Sanity begins to prevail on GM crops

June 20, 2013 at 7:06 pm (conspiracy theories, environment, green, Jim D, science)

Environmental secretary Owen Paterson made a speech today in favour of GM crops.

He said that his speech was “quite long” and that it would contain “quite a lot of detail”. He’s right. You can read it here and, unusually for a speech posted on a government website, it makes very good use of links. If you read the speech online, you will find plenty of links to source material justifying the claims that Paterson was making. Paterson made some of his arguments on the Today programme this morning (9.45) , but in that interview did not include the attack on the European Union’s regulatory regime that is at the heart of the speech.

Paterson’s decision to come out in favour of GM follows years of pusillanimous evasion by British politicians of all stripes, terrified of antagonising the anti-science lobby and being portrayed as friends of “Frankenfoods.”   In large part this is due to a significant shift in public opinion: in a poll commissioned by the Independent last year, 64 per cent of respondents were in favour of experiments on GM crops, with 27 against and 9 per cent undecided. This represents a major shift from the 1990’s when public opinion in Britain was overwhelmingly opposed.

Much of the credit for this must go to Mark Lynas, an anti-GM protester from the 1990’s who studied the science and changed his mind, braving the wrath of erstwhile friends and colleagues, some of whom can turn very nasty. Lynas told the Guardian:

“I think there are several reasons why GM is making a comeback. First, the blanket opposition to GM per se as a technology is obviously untenable in any scientific sense – there is no reason why it should present any new dangers in food, and, indeed, may well be safer than conventional breeding in crops…

“With the passage of more than a decade since the widespread commercialisation of GM crops in North America, Brazil and elsewhere, hundreds of millions of people have eaten GM-originated food without a single substantiated case of any harm done whatsoever.”

Alongside Lynas, credit is due to Professor John Pickett and his team of scientists at the publicly funded Rothamsted Research Institute. Here four of the Rothamsted scientists make their case, pleading with protesters who had threatened to destroy their GM trial in May of last year:

Now, at last, it looks as though those voices of reason are winning the day.

20 Comments

  1. Modernity's Ghost said,

    Jim,

    What an incredibly naive approach?

    On other occasions you might have asked intelligent questions of why the Tories push GM crops?

    In other circumstances, you might ask what role business plays in changing public opinion on this issue?

    And above all, you might ask who gains from it?

    You might ask those questions, as Marxists, or as anyone capable of seeing past the bleeding obvious.

    • R F McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said,

      Yes there is an easy and facile contrarianism to which the AWL is somewhat prone and which I myself fall into frequently.

      But on GM this is about using real advancements of science to feed billions.

      Yes corporations and their political shills in Westminster and Washington DC and everywhere push for it because vast fortunes are to be made.

      But this is because we are reaching Peak Capitalism where every aspect of life in almost every corner of the globe – including our very dissent – is being commodified.

      Thus there is almost no conceivable technological advancement where your kto-kogo? and cui bono? questions will not give you the same answer.

      Yes capitalists will benefit and massively – just as they did from cotton gins and spinning jennies and steam pistons and canals and roads and railways and steel mills and cars and aircraft and antibiotics….

      And yes some people – above all peasants who can’t afford to compete with the new GM seeds – will lose out.

      But this has been the case and will be the case as long as we live under capitalism and only addressing questions of ownership and power will change that.

  2. Timon for Tea said,

    “And above all, you might ask who gains from it?”

    And the answer is: many people. Yes, some capitalists who will grow rich by exploiting this technology, but also millions of hungry people who will get food they would otherwise be denied, and millions of poor people who will see the inexorable rise in food prices slowed or halted.

  3. Jim Denham said,

    Ben Goldacre (no friend of big business), put it well in his book ‘Bad Science':
    “Witnessing the blind, seething, thoughtless campaigns against MMR and GM … it’s easy to experience a pervasive sense of lost political opportunities, that somehow all of our valuable indignation about development issues, the role of big money in our society, and frank corporate malpractice, is being diverted away from anywhere it could be valid and useful, and into puerile, mythical fantasies. It strikes me that if you genuinely care about big business, the environment and health, then you’re wasting your time with jokers like Pusztai [anti-GM campaigner -JD] and Wakefield [anti-MMR campaigner – JD].”

