Asking to change the world

February 2011
Photo: Crop circle protest in Mexican maize field. Image by Greenpeace
When biotech industry lobbyists and the government ministers they were targetting found themselves faced with a GM-sceptical public, the answer was education, education, education. They convinced themselves that once the public understood that
  • scientists know exactly what they're doing
  • genetic transformation is a precise process
  • GM food undergoes more testing and therefore is safer than any other food ...
However, the more education people got about GM food, the more their concern, unaccountably, grew.

The emphasis then shifted from educating people about the science to educating their emotions. Once the public understood that
  • people in the developing world are dying
  • GM could be saving lives in the developing world
  • only the spoiled and rich are GM refuseniks ...
But, people didn't buy that line either, nor GM food. So now education about GM has taken a more practical turn. Once the public understood that without GM
  • their food will run out
  • their food prices will escalate
  • their farmers will struggle to compete in an inevitable GM market
  • their economy will be overwhelmed by global competition ...
In January 2011, the Oxford Farming Conference (see below) provided a perfect platform for the latest educational drive.

The Director of Broom's Barn Research Centre, heavily involved in GM research, told the Conference: 
“We need to educate the public, and we need to start by changing the language”.
The change in language suggested is the use of the term “vaccinated” or “immunised” instead of “GM” for some applications of the technology.

Clearly finding this suggestion interesting, the National Farmers' Union (NFU) ran an on-line poll with the question: “Could public perception of the technology be improved simply by changing the
acronym 'GM'?”


The astute reader might comment that while a vaccine is an artificial infection designed to stimulate the plant's natural immune system, inserting artificial DNA to create an artificial aspect to the plant's immune system is not comparable: it has a different name because it's a different thing.

Was the NFU trying to gauge if the public is now 'educated' enough to realise there's a little more to the GM problem than either 'perception' or 'terminology'. As GM Freeze said, our major farmers' representative needs to be told that its pro-GM position is out of step with what consumers (the people who are going to buy the products farmers produce) want.

TV chef, Jamie Oliver, has been trying to educate us in a more practical way. He's been pointing out that we're eating a very small variety of species to extinction, while ignoring or even destroying many others in the process without considering them as 'food'. He's been demonstrating how to prepare food that's already available in abundance but which we know nothing about because it's never offered for sale. If Jamie's unusual food isn't available in your store, he says just keep asking for it: “When you ask for something, the world starts to change”. Take the hint, keep asking for GM-free food as well.

Of course, if you feel like stirring it, you could start asking for vaccine-free food or immunisation-free food too. The confusion this would cause might indeed make the world start to change: it might start to educate biotech scientists that the problem with GM is not and never has been a simple matter of negative public perception nor of terminology.

Oxford Farming Conference

The Oxford Farming Conference is Britain's leading farming conference, now in its 65th year.

The patrons of the Oxford Farming Conference include lots of respectable names such as the Co-op and the RSPB, but also includes Bayer CropScience, and its sponsors include Syngenta.
  • Alistair Driver, OFC 2011: scientists calls for new language on GM, Farmers Guardian 6.01.11
  • Jamie Oliver, Jamie's Fish Supper, C4 16.01.11
  • Oxford Farming Conference,

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