From the Eastern Daily Press, Wednesday, May 31, 2000:
Scare stories in GM debate
The Hassocks, Merton.
It is high time to inject a little realism into the latest GM crop scare orchestrated in this country by Greenpeace. It is no good trying to get the national Press to publish the truth because they need the headlines from scare-mongering to sell their expensive papers.
The truth is that half the rape and maize on the other side of the pond has been GM for some 10 years now, and it had been perfectly legal to mix GM and non-GM varieties, Anybody who thinks that in practice they usually separate it out again when sending it abroad, is either naive or else without much international merchandising experience - or else perhaps he is Lord Melchett.
It was bound to come out sooner or later. If you had the time and money to pop over to the States or Canada and make a few discreet inquiries you could have started the present furore any time in the past decade.
Not many people know potatoes are genetically modified tomatoes. It took the South Americans thousands of years. If you water and fertilise a potato crop after flowering you can get a crop of tomatoes from it - admittedly, small, green and poisonous, the original wild variety without benefit of GM to make them edible. All the flowers at Chelsea are GM, just like all the veg we eat. The other kind are known as wild flowers or weeds.
The use of benign viruses by scientists to speed the process up and select for virtuous evolution is nothing special.
Viruses have a bad track record because left to themselves only the very fittest folk survive, but equally they have been passing genetic material between species from day one, and they have the power for good properly controlled.
It is simply not true that the Third World can be fully fed without GM. Greenpeace apparently don't believe this but I spent half my life watching malnutrition at work on the children of the Third World.
I don't enjoy the fraudulent substitution of GM for non-GM a jot more than Greenpeace does, but I am not blind and believe we should address the world as it is rather than kidding ourselves it is something else and then getting in a paddy.
A cynic might add we can now rejoice we got the trials for free without the trauma of knowing about them and they proved OK. It was tried in America first. I can think of worse scenarios.
From the Eastern Daily Press, Monday, June 5, 2000:
Real dangers of GM crops
Lord Walsingham ('Scare stories in GM debate', EDP, May 31) accused the national press of 'scare-mongering' about GM crops. They are not scare stores - they are scary and they are also true.
Seed which was sold to farmers as one thing has turned out to be contaminated with a GM variety of oil seed rape. The seed industry suggests that the same may have happened to some maize seed. It is clear that the 'buffer zones' which the GM industry has been promoting on the basis that they would protect crops from such contamination have not worked, which is exactly what environmentalists and scientists sceptical about this technology said would happen.
Lord Walsingham may be right to imply that anyone who knew anything about the countryside would know that contamination of ordinary crops (conventional and organic) by GM would be inevitable.
This is what all environmental groups said would happen and one of the reasons why Greenpeace is calling for a ban on all GM releases into the environment. It's the chemical companies selling GM crops which claimed this would not occur.
Where Lord Walsingham is badly wrong is in suggesting that all our garden flowers and all the vegetables we eat are themselves genetically modified. They are not.
Genetic modification is a revolutionary new technology as scientists involved acknowledge. It allows us to cross species barriers, transferring genes from bacteria and viruses into crops, as well as genes from one plant to another which would never happen in nature.
As one scientist described it, we are exchanging a system which has been tried and tested and found to be generally safe over millions upon millions of years with a new system which allows us to carry out the same processes almost instantaneously.
It is worth remembering that just a few years ago every GM company, and most governments were trumpeting the revolutionary nature of genetic engineering, and the extraordinary previously unheard of things it would allow us to do.
Finally, I'm not sure that Lord Walsingham's rather strange claim that "tomatoes are genetically modified potatoes" will completely reassure all readers.
From the Eastern Daily Press, Wednesday, June 7, 2000:
Value of GM crop trials
E C APLING
Lord Melchett ("Real dangers of GM crops", EDP June 5) continues to cry "wolf, wolf" about the supposed dangers of GM crops, knowing full well that his organisation is trying its utmost to disrupt field experimentation designed to assess the risk which may be involved in the commercial application of new varieties developed by the new techniques.
There are always environmental hazards arising from the introduction of exotic species into the environment, of which the past problems with coypu in Norfolk and the present problems with Japanese waterweed in UK waterways are well-known examples - but there are no known problems which have arisen from the introduction of new crop varieties, and it is the possibility that such MIGHT arise from new GM varieties which the field trials are intended to investigate.
The assumption that such problems MUST arise, without any evidence of such problems, can in truth only be described as scare-mongering - the whole raison d'être of Greenpeace.
Of course GM is a revolutionary new technique, and any new technique involves both benefits and dangers - but genetic modification has gone on ever since life began on earth (how else did new species arise?) - and there is no food crop, or garden flower for that matter, which is not genetically modified from its wild precursors.
The increasing human population of the world cannot do without the benefits of new high-yielding, more pest-resistant, more salt-tolerant crop varieties and it would be simply criminal to refuse to allow a new technique to be applied simply because of supposed dangers that may arise.
On the matter of "contaminated" seed, this is - if the seed was sold as "GM-free" - a clear contravention of the Trades Description Act; but if the seed was sold simply as "oil-seed rape" seed then its GM-provenance could surely be anticipated as most of the new varieties grown in Canada and USA for low-erucic acid "Canola" to provide rape oil for use in human food preparation, have for some years now been developed using GM techniques. The way in which the new GM varieties have contributed to vegetable oil production in temperate climates - and the reduction in crop losses in insect-resistant, GM-produced maize - should rather be seen as two of the first benefits of GM to agriculture.
Well conducted studies at University of Maine have indicated that although cross-pollination between GM and traditional maize varieties is possible over 100 ft, the 1000ft buffer zone required by US law is perfectly adequate to protect organic maize from neighbouring crops of GM-maize - so what is the problem?.
Meanwhile in Britain trials have been required to assess the risk and Lord Melchett has led attempts to disrupt them.