on human health is baseless scaremongering, and that it’s actually counter-productive in that it buries the more valid ethical criticisms. I agree with you that the negative consequences of GM are more likely to stem from commercial exploitation, but I am arguing that therefore criticism must be levelled on solid grounds like this, and not on spurious claims of biological peril, which you seem to be saying you support because it achieves the same end. I believe that strategy undermines itself.

    The articles I’m alluding to (I’ve been too lazy to cite any so far, really) come from numerous sources; quite right to ask who funded them but the short answer I can give is that they come from a very wide range of individuals, institutions and backers. The Seralini study on which the naturalnews.com article on liver damage to which you linked was based was funded by Greenpeace – hardly unbiased themselves on this issue.

    Yes, we’re looking into rats, but that’s because an article you linked to is based on a study in rats.

    As for little research having been done into safety, you may have missed it but I’ve already answered that with supporting information – a great many studies have been done into safety.

    Environmental impact – yes, it has been skipped so far, for sake of brevity on my part. I’ve no desire to dodge the question so please provide as many links as you would like. To an extent that’s again a separate point and I’ll address it tomorrow – for now I’ll just reiterate my core point that much of the opposition to GM foods is centred around supposed health risks, and this lacks evidence. That is a surefire way to discredit any reasonable opposition that may exist alongside it.

  15. To be honest, I’m in agreement that there isn’t much in the way of evidence to say GM is unhealthy. But that isn’t my concern – knowing that is the case, I’m happy that people still wish to avoid GM foodstuffs for all the other reasons I’ve mentioned: monopolising the food chain, impoverishing farmers across the global south, relentless propaganda and government influence (the book Captive State is excellent on this particular issue).

    The same text also gives evidence (conveniently I don’t have the sources to hand) to contradict your claim there about adequate evidence. A handful of trials across the world doesn’t even come close to the tests that the drugs bodies would use.

    For the sake of a shortcut, here’s one quick article that summarises the points on organic farming:

    Last week, Nature magazine reported the results of one of the biggest agricultural experiments ever conducted. A team of Chinese scientists had tested the key principle of modern rice-growing (planting a single, hi-tech variety across hundreds of hectares) against a much older technique (planting several breeds in one field). They found, to the astonishment of the farmers who had been drilled for years in the benefits of “monoculture”, that reverting to the old method resulted in spectacular increases in yield. Rice blast – a devastating fungus which normally requires repeated applications of poison to control – decreased by 94%. The farmers planting a mixture of strains were able to stop applying their poisons altogether, while producing 18% more rice per acre than they were growing before.

    Another paper, published in Nature two years ago, showed that yields of organic maize are identical to yields of maize grown with fertilisers and pesticides, while soil quality in the organic fields dramatically improves. In trials in Hertfordshire, wheat grown with manure has produced higher yields for the past 150 years than wheat grown with artificial nutrients.

    Here’s a Greenpeace report on the benefits of ecologically sound agriculture (don’t knock Greenpeace – they’ve a scientific unit at certain universities – and aren’t for profit; they’re interested in clarity and honesty): http://www.greenpeace.org/international/Global/international/publications/agriculture/2010/Drought_Resistant_Agriculture.pdf

    In the meantime, here are some other links reporting scientific studies into the impacts of GM crops in the environment:


    On the fact claims that it doesn’t spread into the wild:



    I’m trying to find the big one recently (14-year trial) that concluded GM crops in the US performed no better than normal, non-patented crops, but it’s late and it escapes me right now.

    Anyway, suffice to say that GM is about capitalising on the food chain. We get into the detail and forget just how important it is in the real world – people are dying, farmers commit suicide, environments are intensively treated with pesticides (remember, the crops are about being resistant to pesticides and not some miracle cure). This is why they can justifiably be considered Frankenstein foods – they act monstrously in the real world, and that was my original sentiment.

    If you’re really interested in biotech firms and the food industry, it’s worth looking into Monsanto and Bovine somatotropin (not just the effects on cattle, but also with insulin-like growth factor 1 – IGF1).

  16. And here’s the point about we simply don’t know the health efffects. In 1992 the FDA granted GM foods “generally recognized as safe” status – that means they don’t test it, won’t test it, and it hasn’t received the thorough studies that other food and drugs do – part of the problem being the difficulty and the fact that it needs to be monitored long-term.

    There’s something springing to mind about the links between biotech firms and the FDA that caused this simple passing through of policy (though I’ll have to look that up).

