Tuesday, November 27, 2007

GM genie

Professor Sir David King, the government's pet science monkey, has used his impending retirement from government to bring Genetically Modified food back onto the agenda, aping the GM industry's recent PR gambit - climate change. King, who is also an advocate of nuclear power, played the "it's climate change, stupid" card, arguing that we need GM to ensure there's plenty food for everyone.

He also claimed that "in many ways it is probably safer for you to eat GM products", without producing a shred of evidence to support his argument, only some unsubstantiated blurb about food sensitivities. GM nuts that won't kill those allergic to nut products won't save the world, although it might make a tidy profit for someone.

It's 'probably' not good for a scientist to make such claims without showing the evidence, instead staking his position with a reliance on utopian science. His post-1950s rosy confidence in science being the solution to the world's ills sounds familiar. Perhaps he can remember that old claim about nuclear power - "too cheap to meter".

Don't mistake me - I love science, me. But when someone who should know better gets lost in panacean speculation it's reasonable to expect that people will stop taking him seriously. Which is a pity, because the guy has been (and still is to a certain extent) a real champion for taking urgent action on climate change.

Let's not forget though, there is enough food for everyone, it's just that so many can't afford to buy enough of it. No matter the wonders of tuna-flavoured triffids or fart free beans that GM promises, if you can't afford it you're still going to go hungry. In reality GM foods aren't developed to feed the world, they are developed like any other modern product - to meet a marketing brief and make big fat wodges of dosh. GM development is now racing to get a bite of the biofuels market, so no bellies being filled there either.

The UK government's own farm scale trials into GM have so far proved at best inconclusive, with no benefits to the consumer or the environment over organic food. Industry and government proclaim GM as safe (and as King posits 'probably safer'), but if it really is safe, why isn't the GM industry willing to accept liability if it goes wrong, or pay organic farmers if their crops are contaminated with GM organisms? Why won't they put their money where their yaps are?

I do hope King enjoys his retirement. As is traditional for those retiring from government, perhaps some kindly soul in industry (like GM or nuclear possibly) could give him a nice part-time job or two to keep his hand in.

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