Frankenpolitics: The Left defence of GMOs

Some background: Last September, Red Pepper, a progressive UK magazine, published a brief article,  “Silenced GM scientist speaks out against biotech coercion“, on its website about Gilles-Eric Seralini, the French molecular biologist sharply criticised by the scientific community for his infamous and headline-grabbing GMO-rat-tumour study, and promoting his British speaking tour. I’ve written for the magazine for many years and was furious that this discredited quack was being taken seriously by my colleagues. An extended email to the editors explaining the problems of the left-anti-GM position evolved into an essay for an upcoming print edition, which then turned into a multi-page debate between me and my friend Emma Hughes, a campaigner with the (really great) London-based environmental group Platform and who is also an opponent of genetic modification. 

The print edition has finally come out, but due to understandable space constraints, the full essay had to be condensed.

I present here a longer version because it contains a series of arguments that I feel are important but have yet to be made and did not make it into the print version, notably around Golden Rice, monoculture crops, superweeds, Big Organic, and the rhetoric of Indian anti-GM campaigner Vandana Shiva.

It is my hope in writing this that other Leftists will steadily begin to recognise that to oppose GM is in fact to take a detour from traditional left-wing ideas about progress, technology, nature – and, most of all, about political economy. Continue reading →

The Broken Olive Branch

On 18 June, 2012, I spoke to New Hampshire Public Radio about the government-ordered destruction of a 30-year-old publicly-funded research project in Italy involving transgenic olive trees, cherry trees and kiwifruit vines — one of the longest-running trials on genetic modification in Europe – under pressure from an environmental group.

Listen here.

Italian anti-GM group wins destruction of 30-year-old olive-tree project

News article originally published on Nature News Blog on 12 June, 2012. For complete article visit the Nature website.

The sudden government-ordered destruction of a 30-year-old publicly-funded research project in Italy involving transgenic olive trees, cherry trees and kiwifruit vines — one of the longest-running trials on genetic modification in Europe – began on Tuesday under pressure from an environmental group.

Eddo Rugini, a plant scientist at the University of Tuscia, launched his research in 1982, aiming to find varieties that are resistant to pathogens, mainly fungi and bacteria, so as to reduce pesticide use, as well as producing shorter trees that would ease cultivation in certain Italian landscapes. Continue reading →

Green groups and scientists in battle amid sun, cheese and folk music

News article published on Nature News Blog on 28 May, 2012.

Say what you will about the scientific literacy of protesters against genetically modified (GM) crops, they certainly put on a good picnic.

Amid a mini-heatwave in the United Kingdom, some 200 activists with anti-GM campaign group Take the Flour Back descended upon the well-to-do town of Harpenden on the outskirts of London on Sunday with the intention of ‘decontaminating’ — or tearing up — fields of GM wheat. The grain, being tested by the local, publicly funded Rothamsted Researchagricultural institute, gives off an odour to repel aphids. The researchers use a synthetic form of a gene that encodes a protein that happens to be similar to one found in cows, and so the protesters say that Rothamsted is producing some unnatural cow–wheat monster that they had planned to uproot. Continue reading →

EU bans GM-contaminated honey from general sale

News article originally published in the Guardian on Wednesday 7 September 2011

The European Union’s highest court on Tuesday ruled that honey which contains trace amounts of pollen from genetically modified (GM) corn must be labelled as GM produce and undergo full safety authorisation before it can be sold as food.

In what green groups are calling a “groundbreaking” ruling, the decision could force the EU to strengthen its already near-zero tolerance policy on genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Bavarian beekeepers, some 500m from a test field for a modified maize crop developed by Monsanto – one of only two GM crops authorised as safe to be cultivated in Europe – claimed their honey had been “contaminated” by pollen from the plant.

The European court of justice found in their favour, a ruling that should offer grounds for the beekeepers to claim compensation in a German court. Continue reading →