4 December 1998

GMO backlash from the Church and consumers

By Jonathan Riley

THE Church of Scotland and Consumers Association have delivered a tough message to the pro-GMO lobby calling on them to listen to public concerns and to back claims that GMOs will feed the world.

Speaking at the farmers weekly Big Debate at the Smithfield Show, Donald Bruce of the Church of Scotland said that the agrochemical companies sought to justify biotechnology by claiming new varieties could be grown in harsh third world climates.

"There is no single variety being grown or under trial that is geared to these climates. All are designed for western agricultural situations and the chemical companies must, therefore, provide hard evidence before they continue with this claim," said Dr Bruce.

Julie Sheppard of the Consumers Association quoted Monsantos own information which speaks of an ongoing collapse in consumer goodwill towards GM foods.

"There is a deep-seated resentment among 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, countered on behalf of the embattled GMO lobby.

He said that the emotional response of the public and the inclusion of a public representative on ACRE would undermine the 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.

Meanwhile, farmers in the audience showed their confusion at the war of words when a show of hands revealed that exactly half would not plant GM crops.