‘Induction over the history of science suggests that the best theories we have today will prove more or less untrue at the latest by tomorrow afternoon.’ Fodor, J. ‘Why Pigs don’t have wings,’ London Review of Books, 18th Oct 2007

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Prince of Wales criticises GM crops

The Prince of Wales has criticised GM crops for threatening extensive damage to the ecosystem. He commented that GM was being developed for the sake of big business against the interests of small farmers around the world. Calling GM crops a "gigantic experiment with nature and the whole of humanity" he argued that it has "gone seriously wrong".

The Prince believes that relying on "gigantic corporations" for food production will end in "disaster" for the environment and humanity. Instead he argues that we should be developing "food security not food production." "If they think this is the way to go, we will end up with millions of small farmers all over the world being driven off their land into unsustainable, unmanageable, degraded and dysfunctional conurbations of unmentionable awfulness." This is a fair point regarding the social consequence of making poor farmers dependent on big agro businesses for the management of their farming practices, undoing centuries of tradition.

Of course Charles has come in for a lot of criticism from politicians, scientists and business for his comments. Undoubtedly this will result in some further comment from environmentalists, and although some of his comments might seem over the top they are very welcome for those who want to see a more organic, local and sustainable future for agriculture.

Prince Charles on GM crops
Andrew S


Dissenter said...

Prince Charles often comes across as having his heart in the right place and making statements which are inspiring, but sometimes unbalanced and inaccurate.

I grow 4 acres of old English apples in Hampshire which are sold locally, so I subscribe to Charles's 'organic' ideals of small, local, diverse, traditional, seasonal, few food miles etc. However, I must spray pesticides to get a decent crop. The 3 apples trees in my back garden are never sprayed, as a result they are full of maggots and covered with scab. They are quite unsaleable and we pile most of them up in the hedge for the blackbirds and fieldfares. 'Organic' is fine in theory but unrealistic given the current and future human population's food requirements.

Incidentally, on the subject or rare old apple varieties, I consider it vital that older varieties of apples and other food plants with their unique God-given genetics are widely preserved. Traditional plant breeding may yet have new benefits, especially in terms of disease resistance. We don't use pesticide because we like it, naturally resistant varieties are badly needed, as is a change in attitute towards imperfect produce.

Charles's off-centred comments and passionate commitment are welcome in these dull days, but his black-and-white views are sometimes just too simple. Why is GM by definition 'A Bad Thing'? Like millions of others, I have had several doses of genetically modified hepatitis B vaccine, if this were poisonous we would know by now. A government minister has asked Charles to produce the evidence for the 'environmental disaster' he says GM will cause. It seems to me that much opposition to GM is more emotional than rational.

GM technology is not 'the' answer to global food security, but it may come in useful. We will never know if aggressive protests and emotional manipulation of public opinion prevent trials being done. If, for example, GM produced drought tolerant, disease-resistant or nitrogen-fixing strains of corn, it would be an absolute godsend, benefitting humans AND the environment. Humanity should not be denied such potential benefits through prejudice and misinformation about 'Frankenstein foods'.

There are real issues about big multinational corporations dominating seed production to the detriment of small traditional farmers, and Prince Charles rightly draws attention to this. Is the answer then to somehow decouple corporate profit from the use of GM techniques to produce poverty-alleviating new plant varieties? I am a bit of a conservative in thinking that government should only do that which only gvernment can do, and whilst not against the profit motive and a free market for most goods and services, i think that reserach into food plants which will most benefit poor farmers should perhaps be done by multinational governments working together. Surely this is the sort of thing the United Nations could be involved in brokering?

If we could get rid of the fear that the Big Bad Businessmen were only developing GM plants for power and profit, we could reduce the irrational fear which holds back potential gains the technology holds out. Christians ought not to jump on the anti-GM bandwagon, but weigh the issues on merit.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your comments Stephen. your comments form the basis for serious consideration. Clearly medical science has led to benefits for public health, and I am sure most Christians take advantange of medical research, but at what point does science go too far and do more damage than good?

Dissenter said...

Thanks Anonymous.

Clearly medical science has brought many benefits, but also some harms. For example, the excessive and inappropriate use of antibiotics has led to resistant germs such as MRSA, also one could say that the birth control pill has facilitated sexual immorality. Also medicine has made us less afraid of death and what comes after, which may not be a wholly good thing. All technologies should be used in the light of God's revelation concerning justice and righteousness.

Every technology man has ever come up with has been misused, from stone axes to the printing press. Just look (or perhaps don't) at the quantum leap in pornography which the internet has made possible?

At this moment I have a sharp knife with a locking blade in my pocket because I am just going out to do some work in my orchard. The knife could be used to kill a man. Currently there is great concern about knife crime, but it is the hand and mind of the criminal that is the problem, not the knife itself. But there are some people who, in theory, would wish to send me to prison for 5 years for having a knife in my pocket.

All I'm saying about GM is that it should be viewed as a technology and appraised rationally like other technologies. Just as if I am forbidden to 'carry a knife' there are lots of useful jobs I won't be able to do, so if we have a blanket ban on GM, we may (I stress 'may') be deprived of the opportunity to develop a nitrogen fixing corn. Beans and peas can fix nitrogen, corn has to have it added to the soil. Nitrogen fertilisers depend heavily on oil for manufacture, their price has TREBLED over the last year, and this affects the poor most of all. Therefore a nitrogen fixing corn which IN THEORY might be achieved by splicing some pea genes into corn might have a similar effect to Joseph storing up corn against years of famine, and 'keeping many persons alive' (Genesis 50 vs 20).

The anti-GM protestors who have attacked GM trial sites and rendered experiments impossible inBritain have been compared to Nazi book-burners. Prince Charles's words will have given them encouragement.

kind regards