Sunday, 27 March 2011

Frankenfoods don't pass the 'euck!' factor test

Monsanto's boardroom no doubt cracked open the bubbly this week, with news that Europe's highest court has ruled against France, for its 2008 halt to the growing of genetically-modified maize. The ruling, by Paolo Mengozzi, the advocate-general of the European Court of Justice, may have been founded on a technicality. However, it's one that the big biotech companies will only be too happy to widen from a crack to a flood, of their so-called Frankenfoods onto the European market.

But does it actually matter? Isn't GM really a worry for the last decade? After all, the US and much of the developing world has been swamped with GM maize and soya for a decade or more, with no mass outbreaks of mutancy. And scientists are constantly holding out the promise of the feeding of the starving masses, saving the earth's climate, and even longer shelf-life tomatoes – all to come from their hubbling-bubbling genetic cauldron.

The problem is that, like radiation, or human cloning, GM isn't about the science, however compelling and plausible. It's about gut reactions – the 'euck' factor. If scientists are splicing genes from a fish onto the genes from a tomato, there aren't many of us whose stomach wouldn't do a little turn at chomping down on the result. The bottom line is that scientists are not omnipotent – they do get things wrong, sometimes spectacularly so.

Nature is exceptionally complex, far too impenetrable to ever be broken down and understand by even the cleverest of minds. So caution should be the keyword in taking any science off of the drawing board and putting it onto the consumers plate. And a pretty good test is what your gut tells you about the technology being pushed. If you feel queasy, then, to me, that's a good sign to be extra-special cautious – and to look for ulterior motives.

So forget the legal loopholes, and the lawyers arguments, and the scientific debate, worthy as they may all be. At the end of the day, policy must be a matter for the people – and if Europeans don't want GM food, why should the US, biotech firms and free-trade bigwigs be able to force it on us?

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