View from the fence

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


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How can we change people’s behaviour?

I recently woke to the news that environmental activists were arrested for scaling the roof of New Zealand’s parliament to raise awareness of climate change (my alarm is set to the Today programme, so I guess I’m not alone). This didn’t fill me with hope. I’m not sure awareness is the problem – what we’re lacking is action.

Take healthy eating as an example – it’s widely known what a healthy diet looks like, and also widely ignored. So I was interested to read a Global Food Security blog post about research into behaviour change. What could make people  switch to a healthy, sustainable diet?

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GM is a distraction

This week I went to a debate at the British Library about ‘Biotech on the Farm’. A geneticist, an economist and a Friends of the Earth campaigner talked genetic modification, taxes and eating meat as part of the regular TalkScience series. There was far more which the panel agreed on than might have been anticipated, driven by the common understanding that we need to increase food production while protecting the environment.

The geneticist and Friends of the Earth campaigner found plenty of common ground, and plenty to disagree on. They both believe genetic modification is a distraction. Professor Sang believes the method of production is just a distraction – it’s the product that counts. She was keen to see regulations changed from process-based to product-based: if you produce a herbicide-resistant crop it should be assessed for safety in the same way regardless of how you produce it.

Vicki Hird from Friends of the Earth believed that GM is distracting us from the political issues preventing the distribution of the food we already produce. Continue reading


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Jean-Claude Juncker, Greenpeace and ‘Madness’

This week nine environmental charities (including Greenpeace) wrote to Jean-Claude Junker requesting the abolition of the position of Chief Scientific Advisor to the President of the European Commission.

The scientific community rallied together to write counter-letters to Mr Junker, speaking out in support of the Chief Scientific Advisor position and its role in evidence-based policy making. I’m pleased to say that I’m a member of two organisations which signed one of these letters. Continue reading


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Balance, false balance and China Daily

I recently stumbled on an article in China Daily with the headline ‘Agriculture minister reaffirms safety of GM foods’. The China Daily a publication I take strange pleasure in reading, mainly trying to understand the level of censorship and fruitlessly attempting work out whether people believe any of what’s in there.

The article itself is very accurately summarised by the headline – you learn the specifics of where he was, but there’s nothing approaching analysis. China Daily on the safety of GM crops

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The precautionary principle

Pretty much everyone with an environmentalist streak tends to be of a ‘better safe than sorry’ mindset when making decisions about the future of the planet. This even has an official term to make it acceptable in policy situations: the precautionary principle. It’s often used as an argument against GM crops.

Taking fewer risks with the environment sounds extremely wise to me, but life involves some risks, so do we need to move towards a thorough cost-benefit analysis?

This is being debated in London on Tuesday (1st April) and sadly I will be at a plant science conference so can’t come. Instead I’m going to persuade lots of people to go so they can tweet, and get my word in here.

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