  4. Modernity's Ghost said,

    Jim,

    It is a real pity that you and most commentators here don’t trouble to look beyond the obvious as to why is business pushing GM crops?

    Ask that question, grope for an answer and you might see some of the troubling issues, that is, if you’re serious on this topic.

    Or you could resort to boilerplate Trotskyist contrarianism, which is it?

  5. Jim Denham said,

    Mod: I refer you to Timon for Tea (above, #2). I have no idea who Timon is, btw.

    In the alternative, try K Marx, The Communist Manifesto, esp the section on Reactionary Socialism.

  6. Modernity's Ghost said,

    Jim,

    So you don’t know why business is so keen on GM?

    Seems a bit silly writing a very pro-GM post, but being incapable (or more likely unwilling) to grasp the underlying political/economic issues with any finesse.

  7. Pinkie said,

    Morality’s Ghost, why not outline the underlying political/economic issues, or give some links.

    That is what you are complaining about, isn’t it?

  8. Modernity's Ghost said,

    It is exceedingly difficult to have a civil exchange with supposed Marxist on economic topics that they claim some mastery over: an understanding of capitalism.

    It wouldn’t be so bad if said Marxist asked a few sharp questions, or had anything more than a superficial grasp of these topics.

    But the arrogance embedded in their politics won’t allow them to admit when they don’t know something.

    I’ll leave a little hint: patents.

  9. Jim Denham said,

    Re: patents.

    The Rothamsted research is available to all freely, is not, and will not be, patented.

    What more, exactly, do you want, Mod?

    Incidentally, apart from the anti-science fundamentalists, the other best-organised and most influential opponents of GM research are the supermarkets.

  10. Sue R said,

    Doesn’t it affect bees adversely though?

  11. Modernity's Ghost said,

    Jim,

    It is extraordinary that you and the AWL call yourself Marxists yet can’t see the implications of patents under capitalism?

    You can’t understand why patenting food could be an issue?

    You can’t understand why patenting certain types of seeds might be questionable?

    You can’t seem to grasp the restrictive nature of patenting and how it would be used in a negative fashion in terms of GMO?

    I am a great believer in science, but it does not blind me to the implications of how GMO/patents will be used.

    Finally, if you going to examine these issues, might I suggest that you take a serious approach to it and at least make a cursory effort to understand the negative implications of patents and GMO.

  12. R F McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said,

    Modernity,

    Everything capitalists do is objectionable.

    If they breed a new strain of seed of course they will patent it – that’s what they do.

    Because you are (AFAICS) a liberal who seemingly does not object to capitalism in principle but to individual instances of bad behavior from capitalists you almost literally can’t see the wood for the trees (as I am sure there is a GM forest somewhere and your objection would presumably be that the trees genes are patented – mine is that anyone at all owns a whole fucking forest….).

    Carl Schmitt in his Political Romanticism characterises it as ‘subjectified occasionalism': lacking the total if not totalitarian world-view of a religion or a serious ideology the narcissistic modern bourgeois liberal sees the world as just so many occasions that inspire different emotional states – and thus reduce all politics to a mere Phantasiespiel or fantasy game played not to win battles and destroy real enemies but to produce ephemeral moments of literal self-satisfaction.

    Which is precisely why they latch on to GM and other environmentalist hippie bullshit – after all what could produce finer and more elevated feelings than actually hugging a tree to save the whole earth…..

    • Monsuer Jelly More Bounce to the Ounce (Much More Bounce) said,

      great stuff Roger. Every tweet i look at is a proof of the statement of Schmitt

  13. Modernity's Ghost said,

    Roger,

    Superb strawman.

    I would have thought as a would-be academic that you might want to understand the question of GMO?

    However I fully appreciate that Trots/ex-Trots hate admitting they don’t know about a topic, even when it’s a central issue.

    It is very hard to understand those who claim to grasp capitalism inside out, and its fundamental, not to apply that to GMO and its implications.

