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Wednesday, October 6, 1999 Published at 17:54 GMT 18:54 UK


Greenpeace and Monsanto spell out GM creeds

Will our oilseed rape be GM in the future?

By Environment Correspondent Alex Kirby

Two of the main players in the on-going controversy over genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) have held a rare, joint, public discussion on biotechnology.

It took place at a conference organised by Greenpeace UK and involved the environment group's UK executive director, Peter Melchett, and Bob Shapiro, the chairman and CEO of biotechnology giant Monsanto.

Food under the microscope
It was an unusual encounter between two drastically different points of view. But it covered little new ground and offered slender hope of any meeting of minds.

Mr Shapiro, who spoke from Chicago via a satellite link, said he wanted to abandon debate with his critics and to move instead to dialogue.

"The underlying premise of dialogue is that there are both real benefits from biotechnology and also real concerns about its use." The benefits, Mr Shapiro said, were for agriculture, the environment and for consumers.

"Present agricultural technologies are not inherently sustainable or able to guarantee food security. Biotechnology can improve productivity and, for example, reduce pesticide use.

"GM cotton is being harvested in India with the use of several pesticides fewer than conventional crops needed and with yields up by 40%. Biotechnology can help to reduce water use, soil erosion and emissions that add to climate change.

"And GM plants could offer gains to consumers with added nutritional value or with pharmaceutical properties incorporated into them."

Promise of biotechnology

Mr Shapiro acknowledged the concerns biotechnology aroused in terms of safety, environmental impacts, its effects on farmers and consumer choice. But he ended with a robust statement of Monsanto's position:

"We remain fully committed to the promise of biotechnology because we think it can be safe and sustainable, but we will continue in dialogue, openly, honestly and non-defensibly, to find answers for all of us."

[ image: Peter Melchett urged Monsanto to adopt a new business strategy]
Peter Melchett urged Monsanto to adopt a new business strategy
Peter Melchett, for Greenpeace UK, said Monsanto's fundamental error had been its failure to understand the way public values were developing.

It was not environmentalists and the media who had turned opinion against GMOs, he said.

"A well-informed public have taken a clear look at what you are offering and have said 'no'. People are increasingly mistrustful of big science and big business. The coming worldwide rejection of GM food shows people acting in line with civilised values and feelings about our relationship with nature."

Peter Melchett said Monsanto came across as bullies trying to force their products on people. Everything about GM foods was bad and the future lay instead with organic agriculture, he added.

Peter Melchett ended by urging Monsanto to stop developing GM crops, to abandon pesticide production and to reject the patenting of lifeforms - to opt for "turning swords into sustainable ploughshares".

Whether debate or dialogue, the encounter between Peter Melchett and Bob Shapiro showed just how convinced each side is of its fundamental morality.

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