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There are millions starving; GM foods (which the WHO says are harmless) could massively help feed them. The Greens say no: just who do they think they are?

‘No effects on human health have been shown as a result of the consumption of such foods by the general population in the countries where they have been approved’

By on Monday, 28 May 2012

Greenpeace activists protest against genetically modified rice (AP Photo/Mahesh Kumar A.)

Greenpeace activists protest against genetically modified rice (AP Photo/Mahesh Kumar A.)

I think that of all the various brands of fanatic with which our society has been so bountifully endowed, the one I most detest (more even than the BNP, who have already discredited themselves and whose time is now over) are those who describe themselves as “environmentalists”: I emphasise that that is what they describe themselves as being, rather than what they actually are, since their effect on the environment in which we must all live is so frequently disastrous: witness, most dramatically perhaps, the destruction of hundreds of acres of unspoiled countryside by their ugly, noisy wind turbines, objects which are, in the immortal words of the Duke of Edinburgh (the great and good), “absolutely useless, completely reliant on subsidies and an absolute disgrace”.

One reason that I dislike “environmentalism” as a creed (though let me interject that I am entirely in favour, in a non-ideological way, of protecting the environment) is that it has become a variety of religion substitute, perverted religion that is, religion gone wrong, as a source not of virtue but of feeling good about the virtue one ascribes to one’s own objectives and behaviour, a posture which used to be called self-righteousness. Many others have noticed this unpleasant element of bogus religiosity within the soi-disant ecological tendency: the Times this morning has a leader on the demonstration in Hertfordshire yesterday against an experiment being mounted by scientists attached to an outfit called Rothamsted Research, who are conducting trials of a strain of wheat that has been modified to release a natural chemical which repels aphids. Demonstrators wanted to destroy (or, infuriatingly, “decontaminate”) these experimental crops: the Times headlined its leader “Against the Grain”, giving it the subheading, “Threats to destroy GM crops amount to vandalism in the service of superstition”.

The point is that one ultimate result of their work would be hugely to detoxify the natural world. The GM wheat that has been planted has been developed employing genes from the mint plant. Since the purpose of the research is to discover how to make crops more resistant to pests, and therefore greatly reduce their need for pesticides, it would, if successful, be enormously beneficial to the environment. So who are the real “environmentalists”: the GM scientists or the protestors? The simple fact is that the latter don’t know what they are talking about, and won’t be informed by those who know more than they do. It wasn’t possible for surrounding wheatfields to be “contaminated”, as those conducting the experiment have attempted to explain; but you can’t explain to those who won’t listen. According to the report of the event in that excellent online organ Farmers’ Weekly,

Rothamsted director Maurice Moloney had welcomed a public debate with the protesters, but said the offer had been turned down.

Prof Moloney feared the protesters could destroy years of important scientific research, and he insisted the chances of cross-pollination were extremely remote.

“We have no idea who is advising them scientifically, because it’s absolutely incorrect,” he said.

“Wheat is a self-pollinating plant so there is virtually no chance of any cross-pollination with local wheat.

“The way we have grown the wheat is desynchronised with local wheat as well, meaning it flowers at different times. It is the equivalent risk of worrying that a tornado would hit you.”

Scientists at Rothamsted genetically modified Cadenza spring wheat, developed with genes from the mint plant, so that it deters pests by releasing a chemical signal.

“As a result, the wheat produces a volatile chemical which the aphids don’t like and it makes them go elsewhere. The purpose of it is to see if we can come up with a strategy that would avoid the use of pesticides in wheat crops, as they kill other creatures like bumblebees,” explained Prof Moloney.

Not only does the chemical repel aphids, but it also attracts their natural enemies, parasitic wasps (Braconidae), which devour them.

If you look at the internet, you will see that it pullulates with extravagant claims about the dangers of GM foods to the human race. But the simple fact is that according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), “GM foods currently available on the international market have passed risk assessments and are not likely to present risks for human health. In addition, no effects on human health have been shown as a result of the consumption of such foods by the general population in the countries where they have been approved” — and despite the far too effective interference of these self-righteous activists, there are such populations, and there should be more, including our own. As the Times says, “Technologies for modifying crops are of immense potential benefit to humanity. They hold out the prospect of developing crops that can resist viruses and tolerate inhospitable conditions. GM crops are no more hostile to nature than are horticulture or the domestication of animals. The scientists at Rothamsted are conducting a wholly responsible experiment with scrupulous concern for human and environmental benefits.”

