Tuesday, May 27, 2003

GM: A slippery slope

The Royal Society, which has previously argued that genetically-modified (GM) crops were no more dangerous than conventional varieties, has stated that GM crop monitoring will have to continue for years to ensure their environmental safety.

'If the decision is taken to allow commercial planting of GM crops, it is essential that regulators in both the UK and EU monitor the environmental impact to pick up any potentially beneficial or harmful effects over a long period...It will not be enough to make best estimates at the start and then assume that everything will turn out as expected,' said Professor Patrick Bateson.

However, the danger is not that GM crops won't be monitored, but that they won't be used at all. Any decision to extend monitoring should be based on some indication that there may be a specific risk related to a particular new type of crop, not just a general possibility of risk. Stating that there might be problem peculiar to all types of GM invokes a precautionary response of 'if there's a chance it might cause harm, what's the point?'

And, on cue, Friends of the Earth provided just such a response: 'If the Royal Society has concerns about the potential environmental impacts of GM crops it should oppose their commercial development...Long-term monitoring will not prevent damage that has already been caused. Biotech companies must not be allowed to turn our countryside into one huge outdoor experiment.'

Thus, the precautionary outlook which pervades the discussion of GM foods leads from a polite request to keep a check on things, just to be on the safe side, to an argument against GM foods full stop. Genetic modification is simply another means to create new varieties, with greater flexibility than ever before, and with many new potential applications. Equivocal statements from prestigious organisations like the Royal Society will only hamper the application of this technology.

GM crops 'need long-term monitoring', BBC News, 27 May 2003


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