Ruth to reply? BBC GM debate…

Yesterday on the BBC Green Blog, there was strong support for the Horizon GM programme Jimmy’s GM Food Fight by the blog’s sub-editor, Ruth Harwood.

Ruth criticises people who oppose GM food and yet cannot explain why. She writes: “GM food is an emotive issue, but is too emotive? It seems to me that many people are automatically against modifying crops but don’t really know why.”

Fair enough. But I don’t agree with this statement: “Jimmy discovers how the UK has become virtually a GM-free zone because of the strength of protests against the technology.”

I think this is a biased starting point – it seems as if you can support the promotion of GM crops without really knowing why too. The reason GM has not become a raging success is not because of protest, as Ruth says.

I’m not sure the writer is very aware of the problems and potential risks of genetically modified organisms. The BBC Green blog is suposedly helping us to be more environmentally aware – however, it can only be truly green if it considers the harmful potential, as well as the good potential of gene technology. Horizon didn’t and neither has the BBC Green blog.

I posted a long comment, and I’m afraid it did begin a little sarcastically. Sorry Ruth.

my comment

You’re right, most people do not understand GM technology, and I think that’s a big part of the reason why they cannot articulate why they are against it.

Luckily that made it easy for Horizon to show how absolutely natural the scrambling of genes is, and to give the impression that those GM critics were worried about nothing serious all along.

Jimmy was marvellously reassuring about the environmental superiority of GM and its potential to feed the world. No evidence, though. Ah, who cares, there were computer graphics.

Just don’t look into the “independence” of the research centre where Jimmy had a go at creating a new GM crop… and don’t question the officially failed Uganda GM banana project which Horizon seemed to think was a great example.

Your other readers mention the issue of patented seed, market control and legal cases against farmers in Canada. Why did JD not explore that problem?

(*Ruth, don’t you think that’s a justifiably emotive issue? Even if you ignore the other, more scientific reasons for caution with regard to appropriate and safe GM technology application?)

We saw in Argentina, a country you describe as a market leader, farmers burning forests to clear to way for animal feed soy. This deforestation is part of the indirect impact due to a growth in demand for meat – what is the BBC Green opinion about that?

(*Ruth, do you think the expansion of industrialised agriculture in that way is a sign of success?)

I attended a conference a few weeks ago which went into the major issues behind GM. There were a mix of views, all backed up with evidence. This included talks from scientists who use GM technology as part of their work. Look up the scientific abstracts on the ‘Feeding the World Conference’ blog if you are interested.

One speaker saw potential in bananas because they are sterile and artificial gene enhancements are less likely to escape into other life forms. However, he recognised the unpredictable effects which will take place as genes flow between species. (Already happening, e.g. Mexico maize.)

Another expert reckoned GM crops were an irresistible advance, and what we need now is to establish a proper risk assessment system to ensure the health and environmental risks are filtered out in the selection process.

A GM research scientist discussed pathways for gene flow. Another GM scientist discussed the elements of mutations, inaccuracy, and limitations of current GM modification techniques. Also the inherent complexity of gene function within living things.

As for evidence of the potential harm to health, there were several well documented examples cited at the Feeding the World Conference, which Horizon did not mention. (Why?)

One of your commenting guests above (Bob Irving) cites the IAASTD. [Horizon did not tackle the implications for GM following the conclusions of that famous report, nor the UN report on ecological farming.]
There was an excellent summary of the IAASTD report’s conclusions at the conference by Professor Janice Jiggins. (Listen again at the
feedingtheworldconference blog.)

Jimmy’s GM Food Fight is available on BBC iPlayer, for those of you who missed it. Or I think there might be a late night repeat – Sat 13th December 2:40am – BBC1?


Many of Ruth’s readers seem to disagree with her praise for the GM Horizon programme. So I wonder if Ruth will reply to my questions, or indeed any of the comments?

Jason Ball


GM contamination a real risk?

Mexico maize strains gain transgenes to become GMOs

GM crops could release genes, the SA warned  

GM contamination discovered in Somerset trial crops


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One Response to “Ruth to reply? BBC GM debate…”

  1. natureheads Says:

    My comment didn’t get published – I suspect the reason was a hyperlink. (That could have got it filtered out as ‘spam’.) So I slightly edited my original comment and posted it again, as above, but without the link.)

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