GM food. Necessary or evil?

Today it was announced that a strain of genetically modified wheat, designed to repel aphids, has failed and is no better than conventional wheat.

Scientists from Rothamsted Research centre in the UK are under fire today after their £1,000,000 trial has failed. The researchers had hoped to develop a strain of wheat which gave off an odour that would repel aphids, a major crop predator. In the lab this proved successful but in a field trial this was unsuccessful with the scientists unclear what has gone wrong and describing the result as “disappointing”.

Anti GM campaigners such as Liz O’Neil, head of the group GM Freeze, said “The waste of over £1m of public funding on a trial confirms the simple fact that when GM tries to outwit nature, nature adapts in response.”
A local farmer added, “The truth is that nature is just too complex for the simplistic thinking behind GM.”

I myself am not particularly against GM though I do feel that integrated crop management and different crop strategies may be more successful. I also think they would improve biodiversity more than GM crops would but that is a huge generalisation as “GM” covers a huge variety of approaches. For campaigners to jump on today’s announcement as some sort of “victory” is entirely wrong.

Firstly, it is unclear why the trial failed rendering Liz O’Neil’s statement entirely without merit. If the highly trained, specialised people involved don’t know what happened in the trial how exactly does an outsider, such as herself, know what nature adapted in response? Equally, without disrespecting the farmer, in no sense is GM “simplistic”. It is extremely complicated and people spend their lives trying perfect this in order to solve real world problems like mass starvation. Now, of course the public have their view but being vocally opposed to GM and protesting doesn’t actually make you correct.

Apparently some of the funding for this project went on keeping anti-GM campaigners away from the crops to prevent sabotage. This means that it would have actually been cheaper without the protesters. Without trivialising this too much, £1,000,000 is actually not that much for a government funded lab and so economically this wasn’t really a great loss. Nor was it a loss scientifically. Admittedly they failed in what they set out to do but the whole point of an experiment is that you don’t know the outcome. It’s not a failure when what you are hoping for dosn’t happen, it just means there is more to work on and discover.

My biggest issues with GM are that if it is patented then companies can sell their produce for economic gain which can put people out of business. When sold to poor, developing countries it results in them becoming dependant on this produce and allows the manufacturers to inflate prices for their own gain.

Equally though my issues with GM campaigners are that they are often misguided. All “non GM” produce has been selectively bred, as have all animals. Tomatoes are not naturally that big, nor are most frutis. There aren’t naturally thousands of varities of apples and potato. Kiwi fruits as we know them were entirely bred and don’t even exist in the wild. Nor do dairy cows or beef cows or large pigs. The list could go on.


Selective breeding and genetic modificaton are essentially the same thing over a different timescale. It would take generations to evolve resistant plants but GM can dramatically cut that time and maybe even save money. There is also a lack of evidence that GM crops are damaging to wildlife in any way.

It seems people have been taught to fear GM without really knowing why. Somehow afraid that the plants might poison us.

In the end it comes down to a lack of trust. Possibly if scientists were more open the public would be less afraid. Equally though, being vehemently opposed to somthing doesn’t mean your opinion is important, the world doesn’t revolve around your delicate soul. The scientists in charge are really quite clever and are in fact, normal humans (albeit often with beards). They aren’t out to get us, they’re actually trying to help. Ill informed sniping, pouncing on errors and general ill will is all causing us to forget that fact that GM has been around for centuries in a variety of forms. Without it the majority of people alive today would never have been born.
Perhaps we should stop criticising the scientists who actually know more about the issues than we ourselves do.

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Scott Thomson
Recent ecology and conservation graduate. My blog is here
Scott Thomson

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