So the government are putting forward the case for relaxing the regulations on GM. When elected, they claimed they would be the ‘greenest’ government ever. A few years on and they’ve virtually abandoned sustainable energy in favour of coal and oil, changed the planning regulations to encourage building on green belt land, and are promoting the devastating ‘fracking’ extraction process as the answer to our energy problems. So we shouldn’t be surprised that they want GM too. Is it greed or stupidity, do you think? Are our politicians in the pockets of the huge multi-nationals responsible for GM, or are they really so ignorant as to believe the facile arguments in favour of GM?
There are two main problems with GM. The first is the potential danger. There are so many examples of the damage that can result from introducing species (and GM crops are effectively just that – new, introduced, species) into ecologies where they don’t belong. I could cite cane toads which, in Australia, together with foxes, cats, rabbits, and a wide range of introduced plants that have become invasive, have pushed an upsetting number of indigenous species to the brink of extinction. Cats, mink, Japanese Knotweed and Himalayan Balsam are just a small selection of introduced species that are having a similarly damaging effect on our environment here in the UK. Sometimes it’s possible to go back. In the UK, for example, we have had success eradicating mink. But the smaller the organism, the harder it becomes. How do you round up and destroy seeds, or pollen? We simply can’t be sure that a particular GM crop won’t turn out to have an unexpected and devastating effect on our environment, perhaps by adversely affecting an insect that turns out to be crucial to the food chain.
The second problem is with the potential benefits. The claim is that GM can increase crop yields to help feed an ever growing human population. But even the GM companies’ own figures, which they’ve failed to make good in practice, are relatively insignificant, and don’t justify the effort, expenditure and, most importantly, the risks. Various studies have shown that it takes more land to produce meat than to produce the same quantity of crops. Much more. I’ve seen figures of twenty-five times more. The effect of persuading people (in the developed world) to include less meat in their diet would render any benefits GM may (or may not!) give as insignificant. And then, of course, we could perhaps stop to think that maybe population growth isn’t an unalterable fact. We could start taking action not only to stop growth, but to begin slowly reducing world population to a more sustainable level.
It seems that our government are prepared to put all of this out of their minds, and why – could it be because there’s money to be made from GM?