30 June 2000

GM bashers should think of the hungry

GREEN lobbyists driving media scare stories about genetically modified crops should experience starvation before denouncing the technology that creates them.

That was one of several pro-GM messages from Lord de Ramsey to a Processors & Growers Research Association meeting near Peterborough.

"Have any of the green groups spent time with the starving of the world? I think they might change their minds if they had."

Calling for more common sense and balance to be brought to the GM debate, the former chairman of the Environment Agency said that the potato had received a similarly bad press when first introduced to Europe.

"It was seen as ugly and poisonous to humans and cattle." It was only after the French began to distribute seed to persons of quality on the strict instructions that it was on no account to be supplied to peasants that the crop took off.

"In a very few years it was being grown over the whole of France." Although brought to England in 1586 it was 1667 before the Royal Society established a committee to report on it, Lord de Ramsey observed.

"What a pity that the first GM crops are not drought-tolerant or salt- resistant to help feed the third world.

"GM technology gives us the ability to do things with much greater precision, and precision is what the whole future of farming is about."

The same technology was already being applied under "contained usage" to produce insulin and could be used to create plants to detoxify sites contaminated by industrial wastes. GM bacteria also looked promising as tracers of pollution, he explained.

Increasing the resistance of plants to pests and diseases by GM was also a worthy goal. "We have an opportunity, if successful, to get a reduction in the use of [chemical] active ingredients that would do a lot to protect drinking water." &#42