‘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'

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,

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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.

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