Mark Hedges, Editor, Country Life
20th March 2008
I have read your Editorial in the March 20 edition of "Country Life", which has been given additional exposure through the Telegraph newspaper (1). I am amazed that a journal which purports to represent the "countryside community" should have chosen this moment to promote the interests of the GM industry in such an unbalanced way, and to demonstrate its lack of awareness of what that industry is trying to do to all of us. Sadly, the piece is full of inaccuracies and misapprehensions. It could well have been written by Dr Helen Ferrier of the NFU, or by Clive James of ISAAA, who is one of the chief spin doctors for the GM industry.
You seem to think that "designer crops" produced by the GM industry will somehow solve the problems associated with over-population, desertification, loss of plant diversity, nutrient depletion in soils, and even sea level rise. Dreams about wonderful technical fixes are obviously alive and well. If only life were so simple. In fact the GM industry is itself heavily implicated in the creation and exacerbation of these problems. Around 97% of the GM crops currently grown are herbicide tolerant or designed to express insecticides; they emphatically have NOT increased yields, and they HAVE increased the usage of proprietary chemicals including Roundup and Liberty. GM farming is essentially industrial/chemical farming associated with very high energy inputs; any extension of GM farming will inevitably lead to a great increase in greenhouse gas emissions.
GM crop varieties are also patented life forms (which is an outrage in itself, if you are concerned about ethics and the Christian message) and those who grow them are debarred from seed saving or from passing either seed or harvest through unapproved channels. Big commodity farmers are probably happy enough with this situation in the US, Canada, Brazil and Argentina, but small farmers are turned into serfs in a world of corporate feudalism. That is why so many African states are desperately worried about the activities of the GM corporations, which are supported ruthlessly by US and WTO diplomatic pressure. That is why thousands of small farmers growing BT cotton in India have committed suicide.
You repeat the lie that GM is a means of speeding up the process of selective breeding that’s been practised for millennia. It is absolutely different in a number of respects, creating new varieties that are uniquely unstable and erratic in their behaviour and which have the potential to cross-pollinate and out-compete in the wild, with wholly unforeseen consequences. There are increasing signs that they are also harmful to the health of animals and humans since they contain unique proteins and toxins. The implications of GM farming for biodiversity are horrendous, as the signatories to the Cartagena Protocol know full well. And while the biotechnology multinationals are trying to breed their new wonder varieties using GM techniques, they are systematically buying up seed merchants and their catalogues, and removing "inconvenient" local varieties from the seed lists. Not so long ago, there were hundreds of canola (oilseed rape) varieties available in Canada; now, after the predations of Monsanto and the other GM corporations, there are 28 GM varieties and only one non-GM variety left.
The scenario which opens up is truly terrifying. We will have a world in which three or four gigantic GM corporations will literally control the world's seed supply and hence the world's food supply. Farm chemical use will rise inexorably, in association with the management of herbicide-tolerant crops and also to counteract the spread of "superweeds". The corporations will impose a very small number of GM crops onto subservient communities, and in locations which are ill-suited for them. Crop failures and famine will increase dramatically, not decrease. Locally adapted indigenous crops, bred over millennia in response to local climatic and soil conditions, will be systematically squeezed out because Monsanto, Cargill and other huge companies will have claimed ownership of them and then wiped them off seed catalogues.
There is no sign whatsoever of salt-tolerant or drought-tolerant GM crops performing any better than plants developed by traditional and new breeding methods, let alone providing any "quick fix" or even long-term fix for the problems which the world will face in the coming decades.
Your final paragraph, relating to the Christian message, suggests that GM technology "has the potential to alleviate some of the dangers" which we face over coming decades. The GM industry trots out this argument all the time, but the manner in which it operates is in fact profoundly anti-Christian. It replaces the old concept of respect for all living things with the practice of life-form patenting and ownership. It replaces the concept of stewardship with the unrestrained pursuit of the profit motive. It replaces the concepts of freedom and self-determination with the practice of corporate control and feudalism. It replaces love and beauty with lies, scientific fraud, brutal enforcement of patents, and the vilification of those who have the courage to stand in the way of corporate ambitions.
You refer to the Dark Ages in your arguments in support of GM "enlightenment." Well, you are welcome to your opinion; but my nightmare vision is of a world inhabited by our children and grand- children and controlled by a few gigantic biotechnology corporations who feed us poisonous food and tell us it is good for us, who control farmers through patents and contracts and tell them that is the only way forward, who destroy fragile environments and communities and pretend that their actions are benign, and who systematically remove the ability of independent scientists, farmers and even governments to innovate, adapt and benefit from the accumulated wisdoms of past generations. In the world of Monsanto, there is nothing but contempt for the very idea of "the commons." That is not a world that I want any part of -- and shame on you, Mr Hedges, for seeking to promote it through the pages of your magazine.
Dr Brian John Trefelin, Cilgwyn, Newport, Pembs SA42 0QN