Nearly everyone, by now, who has taken the trouble to inform himself/herself (dread usage) about this — and that does not include Greens who have pumped themselves up on crazed anti-GM websites — has come to the same conclusion. You might like to have a look at a weighty document issued by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences on the subject: in brief, the document concludes that “There is nothing intrinsic about the use of GE technologies for crop improvement that would cause the plants themselves or the resulting food products to be unsafe”, and that “GE technology, used appropriately and responsibly, can in many circumstances make essential contributions to agricultural productivity by crop improvement, including enhancing crop yields and nutritional quality, and increasing resistance to pests, as well as improving tolerance to drought and other forms of environmental stress. These improvements are needed around the world to help improve the sustainability and productivity of agriculture.”

Meanwhile, the Rothamsted scientists should be left strictly alone to get on with their important work: this should now be made more likely by the commendable action of the St Albans City & District Council in obtaining an order, granted by the home secretary, making it a criminal offence to trespass on the land where their GM crops had been planted.

For the rest of us, I fear, the environmentalist religion will continue to be, in one way or another, a thundering nuisance. Let us hope, nevertheless, that these people will (as seems already to be happening) more and more lose the undeserved political influence they have garnered, via the currently fashionable Green movement. But fashions change; this too will pass.

  • Anon

    I seem to recall the bio-tech giants attempting to introduce one-crop only (terminator gene)
    seed that had to be purchased each year. Campaigners were acting in solidarity with poor farming families in opposing this.

  • Cestius

    Sorry but I do not buy the current sales spiel of the GM companies about global hunger. At the moment it is far more down to inequality and politics – there is more than enough food overall in the world to feed every body. And if we want to greatly increase the amount of food available to feed the world then we in the West and in the richer developing countries should cut down greatly on our meat habit. Meat production is just about the most inefficient way of producing protein for human consumption in terms of land and fossil fuel used known to man.  We should only been eating meat raised on food waste and land unsuitable for any other purpose such as growing crops for direct human consumption.

  • Guest

    Re wind turbines, i’m sure GK Chesterton would have loved them: a humankind technological advance, keeping the lights on, and more attractive than pylons.The electricity company/grid in the Borders did not have enough storage capacity, so much energy was being produced by them, on windy days last winter.

  • W Oddie

    That’s still part of the anti-GM propaganda. Of course it’s wrong; and it doesn’t happen, though theoretically possible

  • W Oddie

    That’s all we need, another d**** vegetarian

  • Iamreplete

    The comment by “Guest” about windmills in Scotland last winter is completely at variance with what actually happened. In fact, when the wind was high, the things had to be shut down, and electricity had to be purchased from someone with a fossil powered power plant. 
    As well, during the extremely cold period, which happened to coincide with a stationary high pressure, there was no wind, and so electricity had to be purchased from someone with a fossil powered power plant. 
    Again. As for the first comment, which purported to read GKC’s mind, how on earth does Guest know this?Of course, the whole point of such a comment is to distract from the real topic, GM food.Could this be because the writer doesn’t understand GM? 

  • Lewis P Buckingham

     Its a bit of a diversion but you are right, wind power is a waste of money.
    Those big vanes to be light to catch the breeze have to be kept spinning when there is no wind or they collapse.This is done by a gas powered motor,burning more fuel.If this is not done the vane warps and collapses under its own weight breaking the mill.
    Recent work has shown that these mills kill bats by sonic shock rather than by impact.They are an ecological disaster to migratory bats.Presumably the spinning vanes jam their echolocation, disorient them and they fly too close to the sonic waves.
    These machines load the bills of the poor in our country, Australia,although there has been some attempts to mitigate this.The poor and our export manufacturers need cheap baseload power or we fail as an economy and to care for our people.

  • LocutusOP

    I generally support any criticism of the environment religion, and if the Pontifical Academy of Sciences signs off on the use of certain manipulated crops, then I can’t really argue much. Of course, the document by the academy did qualify its support somewhat.

