Monday, 19 April 1999

Genetically Modified Food - so what's the problem?


Basically, we are applying new technology derived from a young science, both not fully understood, without any real idea of the long term effects. We have a similar situation as existed forty odd years ago with nuclear power and chemical agriculture. Both those dreams proved to be more like nightmares, and it is vital we don't make the same mistakes again. The act of giving organisms new genes changes how those organisms function inside, not just how they behave to look at. It's a bit like changing a cake ingredient without knowing the recipe - you can give the new ingredients to the cook, and hope you get the result you want.  A chocolate cake made with gravy browning might look a like a chocolate cake, but the taste? Living things are much more complex than cakes, and the way the chemicals that make them work interact in complex and varied ways. Our current knowledge of these processes is too underdeveloped to safely be releasing new genetic material into the wild, where it can hybridise with wild types and have unknown effects on wildlife. We already know that weed killer resistance can pass to wild weeds, and that some GM crops damage useful animals like ladybirds. It could be an ecological disaster on a par with DDT, and an agricultural one as bad as BSE. If not worse. And they told us that was safe, too.

And then they want us to eat it. The vast majority of food that has GM ingredients in it is NOT labelled, so we can't choose, unless you go for guaranteed GM free brands, or organic food, which is always GM free. Currently, most GM food we get has GM soya or maize in it, which could be any of the processed food you might buy, things as diverse as tinned soups, bread, ready meals, sausages, burgers, the list is huge. Some tomato products are also GM, as are some vegetarian cheeses. The companies who are profiting from all this, companies like Monsanto, are happy with the confusion They hope people won't be bothered to check, or make a fuss, so they can slowly take a huge share of our diet by stealth. Only be resisting them now can we stop them, and as the past few months have shown, it can be done.

More info - Food and Biotechnology campaigner, Spencer Cooke. (01433) 0621658. sjcfoe@smalldale.demon.co.uk