GENET archive


SCIENCE & POLICY: Farmer attacks Wales Assembly’s opposition to GM crops

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SOURCE: Western Mail, UK

AUTHOR: Martin Shipton


DATE:   10.12.2008

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THE Assembly Government?s opposition to genetically-modified crops is holding back scientific research in Wales and depriving millions of the food they need to stay alive, it is claimed today.

Dr Dafydd Huws, a retired NHS consultant who has farmed in Ceredigion for decades, has called for the anti-GM policy to be scrapped now.

In an article for the Institute of Welsh Affairs? journal Agenda, Dr Huws, a former Plaid Cymru parliamentary candidate, states: ?The real GM scandal is that whereas Wales is at the forefront of bio- technology research and development, including genetic modification, hostility to GM is blocking our benefiting from this research.

?The Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (Ibers) at Aberystwyth is doing world-leading, cutting-edge research, yet is prevented by the present climate and lack of support from translating the wealth of research information it has on GM into practical plant-breeding outcomes.

?This is a sad indication of Wales? prospects for a flourishing economy based on cutting-edge, science-based industries.

?Despite being world leaders in basic plant research, we are contenders for the Canute prize for progress in bringing GM biotechnology to market. When even the farming unions and landowner representatives are ambivalent about embracing GM technologies, and we continue to subsidise the flawed concept of organic farming as the answer to mainstream agriculture, GM is indeed the technology that cannot speak its name.

?Wales appears to have a virulent strain of the virus afflicting the UK and many European countries. This is the one that eschews science and science-based progress, especially in the fields of agriculture and medicine, in favour of totally untested alternatives. It is a strange double-think, in which science-based and evidence-based progress is refused on ideological grounds, while potentially dangerous and often untried and useless remedies are accepted without question.

?It would be amusing if it weren?t so serious. The ideological and even superstitious opposition to GM is moving from the wrong-headed to the downright immoral. It cannot be tolerable for European middle-class fads and superstitions to preclude sharing the benefits of scientific technological advance with the Third World and its starving populations.

?Far from precluding it, it is this technology among others which can, for example, offer the possibility of raising drought-resistant crops in desert conditions, salt-resistant crops in the massive hectarage of the world?s salty lands, or produce seed varieties which will make food crops more productive, more disease resistant and less reliant on fertiliser and pesticides. That is what will really offer the best chance of ensuring security of food supply.

?While the debate is dominated by negative voices demanding a ?GM-free Wales?, as also happens in the field of energy, from nuclear to wind power, we will also be heading inevitably to a ?wealth- free Wales?.

?Meanwhile, we have world-class establishments in Wales, which are constrained in making an unfettered contribution across the whole range of technologies that include GM.

?Tragically, millions have been deprived of the benefit of major advances by the delay in approving crops such as ?golden rice? where it seems the demands of the regulatory systems have often been the end and not the means.

?Viewed against the burgeoning population in the Third World and a shrinking and impoverished land resource, the organic movement should be recognised for what it is, as only being able to sustain a niche market. The organic movement has played a big part in sustaining the ideological opposition to GM. Having failed to demonstrate any danger whatsoever to human health, it now rests its case on the concept of purity.

?Organic food has to be free of so-called GM ?contamination?. Supermarkets display signs claiming that produce is GM free, implying a danger that doesn?t exist.

?The environmentalist James Lovelock has estimated that if all farming became organic, we would only be able to feed one third of even the present population.?

An Assembly Government spokeswoman said: ?We believe the introduction of GM crops could undermine some of our achievements and future ambitions for Welsh agriculture and this is why our One Wales commitment is to maximise the restrictions on GM crops in Wales. We cannot ban GM crops in Wales.

?Our policy is to take a precautionary and restrictive GM crop policy stance which is in line with our commitment to sustainable agriculture, has broad public support and reflects the Assem- bly?s legal duty to act responsibly within UK and EU legislative framework.

?In terms of supporting science-based sustainable agriculture, the Assembly has continually supported the development of Ibers. This is seen as a significant investment in an area of science which is critical for Wales and the UK in meeting the environmental challenges of the future.

?We work closely with Ibers and Defra to identify and develop research and funding routes into plant breeding, bioenergy and biorenewables, and animals and microbe activity, that meet the climate change agenda.?



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