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GM Debate

Genetic Engineering is described by Professor Robert Pickard (Director General of the British Nutrition Foundation) as the single most important development in biology since Charles Darwin's exposition on the origin of species by means of natural selection in 1859 (noted in the book "GM crops, understanding the issues" supported by the Agricultural Biotechnology Council, ISBN 0-9542165-0-4).

Rev Shaun Swithenbank chaired the meeting and introduced the panel: Dr Sue Mayer (GeneWatch), Emeritus Professor David Cove (Genetics, University of Leeds) and Robert Greensit (GM Trials farmer).

Introduction to Genetics by David Cove described the benefits from yield and also recognised the finance side - as a separate issue. Avoid confusion between the issues on capitalism and scientific issues that arise. China is described as the GM capital of the world, for example. Worth noting that Greenpeace has a bigger budget than Monsanto. The environmental arguments include greater productivity in the Third World, the reduced need for pesticides and should reduce the need to despoil virgin forest due to greater gains from less land. He noted, though, that profit is the way that capitalism works, not that he is necessarily content with that state.

Robert Greensit, farmer, business man, described the manpower required to to deal with weeds and the costs of treating with latest chemicals and concluded that there was a need to eliminate costs. His experience of the trial started with the notification of the geographical area; only one person was vocally against GM trials in Masham. As a field lay undisturbed and untreated for six weeks after sowing, the Oyster Catcher he spotted managed to raise her young and flew before the field was touched.

Sue Mayer noted how governments put off awkward decisions and agreed in 1998 that GM use in Britain should wait until trials had been completed; various environmental groups added to the decision process. It had been noted that many local communities did not have any say in the locations of trials amongst other issues, such as short and long term effects, health (with possible new allergens or toxins), choice, liability. Public debate is underfunded and limited to these six weeks; it was hoped that scientific and economic reviews should intersect with this debate. GeneWatch and others are making opportunities for more to join in the debate; Sue Mayer said that the government would prefer no reaction from the public simply to ease the introduction.

GeneWatch suggest five points to consider: Should commercial growing of GM crops proceed before liability laws covering economic and environmental harm are in place?
Should Society pay for unexpected effects from GM?
Will it be possible to say when GM is at fault?
Is it reasonable for organic farmers not to tolerate any GM?
Can insurance help? How can unknown risks be insured? What would be the real cost?

Other questions included: Patented genes: are the four main companies involved in GM aiming to corner the market? Are insurers and farmers willing to insure the liability of the GM movement? GM animals: do the ends justify the means? "You may call it biodiversity but the farmer calls them weeds."

Further reading and action:
Alliance of various green agencies - "excellent website" with points for and against on a wide range of issues; organising a public survey
Nuffield Council on Bioethics, examining the ethical and social issues 
Independent Science Panel on GMfinal report. The panel includes David Bellamy OBE amongst many other professionals in this field. There is a downloadable pdf file of the report available.
The Soil Association
Action Aid
Christian Aid: a world view
Five Year Freeze
Friends of the Earth: environmental group
GeneWatch: represented at the debate at Wesley chapel
Greenpeace: environmental action group
HDRA The Henry Doubleday Research Association - the Organic Organisation
Unison, the public service union
Women's Institute: much more than just good quality jams.

This public debate was organised by St Peter's Church and Wesley Chapel together.

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