Azara Blog: At least one BBC reporter does not hate GM crops

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Date published: 2008/05/30

Jeremy Cook says on the BBC:

I have to confess, until now the whole debate about genetically-modified (GM) food has pretty much passed me by.

Most of my career has been spent as a foreign correspondent.

But last summer I returned to the UK to start a new job with the BBC. I now glory in the title Rural Affairs Correspondent.

A big part of my new brief is to report on farming. It is my (sometimes painful) duty to attend agriculture conferences and seminars. I also meet many farmers on their farms.

And over the months, time and time again the issue of GM has been raised.

I have been left in no doubt that many UK farmers - and others in the food production industry - think that GM is an important tool which can improve their efficiency, but which has been denied to them.

All of this, you could argue, counts for very little. Of course, farmers want to increase yields, or get the same yield using less land, lest sprays, less fertiliser.

And anyway, did not we as a nation make up our minds about GM almost a decade ago?

You remember: environmentalists successfully branded GM "Frankenstein Food" - they warned us of the dangers of contaminating our environment, and of unleashing powerful and unpredictable forces into the British countryside.

As a nation we came down on their side of the argument. Although there is no law against growing GM in the UK, the regulations mean it is a hostile environment for the agri-business brigade. And so it remains.

So why go back to the debate? Well, two reasons strike me immediately.

The first is that - unlike 10 years ago - we are now gripped in a global food crisis. Where there were once grain mountains there are now shortages.

The second thing that has changed is the fact that in other parts of the world GM is now being grown in massive amounts. It is reckoned that an area twice the size of Britain is now under GM crops.

And guess what? There have so far been no reports of the environmental or human health disasters which we were all warned about.

So with that in mind, I set out with a question: is it time to rethink GM?

And he goes on at length from there. Needless to say, it mostly makes sense. Unfortunately the academic middle class people who opposed (and continue to oppose) GM crops mostly did so for religious reasons. That is, they dislike corporations (just because they dislike corporations) and they dislike most modern technology (just because they dislike most modern technology). And unfortunately the people who were not religious on this score were drowned out by the people who were. In particular the media (including the BBC) are partly to blame for the current situation since they allowed the religious zealots (and continue to allow the religious zealots) free air time without any intellectual challenge to their religious dogma. Europe will be a backwater for a long time on this front, if not forever.

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