    However, I wish to point out that the starving of millions has nothing to do with the lack of GM plants, nor would an increase in GM plants reduce world hunger. There is more than enough food on the planet to feed everyone as it is, so food production is not at all the problem. Of particular relevance is the fact taht this would probably not be the case without the sort of plant breeding which humans have been doing down through the centuries, a point which is often forgotten.

    Furthermore, given the WHO’s generally dubious statistics, their recommendations should always be taken with a huge handful of salt, as they seem to spend as much time doing political lobbying as promoting authentic human health.

    Of course, the regrettable irony is that those push hardest to protect the ‘natural’ state of the environment are the same who simultaneously push hardest for artificial human environments – denying the “ecology of man” as the Pope recently put it.

  • Laurence

     If you trust Monsanto and Bayer you are out of your mind.

    And I have no truck with the Green movement.

  • John Jackson

    In light of this, I would recommend Roger Scruton’s marvelous rethink on the whole issue called ‘Green Philosophy: Thinking seriously about the Planet’.  It is the most sensible and best analysis of the issue and offers local solutions and sensible ideas as opposed to trendy scaremongering and top down failures that are currently in vogue.

  • rjt1

    There might be a legitimate concern about the patenting of GM seeds: i.e. the major companies would own the rights and less affluent farmers might be unable to afford them, so putting them at a disadvantage.

  • matt

    First point: humans have genetically modified biological organisms for millenia – for example, by saving the largest wheat grains for sowing for next year’s crop, or, slowly changing the wolf to the domestic dog.  In both instances, the actual genetic structure is modified – or, to put it another way, The grain became GM, and the domestic dog is GM.
    Second point:  For those who don’t think GM crops are good.  Recently, biologists developed a rice that is better adapted to flooding – needed badly in Bangladesh – where the annual rice crop often was decimated during typhoons.  The new rice will have increased yield, and may save millions from starvation over the coming decades.  So, let’s end the polemics about GM.  Humans have always had GM crops. 

  • Lewis P Buckingham

    You art right rjt1.The department of Agriculture, Ag schools and CSIRO in Australia have been developing wheat strains for decades that resist rust, drought and salinity while producing higher protein than the European counterparts.This combats protein malnutrition, the real world hunger, remember those Biafran babies with the big bellies.
    The result is that the farmer owns the wheat, can conserve it as seed against crop failure and sow it as the conditions allow.
    About twelve months ago Greenpeace, with ‘ecofriendly’ whippersnippers, went in and destroyed $A80,000, worth of experimental GM wheat that the CSIRO was growing in biologically secure plots.
    In this case the Taxpayer funded CSIRO was assisting the Multinational to test the wheat meaning for once there was the possibility that the patent could be made finite and the seed, if successful,sold to farmers for them to use when and as they wished with some safeguards.Greenpeace never discussed this with the CSIRO,they just went in.
    Like the Nike commercial, Greenpeace just ‘do it ‘ without any real scientific or rational background.
    GM canola now covers the west of NSW.,because it grows through dry spells.Its a good weapon against heart disease because of its unsaturated fats.No one seems to mind.

  • Oconnord

    One of the unsung heroes of the modern era was Norman Borlaug. He created a new strain of modified wheat in the early 60′s which doubled wheat yields in India, and later in South America, Africa and Asia. He’s often referred to as “The man who saved a billion people”. Although he won a Nobel Prize in 1970, he is practically unknown outside scientific circles. He was a truly inspiring man who grew up as a farmer’s son in Iowa, I would recommend everybody to read about his life and the contributions he made to humanity.

    As a counterbalance, I would also recommend reading about Thomas Midgley, probably the unsung villain of the modern era. Decades after his death he still credited with being the single worst thing to happen to the environment in human history. Even his death was an example of being “hoist on your own petard”

  • Oconnord

    That reply was uncharitable, unhelpful and unrealistic. Cestius made a very valid and factual point about the meat consumption. Do you forget the food riots in 2008 due to global grain prices? Some of the most reported were in Haiti before the earthquake.

    It’s simple economics in a global market. As the demand for meat in developing countries like China and Brazil increases, grain harvests are used to feed livestock rather than humans. Although estimates vary, a reasonable estimate is that it takes 10 kgs of grain to produce 1 kg of beef. (And it is beef which is the main problem.) 

    Meat was always a luxury for most of the populace, even in the West until the last few decades. But increased demand for meat now means that animals are fed before humans.

