Envirospin Watch has the full text of the letter, along with the names of the 144 scientists who signed it. Here's how it opens:
The results of the Farm Scale Evaluations of three GM crops announced on 16th October were reported across the media as “the end of GM in the UK”. In fact the FSEs did not assess the effects of genetically modifying the crops, but rather the impact of different types of weed control. They had little to do with genetic modification, its processes or potential.They’ve got a point. A lot of the press reports I saw on the results of the GM field trials were extremely misleading, and the government hasn’t done much to counteract the false impression they created.
However the government’s reaction to the latest misleading reports on GM was to remain silent. Since 1999, the government has sponsored several protracted deliberations on GM but has consistently neglected opportunities to address any of the unsubstantiated assertions about the process of genetic modification and possible risks.
But this isn’t just a dispute between scientists and journalists about how research results are reported. It‘s part of the wider debate on GM foods between environmentalists and technologists. And, on an international scale, it’s part of an ongoing trade dispute between the USA and Europe, as this summary from GreenWatch makes clear:
In 1998, the E.U. banned imports of so-called genetically-modified (GM) crops. American farmers grow 70% of the world's GM crops. Their operations are high-tech and fairly efficient. American farmers have increased their yields by using scientifically-engineered GM seeds that resist disease and need fewer pesticides; they produce high quality food at a cheap price. By contrast, Europe's farms are notoriously inefficient, slow to modernize, and resist adopting new technologies like GM seeds. The result: American farmers under price the Europeans. The only way the E.U. can protect its farmers is by shutting out American GM products.The EU has since reversed that decision but the regulations governing GM foods have been tightened to make it easier for individual nations within the EU to keep them out. The BBC reported on the changes just a couple of weeks ago:
A new directive comes into force in the European Union on Thursday placing tighter restrictions on genetically modified crops, and the sale of food containing GM ingredients.Judging by recent events in the UK, it seems clear that whatever the scientists say about the risks of GM foods, the public, ill-served by the media and open to green propaganda, are likely to reject them.
The directive says GM foods may pose environmental and health risks, and every country proposing to grow or import them should conduct a detailed assessment of those risks. Governments will also have a statutory duty to consult the public.
That’ll be just fine by the EU and fine for sophisticated European consumers, who don’t seem to mind paying more for their food than they really have to. But it works out a little differently in Africa, where the BBC reports countries like Zambia have turned down much-needed food aid from the US because it was grown from GM seed.
GM food aid was sent to southern Africa during the current drought, despite strong reservations from Africa. Zambia banned the aid, saying it would rather go hungry than risk losing its export markets in Europe because its crops had been contaminated with GM seed.The anti-GM meme has gone international. The BBC last year quoted President Mwanawasa of Zambia referring to GM food as "poison". Was that opinion informed by scientific research or gleaned from misleading media reports and the consensus amongst international NGO’s? I find it strange to see organizations like Oxfam and Action Aid arguing against people in Africa being allowed to grow food. I can’t see how that contributes to the relief of hunger.
The precautionary principle sounds fine to me, but if I’m starving I’ll eat anything.