  17. Here is – I think – the original studies on the Health Effects (honestly, last night that first link was all I could find – which will teach me to Google after 11pm): http://www.biolsci.org/v05p0706.htm

    “A Comparison of the Effects of Three GM Corn Varieties on Mammalian Health… tly associated with the kidney and liver, the dietary detoxifying organs, although different between the 3 GMOs. Other effects were also noticed in the heart, adrenal glands, spleen and haematopoietic system. We conclude that these data highlight signs of hepatorenal toxicity, possibly due to the new pesticides specific to each GM corn. In addition, unintended direct or indirect metabolic consequences of the genetic modification cannot be excluded.”

    Though I believe it was actually Monsanto-funded body that questioned the statistical analysis within the testing (and I’m trying to verify the name of the scientist who wrote that letter response, which you quoted, to make sure he was or wasn’t hired by Monsanto, but he shares a name with a famous figure).

  18. Mark, it’s going to take me a while to get back to this in real detail, since I’ve just finished a long day and am also ill, but a couple of points.

    The review of Seralini’s study which I linked to was not conducted by a Monsanto-funded body – it’s the French High Council on Biotechnology, under a deposition from a French government minister. The same statistical flaws have been pointed out elsewhere and, from what I understand, if you have time to read through it and search on the relevant terms, the flaws are easily verifiable. Aside from anything else, Seralini’s study used only ten rats in each research group – generally not considered a reliable sample size.

    The actual ‘letter’ (though you may be referring to the review) is regarding the number of safety studies done. More than being just a handful, it’s shown to be at least 692.

    So far as I’m aware, GM foods undergo precisely the same tests as part of licensing as all other foods do; at least in most countries. They have not been granted a blanket exemption. ‘generally recognized as safe’ simply means that they are treated like other foods, and not subject to a separate regime of testing. In many countries, the seed stocks first undergo . Whether or not the amount of testing is adequate is an open-ended question. Many, myself included, would argue that testing regimes for all foods and drugs could probably be improved anyway, but that isn’t the same as saying what we have is totally inadequate.

    The statement that “we simply don’t know the health effects” is an objection which can be raised indefinitely. On those terms, we don’t really know anything about anything. Where is the evidence of harm? As a review in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine (here, but sadly subscriber-only: http://jrsm.rsmjournals.com/cgi/content/full/101/6/290 – I will try to get you the PDF) points out, millions of people worldwide have been eating GM foods for 15 years without any evidence of a negative impact on health. This supposition that they might be dangerous seems based on the notin that there’s something so different in their make-up that they must inherently be dangerous. There simply aren’t the grounds for supposing this. It’s the same kind of thinking that equates ‘natural’ with ‘good’ and ‘artificial’ with ‘dangerous’, but it’s a false distinction. We’ve always engineered our food in much the same way. The notion of this inherent danger seems to me faith-based, which was my initial criticism.

    As for yields, several studies have found improvements in yield, often hand-in-hand with a reduction in the use of pesticides and herbicides, as in this study of GM cotton in India [PDF]: http://www.nslc.wustl.edu/courses/Bio4213/05/quaim.pdf As this study points out, other studies have indeed found no or minimal gains in yield, but as the article also point out the gains appear biggest in developing countries, and minimal in developed countries where industrial techniques may already have effectively maximised most yields and achieved maximum pest control anyway. This point was also raised by a review in Nature, which looked at 49 studies into crop yields and found increases to be only 6% on average in developed countries, but 25% in developing ones. (That study is sadly also subscriber only – one of the big problems with this kind of debate – as you can see here: http://www.nature.com/nbt/journal/v28/n4/full/nbt0410-319.html I’ll try to get you the PDF, and there’s also a slideshow from the same article viewable here [PowerPoint]: http://www.ask-force.org/web/Benefits/Carpenter-Peer-Reviewed-Surveys-2010.ppt – I’ll confess I don’t know who is hosting the slideshow file or why they put it together; caveat it for now, if you like, until I can find you the original article).

    At this point, let me summarise my argument. My original criticism was that much of the opposition to GM is faith-based, and thus undermines genuine, legitimate criticism of the commercial tactics of some of those involved. What I’m arguing against is a Pandora’s Box mentality – a feeling that GM crops are inherently dangerous, or at best useless, and should be done away with, immediately, as though they never existed. This is just irrational. We’ve got good reason for thinking beneficial effects can be produced by genetic engineering; the scientists who first speculated benefits might be possible did not universally or overwhelmingly do so out of recognition of commercial benefits.

