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8-Misc: Down under analysis of BlairŐs GE policy U-turn



----------------------------- GENET-news -----------------------------

TITLE:  Witch-hunt claims Blair
SOURCE: Sunday Herald-Sun, Australia, by Graeme OŐNeill
        edited and sent by Agnet, Canada
DATE:   March 5, 2000

-------------------- archive: http://www.gene.ch/ --------------------


Witch-hunt claims Blair

The anti-GMO lobby has, according to this story, finally convinced 
British Prime Minister Tony Blair, a former staunch defender of the 
technology, and self-confessed, fearless consumer of genetically 
modified foods, of the error of his ways.

The forces of light and good are already claiming their most famous 
victory over the Evil Scientific-Industrial Empire, and Greenpeace's 
orange-clad, rent-a-storm troopers are celebrating in Downing Street, 
by dancing the Organic Jig with odd people dressed up as giant ears 
of corn or potatoes Just as you suspected all along, dear consumer, 
the opponents of genetic engineering were right. GMOs would have 
killed you and ravaged what remains of Gaia's withered body. Peace 
can now reign over Britain's fields and farms, and across the 
Continent the skies will be pure and safe once more for butterflies 
and ladybugs.

Of course, there's another interpretation for this week's 
extraordinary volte face by Tony Blair: that the silliest, most 
misinformed, malicious, scaremongering campaign ever waged upon 
public opinion has finally persuaded one of the most sensible and 
intelligent politicians in Europe to knuckle under.

Knowing how politics works these days, and how rapidly the tide of 
public opinion can turn upon the most vacuous rumor, I doubt that Mr 
Blair reached his decision after a thorough analysis of the 
scientific literature, or after agonised consultation with Britain's 
most eminent and respected biologists.

I'm betting that his private secretary disturbed his breakfast at No 
10 with the results of the ruling Labour Party's most recent survey 
of public opinion Briton's voting intentions. The anti-GMO lobby 
finally succeeded with a tactic that Australian Rules footballers and 
male water polo players describe colorfully as the "squirrel grip".

On the basis of his public pronouncements

before and after he was elected, it is clear that Blair doesn't 
really believe that gentically modified crops and foods are hazardous 
to community health, or pose any dire threat to the environment.

But he is Prime Minister of a nation that has, the story says, seen a 
dozen-odd deaths from mad cow disease, followed by epidemic of mad-
cow madness that has infected the brains of tens of millions of 
Britons, putting rationality and common sense to flight.

The old truism has been given the lie: you can fool all of the people 
all of the time. You can do it by using the time-honored tactics that 
Josef Goebbels employed in Nazi Germany 70 years ago. You take a 
populace that is already living in fear, and

appropriate the mass media, and use it to repeat an interminable 
litany of lies and unscientific nonsense,

that distorts good science, and besmirches the reptuations of good 
scientists struggling to get the truth out.

You do it by staging extravagant street demonstrations that are 
totally free of intellectual content, for the benefit of a mass 
medium that has just one large eye, and a tiny brain.

You do it by seeking out compliant journalists who know even less 
about genetic engineering than you do. And if you do encounter an 
experienced scribe who asks you a difficult question, answer with 
another question, or trot out a slogan - never expose your own 
ignorance of the science. Keep doing this until you have so 
programmed people's minds that they no longer know whom to believe or 
trust, and

begin acting irrationally and reflexively out of fear. Then you win.

You win, because public opinion will now will push even the most 
rational and brave politician into survival mode, and he will recant. 
Better to sacrifice one innocent lamb to the wolves, than to lose the 
whole flock.

And that's what activist organisations like the GeneEthics Network, 
Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, the Australian Consumers 
Foundation, and the organic food industry, and the motley retinue of 
wealthy, middle-class activists who jet-setted into Seattle last 
month to demonstrate at international trade talks last month, have 
finally achieved.

What lesson can we take from Tony Blair's retreat? It's a depressing 
and terrifying one: you don't have to be right to win an argument, 
just very loud, very visible and very persistent. I didn't hear Tony 
Blair preface his statement with a confession like: "At the end of 
the day, I'm really just a politician, with no better understanding 
of molecular genetics or environmental science than most ordinary 
citizens ... ."

Nor will you hear such confessions from any of the rock stars, 
Hollywood actors, or other prominent personalities that various 
activist movements like to recruit to their causes.

[...] 

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