     So if you are a catholic and don’t want to limit global population, well the only way to have a clear conscience is to go vegetarian. Otherwise you really are taking the food from the mouths of starving children.

    PS. I have ignored the use of bio-diesels in the West, as using valuable food grains, but I think that is the subject of another article. 

  • Scyptical Chymist

     I agree wholeheartedly with you concerning Norman Borlaug and his contribution to feeding the millions of hungry people in India and South America.. The ignorance about him and the effects of his work s to be deplored ibut in the west most are too wrapped up in their own gratification, too few are dedicated people like him. However I think you are much too hard on Thomas Midgeley. There is no doubt that his invention of an antiknock additive for petrol (tetraethyl iead) transformed transport and industry at the time and it is far too easy to condemn the later environmental impact  with the benefit of hindsight – it is very easy to be virtuous  once more knowledge becomes available. Also let us not forget that the war against Hitler was aided immeasurably by he efficiency of the mainly  American transport system which would not have happened without tetraethyl lead. As for freon, the non toxic refrigerant gas – where would we be without refrigeration? True it was later found to affect the ozone layer – but you cannot blame Midgeley for this and substitutes are now available. All the self-righteous “greens” who condemn men such as Midgeley have had a net enhancement to their lives from such discoveries and have been quite willing to accept this benefit. As has been said – hindsight is a marvellous thing – 20-20 vision at last.

  • Scyptical Chymist

     The condemnation of exhaustively tested tested GM crops which wlll certainly make a contribution to feeding the world’s population is yet one further example of the irrational hatred of science and its applications by the “greens”. However, in the opinion of many, including me, this pales into insignificance compared to the hysteria whipped up against the mosquito killing DDT (leading to a world ban)  by the environmentalists after the publication of Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring. This led to the death of millions (no exaggeration) of people from malaria which was wholly preventable. Even Carson was later appalled  at what  her book had led to. These “greens” seem to hate humanity – we are often described as “contaminating the planet” and this is amply demonstrated by their opposition to discoveries which can lead to better nutrition and health.

  • Oconnord

    As I was tucking into my breakfast of sausage, eggs and bacon, I asked myself “is this a catholic breakfast?”
    The eggs should be unfertilised, so I’m safe. But then I realised… the pork came from an animal that was artificially inseminated, ripped from it’s mother at a young age, denied nature and nurture as it was grown in a giant barn, then slaughtered for my delectation. 

    Not respected from conception to natural death.

    Then I remembered that “Natural Law” only seems to apply to gays and condoms and the like. So I’m safe, as long as it wasn’t Friday, in which case I’d just have to ignore issues about over-fishing.

  • Scyptical Chymist

     You seem to have enjoyed your breakfast even though you know its history, as implied by your “tucking in” to it. It’s always a good thing to enjoy and be grateful for our food. Whatever your interpretation of the natural law you quote, it seems not to have marred your enjoyment of breakfast.

  • Oconnord

    I just dislike food snobbery. It all well for middle class people to insist on organic veggies, but that isn’t an option for the vast majority of people. The same would apply to meat, it is a luxury we take for granted. I personally don’t care if the sausage I eat is mostly ears, hoofs and the like, that just means there’s less of the animal wasted.

    I am, of course, concerned about how animals are farmed. Not just in the ethical, cruelty or natural sense I described with breakfast example. Simple things like anti-biotic use and pollution of the water and air are things which can affect us all.

  • JByrne24

    The objections to GM crops are irrational and at variance with the facts.

    Many (virtually all in fact) of the usual ignorant claims made against GM food are answered by leading scientists in Question and Answer on-line sessions on the “sense about science” website.

    Click on the various links to Part 1 and Part 2 etc to study the actual facts that these leading scientists in this field have clearly laid out.


  • Fides_et_Ratio

    Absolutely right Mr Oddie.
    Down with the neo-Luddites!

  • Peters John48

    I totally agree with Laurence. While I applaud science for improving our crops for the benefit of mankind, I am very very wary regarding the monopolisation of these crops. I recommend a viewing of the film “Food Inc.” Monsanto, in particular, is wreaking havoc in the lives of many many American farmers, they appear like a wolf in sheep’s clothing….bearing seeds of the future, then pouncing on the unsuspecting farmers, shutting down the ones who wont play the game.

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