    But those who can’t grasp it, should probably spend more time reading up on the subject, not writing ill informed, partial and incomplete blog posts.

    Sadly, Marx, Lenin and Trotsky did not write on patents, otherwise readers here would probably grasp the issue.

    When you patent a food you restrict its usage, you extract a fee for its usage, in turn you deprecate plant diversity which could lead to more problems in the future. etc etc

    Do I really need to explain the long term implications of patents/lack of plant diversity? Or how it will probably increase poverty not lower it?

    Think about patenting wheat, etc

    Jim/Roger, do yourself and readers a favour, educate yourself on a topic before writing about it.

  14. Jim Denham said,

    Mod: do yourself a favour and learn to think rationally. For instance, name one single, solitary technical/scientific advance that has not benefitted the ruling class under capitalism. Does that mean we’re opposed to such advances? Marx dealt with this in the ‘Manifesto’ but you, Mod appear to just not get it. Are you some sort of hippy or Druid?

    As for patents: Mod, did you not read what I wrote? I repeat, for the hard-of-thinking:

    “The Rothamsted research is available to all freely, is not, and will not be, patented.”

  15. Sue R said,

    But, what about the bees?

  16. Modernity's Ghost said,

    My. this is hard work.

    I’m talking generally about GMO, I’m talking about the overall problem of patenting food.

    All of this should be obvious to socialists.

    It means that when someone produces a piece of patented food (in future, not now this week, not the week after, in the *future*) they will have to pay a fee to the licensee.

    When that food is processed the licensee will receive a cut, and so on. On and on.

    The long-term objective is to moniterise freely available produce as patented foods, which imposes a burden on food producers, will limit the types of foods that can be grown, and should push up the prices, etc

    All of this socialists know.

    Any competent socialist should notice how patents in science often lead to restrictive practices. The operating systems that you use is but one example, little or no competition, enriching a few at the expense of the many. Need I explain that too?

    If you put your thinking caps on, imagine what that could be like a hundred years hence, where each food has a patent connected to it and all of the restrictions and monopolies that go along with that.

    But never mind all of that, those whooshing noises above your head, are those arguments flying past you.

    In short, GMO can NOT be considered in isolation, rather in the context of a constrictive capitalist system which seeks to extend its fingers into all aspects of society & along with that impose restrictive burdens on food production via patents.

    Socialists should see beyond the obvious and understand the longer term implications of that process.

  17. Jim Denham said,

    This is, indeed, hard work. But I persevere even though I suspect it’s futile…

    Mod says: “In short, GMO can NOT be considered in isolation, rather in the context of a constrictive capitalist system which seeks to extend its fingers into all aspects of society & along with that impose restrictive burdens on food production via patents”…

    I say “err”.. where the fuck does such a banal statement as that get you?

    Now, Mod, try answering the question I set you:

    “Name one single, solitary technical/scientific advance that has not benefitted the ruling class under capitalism. Does that mean we’re opposed to such advances?”

    I await your answer with baited breath.

    I realise you don’t have the advantage, in these exchanges, of being a Marxist. But I would have expected better even from a half-educated liberal.

  18. blergHhhhhhhhhhhh commemetayraryer said,

    The assertion by Rothamsted that the results of their research will not be patented should be treated with suspicion. Most patented research in pharmaceuticals and biotechnology begins as publically funded and then the private sector steps in the final stages of research (or somtimes even at the marketing and distribution phase) and is granted exclusive rights for around 20 years. Given that Rothamsted has patented its research in the past and that it works with the likes of Monsanto, Dow Agrosciences, Bayer Agriculture and BASF, a healthy dose of skepticism is needed in relation to their insistance that their research will not be patented.

    And its not simply a case of capitalists benefiting from GM. Whilst GM crops are owned by agribuisness giants like Monsanto they are regressive and harmful to humanity and the planet: they limit biodiversity (they increase the practice of monocropping), they increase hunger (research is directed towards ‘cashcrops’ for export to the ‘west’ at the expense of local food needs), they reduce farmers to serfs (with the lords of the manor replaced with the biotech firms) etc. As a Marxist you shouldn’t be so quick to embrace technological fixes to all the world’s problems.

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