View from the fence

Social, environmental and economic issues surrounding GM foods, and the latest news


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Bad news in business and in Bangalore

I had two pieces of bad news when I turned my phone on yesterday morning  (not counting Trump bad news – I’ve become immune to that or mornings would be too depressing). A Whatsapp chat with my school friends explained that the violence in Bangalore had environmental causes, and a chat with my PhD friends informed me that Bayer had bought Monsanto. Continue reading


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How to stop patents stifling innovation

Patents are a seen as backbone of innovation – there’s no point in investing vast sums of money in something if a competitor can replicate your product as soon as it’s released. However, this of course means that innovations which could be used for the good of society can be controlled by patent holders (who may or may not give much weight to the ‘benefit society’ objective). Continue reading


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Industry funding of research isn’t ‘hidden’ or corrupt

Last week, the Council for Science and Technology released a (very positive) report on GM, calling for more trials, more investment, and a more evidence-based regulatory system. This was widely reported elsewhere with barely a mention of unhelpful phrases such as ‘frankenfood’, so for a summary I would suggest the BBC, the Guardian, or the Guardian’s analysis.

Sadly, the next day the Daily Mail had its say: ‘Scientists’ hidden links to the GM food giants’. For a start the headline is misleading because information about industry funding of research institutes is freely available. It then goes on to attack individual scientists in a way that is not constructive to the debate (including names and photos). Here are my problems with their article: Continue reading


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Businesses and charities – what’s the difference?

Anyone searching for the #gmo hashtag on Twitter could be forgiven for thinking that nobody in the world supports GM unless Monsanto pays them – I have even had a LinkedIn message from someone speculating that I might order Monsanto to ‘put a hit on him’. I believe this paranoid mistrust of business is damaging to an intellectual debate. In my what worries you about GM poll my vote was that I was very worried about the social/economic aspects of genetic modification in agriculture, and I also know that global businesses have committed serious crimes. But I think we need to remember that:

  • Charities have to make money just as much as businesses do
  • Some businesses bring us amazing things
  • Just because your primary motivation is to make the world a better place, it doesn’t mean that you don’t end up making things worse

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Enlightening discussions between an organic farmer and Monsanto

In doing some research for December’s news-roundup, I was very struck by a blog post from a Canadian organic farmer, Rob Wallbridge. He was given a guided tour of Monsanto which he approached with trepidation but with an open mind.

He said: “visiting Monsanto dispelled much of my trepidation about the technology of genetic engineering.”

I say: an organic farmer and Monsanto having an open discussion, that sounds like progress. Continue reading


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Monsanto withdraws EU applications for new crops

This month, Monsanto confirmed that it is withdrawing all of its EU applications for approval for new crops (around 10), apparently in frustration about the delays in clearing existing crops at EU level. It does not affect clearance for existing GM seeds in Portugal and Spain.

This raises interesting questions about whether the approval process is set up to allow cultivation of crops which are safe for both human consumption and the environment*, while not being so expensive that only the largest multi-nationals can afford it. Continue reading