NOTE: Murphy is a pro-GM plant biotechnologist who was among those who, after the British public resoundingly rejected GM crops in the UK's official public debate, wrote to Tony Blair urging him to push ahead with GM crops.
The author of this piece, Rob Lyons, like other Spiked writers is part of the LM - or Living Marxism - clique who are ideologically committed to GM and who loathe environmentalism.
GM: its safe, but it's not a saviour
Spiked, 7 July 2008
*Denis Murphy, a leading British expert on biotech, says GM food is very beneficial but it won't solve the food price crisis.
In June, the UK environment minister, Phil Woolas, told the Independent that it was time for the nation to take a fresh look at the issue of genetically modified (GM) crops in the light of the surge in food prices over the past few months. Yet as Denis Murphy - a leading biotech expert - tells spiked, while a more positive attitude from government is a good thing, the idea that GM will solve these short-term problems is ‘bullshit’.
Woolas told the Independent: ‘There is a growing question of whether GM crops can help the developing world out of the current food price crisis. It is a question that we as a nation need to ask ourselves. The debate is already under way. Many people concerned about poverty in the developing world and the environment are wrestling with this issue.’ (1)
In fact, people have been debating GM for years. Indeed, if anything there has been far too much talking and not enough growing. On one side, there has been a sustained campaign against GM foods by eco-campaigners and scaremongering journalists, who claim that GM is unnatural and unsafe. The anti-GM lobby has extrapolated from isolated studies about the effect of GM crops on butterflies to declare that GM is ‘bad for the environment’. In 1999, there was the case of Arpad Pusztai, a research scientist at the Rowett Institute in Scotland, who went directly to the media to share his concerns about the effect of GM potatoes on rats. The headlines he generated about the health risks of GM were in no way matched by the subsequent declaration of the Royal Society, Britain’s leading science association, which said that Pusztai’s study was flawed and no conclusions could be drawn from it (2)
On the other side, there are those who, reacting against the anti-GM, anti-technology outlook, claim that GM is the only way we can feed the growing world population. For example, the founder of Sense About Science, Dick Taverne, wrote in Prospect magazine in December 2007: ‘In delaying cultivation, the anti-GM lobbies have exacted a heavy price”¦ delay has caused the needless loss of millions of lives in the developing world. These lobbies and their friends in the organic movement have much to answer for.’ (3) While Taverne is absolutely right to slam the irrationality of anti-GM groups, his own take on the matter suggests that solving hunger is a matter of scientific development rather than being a political and economic question.
In the midst of this, the New Labour government has tiptoed towards approving GM. In 2003, the government arranged a series of public meetings and debates called ‘GM Nation?’ to canvas public opinion (4). In 2004, the government announced that GM crops would be allowed - but only on a ‘case-by-case’ basis. Thus, each individual GM variety would have to jump through a series of hoops to prove its safety. Given that GM crops have been grown, without harm, in other parts of the world for over 10 years, New Labour’s approach was never going to win any medals for policy valour. Not surprisingly, there are still no GM crops in commercial production in the UK.
The government clearly recognises that there is no reason to be afraid of GM, and plenty of reasons why it is bad news if Britain does not encourage a vibrant plant biotech industry. Yet, while it is good to see ministers finally making some sort of stand for GM, dressing up the technology as a solution to the immediate crisis is a mistake.
'The cynic in me thinks that they're just using the current food crisis and the fuel crisis as a springboard to push GM crops back on to the public agenda', says Professor Denis Murphy, head of biotechnology at the University of Glamorgan in Wales. 'I understand why they’re doing it, but the danger is that if they're making these claims about GM crops solving the problem of drought or feeding the world, that's bullshit. That’s the kind of thing that might come in the next 15 years, but you can’t deliver it now.'
EXTRACT: 'The cynic in me thinks that they're just using the current food crisis and the fuel crisis as a springboard to push GM crops back on to the public agenda', says Professor Denis Murphy, head of biotechnology at the University of Glamorgan in Wales. 'I understand why they're doing it, but the danger is that if they're making these claims about GM crops solving the problem of drought or feeding the world, that's bullshit. That's the kind of thing that might come in the next 15 years, but you can't deliver it now.'