View from the fence

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

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


Bt crops – some background

One of the most widespread genetic modifications of crops is the addition of a Bt gene, so here’s some background on what it is and what it does.

A bacteria found in soil, Bacillus thuringiensis, produces proteins that are toxic to certain insects, and so has been used as a ‘microbial insecticide’ for well over 50 years.

More recently, crops including cotton, potato and corn have been modified to contain the gene for an inactive form of the Bt toxin. The plant itself is therefore producing the toxin which naturally occurs in bacteria. The Bt toxin becomes active in the gut of insects, which is an acidic environment with specific enzymes. Continue reading

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GM news roundup: Ghana, the seed gap paradox and ‘inform & convince’

Debating GM crops – blog by Steven Hill

As someone who worked in research relevant to the use of GM in agriculture, Steven explains why his views have changed. Firstly, he now believes that the importance of GM to food security has been over-stated, though it may be important in specific instances such as producing crops able to deal with changes in disease. Secondly, he is keen to move beyond the ‘inform and convince’ style discussion which I covered in a recent post (and is arguably still being used by both sides of the debate).

The European Seed Gap – AgWeb

This article makes the interesting point that we have a paradox where we only two GM seed varieties are authorized for cultivation in the EU while 46 GM products are permitted for import. For me this connects with the interesting question of accountability in the food chain. If we think a particular variety of GM is safe why don’t we let our farmers grow it? If we think it isn’t then why do we have the benefits of buying it but let other countries accept any problems which may be associated with it?

Debate on growing GM crops rife in Ghana – SPY Ghana

GM trials have been approved for Ghana, which has no commercially approved GM varieties (although the law now allows GM in the food chain). Interesting article with the kind of ridiculous image we saw in the 90s. The director of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research makes the point that if people are starving today they will take the risk of food which hasn’t had its long-term safety proven (good point – risks are all relative, but risks for environmental damage have different consequences).

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Genetic modification is solely responsible for our biodiversity crisis and global warming

We currently only refer to a limited number of techniques as genetic modification. Humans, however, have been practicing agriculture for around 12,000 years and in that time have bred plants and animals so they bare very little resemblance to their wild ancestors.

This has led us to convert large areas of biodiverse woodland and grassland into fields. To ensure that arable fields have the maximum quantity of crop we have plenty of ways (both organic and not so organic) of removing excess biodiversity. Continue reading