The spurious argument of the pro-GM lobby

It’s no secret that our cousins across the Pond regard us European’s as somewhat quaint and outdated.

It’s hard for them to understand, for example, why we are so hostile towards genetically modifying (GM) foodstuff, despite the obvious advantages. And we keep getting reminded of this evident backwardness, as happened last week with the latest series of articles extolling the virtues of GM food emerged around the world.

I take a slightly more nuanced view than the lets-burn-all-the-crops lobby. I think more research probably does need to be done on the environmental and health implications of GM food, but I also think that a lot of people in Europe, when they hear the word “GM”, misunderstand exactly what it is – or get caught up in some of the hyperbole spewed forth by press. The human race has been genetically modifying crops ever since it cottoned on to farming. We would never have had corn if the insightful Mesoamericans of Central America hadn’t thought to engineer it several millennia ago. The only difference is that, these days, we can be more precise.

The potential environmental and health dangers – or not – of GM crops is something best left to the scientists, so I won’t dwell on it here.

But I do find myself questioning the somewhat spurious argument that, well, we must have GM food because it’s all about food security.

Certainly, cultivating hardier plants might help food production, but at what cost? (Scientists to discuss, as above!) A far simpler way of securing food security would be to dabble with politics.

There is plenty of under-cultivated land in Africa, and the production on much of this land can be increased without necessarily endangering wildlife sanctuaries or the environment. The problem is a predominance of subsistence farming, without adequate mechanisation, and a deficiency of infrastructure so that cultivated crops cannot always be brought on to the national markets, let alone exported, in a timely fashion.

Politics can be used to facilitate change. I write about food security in Africa all the time, and see how quickly things are changing. The trick is to make sure that change happens responsibly, and making sure land in Africa is used in the most appropriate way – without simply swelling the coffers of big business, but actually benefitting the smallholder too – can go a great way to guaranteeing world food security.

The real danger of GM, as I see it, is that it is being pushed by the big business lobby not because they care so much about food security, but because they care about their own pockets.

Imagine a world where some staple crops had been re-engineered beyond all recognition.

Now extend that shimmer of vision to a world where, for every tweak of a crop, there is a patent pending – and then accepted.

Now imagine that, through their intensive patenting, large corporations actually hold the blueprint to these new crops, and the old ones don’t exist anymore, and the world’s poor, which the pro-GM lobby say they want to help, have to pay whatever price the giant agri-corporations dictate.

Now that really is scary.

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