The tension between anti-GM protesters and scientists at Rothamsted over the last few weeks has been palpable. Leading the charge against the trial has been a campaign organisation, led by long-time anti-GM heavy hitters, called Take the Flour Back. They made a lot of enemies among the pro-GM camp when they vowed to ‘decontaminate’ the GM wheat trial earlier this month.
Jenny Jones, the Green Party politician who joined the Take the Flour Back campaign, has felt the full wrath of the pro-GM lobby, especially via Twitter, including from the likes of musician Tim Minchin. The main criticism was that of her being a Luddite because she was not supporting ‘modern science’ that would provide the world with more food, and that she supported the destruction of the GM trial. She denies both of these charges, and explains herself in a posting in the Huff, published yesterday.
Last Sunday, Jenny Jones and others from Take the Flour Back, arrived for a peaceful demonstration at Rothamsted. The police presence meant that the demonstrators were kept away from the trial plots — and, surprise, surprise…..the GM trial continues unabated. While the law is clear in such cases, we’re not so sure the ethics behind the campaigners desire to stop the trial is quite so clear. Direct actions in this same vein have been previously vindicated, legally or ethically, in such areas as diverse as animal rights and father’s rights.
For those who'd like to see the Take Flour Back position in a cartoon video, here it is:
With the weight of pro-GM, pro-biotech, pro-vaccine pressure group, Sense About Science behind them, the Rothamsted scientists have made a public defence of their actions in response to Take the Flour Back. To the less informed, their defence might sound plausible. To us, it demonstrates naivety.
See below the video appeal to Take the Flour Back by the Rothamsted scientists:
Our executive and scientific director, Robert Verkerk PhD, made our case in his letter of support for the Take the Flour Back’s campaign last Saturday. Read here.
The GM issue is one that the vast majority of people make a decision about through gut instincts and core beliefs. They don’t make it on the basis of scientific information. The reality is that no one, not even pro-GM scientists, can be sufficiently arrogant to believe they know that they have all the scientific information needed to make a fully informed decision. And, quite probably, the risks for different types of genetic engineering are likely to be considerably different, depending on what trait has been engineered into the crop, how it has been achieved, the risk of dispersal of the transgene, and numerous other factors. But risk assessment in the absence of detailed data and the inability to predict long-term consequences is a very crude art, despite it being regarded as a science.
But in this environment of limited information, objecting to methods that allow the exchange of genetic information, especially synthetically derived genetic material, in ways that cannot be achieved through natural reproductive processes, seems a reasonable, intuitive stance to take. And it is this gut feeling against the technology that fuels opposition against GM, whether we’re looking at African farmers, or European citizens.
The cost of not listening to our intuition could be great, and to-date, as shown by the 5-year, scientific collaboration between 400 scientists from 60 countries via the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) in 2009, GM crops are not a part of the solution to poverty alleviation and food security. In fact, the report showed there are grave concerns that instead of GM crops assisting in delivering improved food security among small-holder subsistence farmers, they will have exactly the opposite effect.
In this balancing act of data, other information, misinformation and disinformation, as well as intuition and core beliefs, it is no surprise that some campaigners have been known to change their minds. For us, along with millions of others, there are still no plausible arguments in favour of GM crops and their outdoor cultivation or testing.
Updated: 30 May 2012
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