GM cotton - here, there... nowhere

February 2013

Cotton Field
Cotton field. Picture by Aileen's Pics on Flickr
Mexico is the centre of origin of domesticated cotton. Clearly, steps to protect wild cotton's natural diversification are critical for conservation and future breeding.

Despite this, GM cotton has been cultivated in the north of the country since 1996, and 21 gene transformation events have been approved there (5,985 permits to sow GM cotton were issued in the first 12 years).

Genes can escape through pollen and seeds. Because cotton plants are mainly self-pollinating and the two species grown commercially in the USA can't hybridise, there's little opportunity for gene movement through pollen. However, seeds have plenty of potential for dispersal: they survive much longer than pollen and can be moved far and wide by water, weather and birds; once the cotton fibre has been removed, the seeds end up as truckloads of animal feed (on their way into the human food-chain) travelling the highways.

Do we need to produce more food when we throw so much away?

February 2013

I work 3 hours a week and can feed a voracious family! Ask me how!
Discarded food salvaged from a skip in the United States
Photo by gabriel amadeus on Flickr
British families throw away 7 million tonnes of food, worth more than £10 billion, in a year.

On a global scale, a recent report estimated that between 30 and 50 percent of food produced annually (that's 1.2-2 billion tonnes each year) never reaches a human mouth. It's wasted in the field, wasted in transit, wasted in storage, wasted in the shop, or wasted in the home.

This means that, in a world where one in eight people goes to bed hungry every night, we're actually already producing enough food to feed them two to four times over.

Managing risk

February 2013
'Risk management' used to mean a systematic and regularly updated identification of any and all risks, followed by implementation of measures to minimise them. As the appalling tragedy of the Fukushima nuclear power-plant explosions has revealed, the 'risks' assessed are no longer those related to human safety, but to commercial interests and political success.

More than 18 months after the accident, the owners f the Fukushima reactors finally admitted their risk assessment had been lax: best-practice back-up equipment was never installed and staff-training in coping with emergencies was minimal. The excuse they offered was that implementing accident measures “would exacerbate ... public anxiety and add momentum to anti-nuclear movements”. As the Institute of Science in Society pointed out:
“risk management is coming more and more to mean reassuring the public that something is safe rather than making sure it actually is”.

If the premise is wrong, what hope for the science?

February 2013 
Corn grenade. Image © Greenpeace / Statchett
This was a madness that seems to have been attained by following a line of perfect reason from a dubious premise” - Louis De Berniรจres' epitome of a fictional (but not fanciful) cardinal inflicting torture and carnage to 'save the souls' of those not observing the faith.

Future historians may well look back and write about our time ... about how willing we are to sacrifice our children and jeopardize future generations with this massive experiment that is based on false promises and flawed science just to benefit the “bottom line of a commercial enterprise” - Don Huber talking about the North American “experiment” with glyphosate (active ingredient of the weed-killer, Roundup) and Roundup-tolerant GM crops.
Are there parallels here with the biotech zealots systematically converting regulators, the global agri-food system, the media and scientists to their GM-faith? Non-believers are not quite put to the sword, but they are routinely insulted and belittled (see below): if they are scientists, they're hounded out of office, made unemployable and unpublishable. Our future has been placed in the hands of the god of Profit, with the angel, Biotech Science, at his right hand.

Scotland's principles on GMOs

February 2013
Image by Timothy Valentine (off the grid) on Flickr
Just in case you thought that MP Owen Paterson's orchestrated media campaign (see WESTMINSTER'S PRO-GM PUSH - January 2013) and MP George Freeman's various carefully-positioned friends (see KEEPING WESTMINSTER ON THEFRONT FOOT - January 2013) are succeeding in changing attitudes to GM in Scotland, relax.

The Scottish Government is very clear about the key principles which guide its opposition to GM:
  • The precautionary principle - insufficient evidence has been presented that GM crops are safe
  • The preventative principle - the cultivation of GM crops could tarnish Scotland's natural environment and damage wider aspects of the Scottish economy such as tourism and the production of high quality, natural food.
  • The democratic principle - science-based decision making cannot replace the will of the people. There is no evidence of a demand for GM products by Scottish consumers.
And Scotland is not 'going it alone'.