View from the fence

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


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How to change someone’s mind

This new video from Wellcome is so relevant to the GMO debate: ‘How to be convincing: 5 tips for the next time you’re trying to change someone’s mind’.

Watching it is 0:45 seconds very well spent, but I can summarise the message as approach a debate from the other person’s perspective and not your own.

This was created as part of Wellcome’s ongoing #ExpertDebate about whether we have really had enough of experts. Join in on Twitter. 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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‘Rewilding’ – new GM potential for organic agriculture?

Many wild relatives of crops have genes which protect them from drought, disease and other stresses. These are exactly the characteristics we want in our crops, so these genes have great potential for agriculture.

Organic agriculture is in particular need of new genetic resources because modern crop varieties are normally bred with conventional agriculture in mind. Without inputs which are banned in organic agriculture, these varieties often don’t thrive. Currently average yields are lower on organic farms, and new genetic resources could help reduce this difference. 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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January news round-up

Climate Change and Food Security: The Role of Biotechnology

Interesting thoughts on how GM crops could benefit Africa, with suggested actions including involving local people in decision making, public sector investment in GM rice and other crops which aren’t of interest to companies, and sharing results of regulatory tests between countries.

A Lonely Quest for Facts on Genetically Modified Crops

“Popular opinion masqueraded convincingly as science, and the science itself was hard to grasp. People who spoke as experts lacked credentials, and G.M.O. critics discounted those with credentials as being pawns of biotechnology companies.” A Hawaiian man goes on a similar journey of seeking the truth to mine. Continue reading


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What can feeding GM foods to animals tell us about toxicity?

Next Wednesday (15th January) we are all invited to take part in an online Q&A on ‘How useful are animal feeding studies in plant research?’

Since Seralini’s toxicology paper was retracted, there have been lots of calls for more studies where GM food is fed to animals to assess its safety for humans. The Q&A is a chance for people to ask any questions about whether feeding studies are a sensible precaution to determine whether our food is safe, or a misleading waste of money.  Continue reading


What is evidence?

The internet is flooded with information about GM, but as I walk the tightrope of the middle ground I need to decide what actually constitutes reliable evidence. There are lots of accusations that sources are unreliable because they are from people who are book-burning luddites, or in the pocket of evil corporations.  It’s a convenient way to dismiss evidence which doesn’t suit you, but how do you know when this ‘evidence’ should be dismissed?

I want the debate to be about evidence, not about insulting other people’s motives, but at the same time I need to decide which evidence is reliable, and the motives of people presenting it are part of that decision. I often wish that I could do all the experiments myself, but sadly I have to rely on what I read. Continue reading