The Reporter
Issue 493, 27 October 2003
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GM crops aren't close to the public's heart – but what do the academics think?

 

John Bowers – LUBS
John Bower's research covers agricultural and environmental economic policy

Whatever the potentialies of GM technology, GM crops are currently designed by large corporations to sell their pesticides and to monopolise the markets in seeds to the detriment, inter alia, of largely Third World farmers who produce their own. I don't think that banning the current set of GM products would seriously reduce the possibility of future genuine breakthroughs in GM technology that would increase world food security. At best the effect of a ban would be indirect, reducing the profits of Monsanto etc and reducing their ability to fund research but I don't take that argument very seriously either. (Sorry about your Monsanto research grant; try the Research Councils).

I am not concerned about the effects of eating GM crops on human health. It is amazing how wide a range of things that humans can manage to eat. And science demonstrates that if we consume anything over a long enough period or in large enough quantities it is detrimental. to health. No doubt if I lived exclusively on a diet of GM corn I'd develop a fatal condition but I probably shall anyway on my diet of organics.We weren't designed to live so long or to be so wealthy!

However I am very concerned with impact of GM crops on bio-diversity of the farmed environment. All agriculture aims to reduce biodiversity and modern agriculture has been very efficient in this regard but GM (or rather the accompanying pesticide) could constitute a step change. The pesticides are designed to wipe all green plants on arable except the crop. At least until agricultural weeds acquire immunity the effects of large scale GM technology could be devastating for flora and in consequence fauna.

Since in Europe most terrestrial biodiversity is associated with agriculture, and biodiversity policy directed at retaining a specific set of (obsolete) unintensive agricultural technologies, GM has the potential to do enormous damage.
Escape of GM plants into other ecosystems is also of concern. I realise that to maintain and develop their market GM producers need sterile strains but there is great scope for unintended cock-ups and no serious economic incentives to make GM producers averse to this type of risk.

As at present constituted I see no social benefits of GM technology and the potentiality for large social costs. For my money that gives a cast iron case for banning it. If the Government believes that GM technology has positive potential for human welfare, it should fund the research.

 
 


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