30 November 1998
Church yet to be converted to GM crops

By Jonathan Riley

CHURCH leaders and consumers representatives have called on biotechnology companies to prove their claim that genetically modified (GM) crops can feed the world.

In a tough message delivered at the Smithfield Show, the Church of Scotland and the Consumers Association called on companies such as Monsanto to listen to public concerns and to back claims that GMs will feed the world.

Donald Bruce, environment spokesman for the Church of Scotland, disputed claims made by multinational companies that new varieties of GM crops could be grown in harsh Third World climates.

“There is not a single variety being grown or under trial that is geared to these climates,” he said. “All are designed for western agricultural situations and the chemical companies must, therefore, provide hard evidence before they continue with this claim.

Julie Sheppard of the Consumers Association quoted a recently leaked Monsanto report which acknowledges an ongoing collapse in consumer goodwill towards GM foods.

“There is a deep-seated resentment amongst consumers towards the large biotechnology companies because they feel they are being railroaded into accepting these products,” said Ms Sheppard

She said that the public and farmers must be much more involved in the release procedures if they were to trust those who were guiding the process.

But John Beringer, who is due to retire as chairman of the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment (ACRE) countered on behalf of the embattled GM lobby.

He said that the emotional response of the public and the inclusion of a public representative on ACRE would undermine scientific research into the safety of GM crops.

“We will find ourselves asking not how many birds are in the countryside, but how many we would like to see. Thats not science,” he said.

A show of hands from the audience showed half the farmers present would not be planting GM crops.