    I completely agree that we will have to demand thoroughness and transparency in tests to assess whether or not these possible benefits have been achieved, but how are we even going to conduct the research if people are trampling down fields of crops as you’ve earlier advocated? You may be happy for people to avoid GM foods, because it coincides with your ethical concerns, but those aren’t the reasons most people avoid those foods – they avoid them out of unsubstianted (and baseless) health fears. If there’s an ethical argument against GM crops, we should make it, but not rely upon reinforcing it with base superstition. You say that the bottom line is that GM crops are about controlling the food chain, but I disagree – some current applications of the technology may be precisely that, but it’s the application, and not the technology, we ought to be arguing against. Too much of the opposition to GM is based on this Pandora’s box mentality that lumps the two in together – and which seems happy to win the argument with the support of irrational nonsense and scaremongering. This is a conscious decision to overlook or outright deny any potential benefits that may exist. This to me is unjustified. What reason is there to think the use of GM technology can never be beneficial?

    I foresee five potential outcomes. One is that GM technology is useless and is abandoned. The second outcome is that GM crops are useless, but are not abandoned, perhaps because of the influence of commercial concerns. Open and thorough research is the difference between these two, and I agree entirely we have to ensure that happens. The third possible outcome is that GM has potential benefits, but is ultimately done away with out of people’s fears. Who does that really benefit? The fourth potential outcome is that GM has potential benefits, but these are squandered and exploited by the greed of the commercial parties involved. The fifth option is that GM’s potential benefits are harnessed ethically. Two of these outcomes (the first and fifth) are positive, the others are all flawed in different ways. Neither of the positive outcomes can be achieved by irrational, faith-based opposition to the very notion of GM technology. We have firstly to ensure that we have an accurate understanding of the potential benefits of GM technology, and whether or not those have been achieved in practice; secondly we have to ensure these benefits are put to use in an ethical fashion. The argument over ethics cannot be won by unsubstantiated fears over safety. Indeed, we risk losing it altogether that way.

  19. Hi Matt,

    I’ve taken a look at those links, and while I’m never likely to be convinced by trials where the real world provides more practical results (such as this: http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/green-living/exposed-the-great-gm-crops-myth-812179.html ), I can see that there are examples of solid yields from GM crops. (On a related note, I notice that on some of your linked sources, a Janet E Carpenter is the author – I’ll need to trace her.)

    And you highlight a very good point – most of the research is indeed funded by biotech firms. Is that a bad thing? Well, I always remember one of my uni lecturers who remained a “Mr” rather than a “Dr” – his PhD in detecting the impact of air pollutants on plants would have had consequences to the firm that funded him; they told him to change his conclusions or they would remove funding. He refused, published his findings anyway at a later date, but never got his PhD. Just one example, admittedly.

    I really recommend reading Corporate State by George Monbiot, which is one of the most excellent pieces of journalism you’ll ever read – there’s a lengthy chapter in there about GM crops. Now, of course, being against GM isn’t anti-science. That’s like saying that being against chemical weapons is anti-science. Monbiot takes a step-by-step account of the history of biotech firms, who rarely want a debate on these matter. (Which led Ecologist magazine (when it was more a scientific journal) to write an entire issue dedicated to the murky science and policies behind biotech firms – http://exacteditions.theecologist.org/exact/browse/307/308/5361/2/4/0/ ). Monbiot begins by explaining that improvements in crops can be achieved by selective breeding or GM. But only by GM can a firm claim a patent to the seed. This patent means they own all the rights to the seeds and farmers can not even take seed for storage themselves without paying a fee, and in the real world, this has led to a cycle of debt for thousands of farmers in the Global South – and also in the suicides of farmers (Googling Monsanto and suicide should give plenty). Monbiot also explains the most remarkable lengths that GM firms influence global and national food policies to suit them how they relentlessly pursue politicians to court their favour; how they even manage to get their own scientists to sit on national policy-making panels. It’s one of the most despicable examples of corporations influencing government policies – and governments then using good old propaganda to society at large.

    This is the side of the debate that changes everything. And it’s that which has led me to become satisfied to let people be fearful of GM crops – because in this case, the hysteria is over-riding the billions of dollars spent in pushing it on citizens (who are statistically more interested in organic food, yet that doesn’t get the funding – so any claims to this being a free market are dubious). Also, that and the health implications of bovine growth hormone (on both animal health as well as potential in humans), the predecessor to GM crops by the biotech firms – it took quite a few years before those realities could surface, and which is why time is required here.

    But – this is a good debate, and I’m glad we’re having it – even though we could lose hours!

  20. Just as a note to all – we’re now continuing this discussion by email.