26 November 2007

GM Crop Results Scandal

What are politicians to do when scientific studies undermine their political stances? One option would be to admit their previous judgement was mistaken. Another is to cover up the studies...

Just a month since France ran into trouble with the European Commission over its proposed freeze on the planting of genetically modified crops, we now learn that government officials in Italy have for two years been suppressing the results of field trials on a genetically engineered strain of maize showing that compared with conventional varieties, the GM crop has both a higher yield (by 28-43%) and significantly lower levels of toxins (less than 1% the fumonisin content, which appears to cause neural tube birth defects such as spina bifida).

As Peter Mandelson noted earlier this year, "We need an open and rational debate about the risks and benefits of biotechnology more than ever... We must be under no illusion that Europe's interests are served by being outside a global market that is steadily working its way through the issues raised by GM food. They are not."

UPDATE: Interesting to see the IHT is reporting that the European agriculture commissioner, Mariann Fischer Boel, has today warned farm ministers that resistance in Europe to imports of genetically modified products is contributing to the rising cost of raising pigs and chickens, and could pose a threat to the meat industry.

For further details, see Truth About Trade & Technology


The Stonemason said...

The problem with GM crops is not to do with their yield rate, they wouldn't even be on the market if the yield rate was lower than conventional, unmodified seeds. The problem with GM crops is their impact on the surrounding ecology; they are another step on the path of hi-tech agro-business that has caused much of the western world to be turned into monocultural deserts. They may need less pesticide and herbicide, but only because nothing can feed off them or grow on them. As stewards of God's creation we should be nurturing environments that are rich and lush and supportive of all life on this planet, not just hastening to fill our already obese bellies with cheaper food. It's not the science that matters so much in this debate, it's the ethics.

Ian.Thompson@christianfocus.com said...

I agree with the stonemason that the issue is to do with possible unintended consequences of genetic modification rather than yield and pesticide use. It doesn't help the cause, though, if governments hide inconvenient truths as it harms trust elsewhere

John said...

Is there actually any evidence to suggest that GM crops destroy biodiversity any more than any other introduced crops? No - habitat destruction and loss of traditional varieties will continue regardless of whether GM crops are used.

Protecting the crop from European corn borers is more specific and therefore less deleterious than use of herbicides and pesticides. On this basis, the higher yields and lower inputs of GM crops means that biodiversity loss may in fact be slowed by the introduction of genetically engineered varieties! Indeed, non-target insects have been observed to be more abundant among insect-tolerant GM crops. Furthermore, the incorporation, for instance, of disease resistance genes from ancient crops (currently preserved in gene banks) could lead to even greater genetic diversity.

From an ethical perspective, I do not regard the GM debate as a matter of "filling our already obese bellies with cheaper food" but of using our expertise for the common good - equipping communities, particularly in developing countries, to overcome the environmental challenges that keep them trapped in subsistence poverty; and producing more food on smaller amounts of land so as to help limit any negative impact of agriculture on biodiversity.