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Last Updated: Tuesday, 4 November, 2003, 16:44 GMT
Has the debate on GM crops been misleading?
More than a hundred scientists have written to Tony Blair, complaining about the handling of the public debate on genetically modified crops.

The group criticised ministers for not correcting "misleading" reports about GM technology in the media.

They say that they feel "undermined" by the government's failure to correct false claims.

Downing Street said it was awaiting a report from its scientific advisers on GM before it could comment on studies.

Have the public been given a distorted view on genetically modified crops? Or do you think it has been an informed debate?

The following comments reflect the balance of views we have received:

This debate is now closed. Read your comments below.

Your reaction:

People argue that there is enough food in the world already. Well that may be true but that isn't helping starving people in Africa at the moment and doesn't look like being resolved any time soon. Drought resistant GM crops offer farmers the opportunity to become self subsistent on what was dry, barren land. This seems a better long term solution than food handouts from developed countries don't you think? This is just one possible application and needn't be hijacked by multinationals. There are also non profit organisations researching these areas. It would be tragic to just dismiss these possibilities out of hand based on the concerns aired here. Far better to review on a case by case basis.
Tim,Norwich, UK

Since the 'red hot heat' of technology of the Sixties, Scientists have had it their own way and are now taking badly to being challenged by the general public, who - for very good reason - no longer swallow their arguments. I am now very suspicious of the establishment views. Pro GM scientists are being paid by the companies behind the technology. Anti GM protesters are campaigning because they care about the Environment. I know who I trust.

The lack of information is far more misleading than incorrect information
Daniel Panineau, Canada
In North America, where the GM corporations reign free, there is no debate. The lack of information is far more misleading than incorrect information. In Canada we have no choice, as GM isn't labelled and the organic section in grocery stores cater to the upper-middle class.
Daniel Panineau, Canada

Of course the information out there is skewed. People actually believe there are animal genes in GM crops and that only one of the lies circulating. The truth is that every crop grown by man, with few exceptions, is genetically modified. Modern food plants as we know them don't exist in nature, we created through breeding. Almost every action farmers take in some way alters the natural environment -irrigation, ploughing, planting, harvesting, grazing, clearing, etc. I believe that GM crops must be carefully studied and regulated, but the hysterical, emotional arguments made by pseudo-scientists calling themselves environmentalists must be taken out of the equation.
Jim ,NJ, uSA

I feel that the information given to the public by government sources has been fairly even-handed, unlike that given by vested interests and the media. The most telling report that I have read is the Soil Association's recounting of experiences among US farmers, many of which were negative and showed damage not only to the environment, but also to farmers' pockets. I will continue to buy and promote organic food and oppose GM crops on the basis that they stand to undermine modern organic agriculture with false promises of unconditional higher yields.
Joe Hague,UK

I believe this debate has been skewed by alarmist nonsense from the media and environmental organisations who should know better. GM is nothing more than a scientific means of modifying crops as farmers have done for years using cross breeding.
David Harrington, Scotland

A good many of these scientists work or have worked for GM companies. It's simple to see where their allegiance lies. As with many issues, the best thing to do is "follow the money" and we all know the GM producing companies will get billions of pounds whether GM is safe or not, which is why they are campaigning so hard for it. Nuclear power was supposed to be safe, North Sea Oil was supposed to make us all rich, if you believed the hype back then. Long term safety/costs are frequently pushed aside for short term mega-payoffs for the big boys. Follow the money and open your eyes.
Gary Miller,UK

Without a clear benefit to the consumer, science will never sell GM or cloning to the public, regardless of the government's approach. This appears to be science for the sake of science - patting themselves on the back for mapping a genome or cloning a sheep. They tinker with millions of years' worth of evolution in the span of 20 or 30 years and expect people to accept the results with open arms? Hilarious!

What the farmers of the developing world need is free access to world markets and not GM modified seed
Ian Hill, Bolivia(UK)
IF GM crops mean that the seeds from such crops can not germinate then I have heard enough. No GM crops. In my view, the GM food companies want to dominate food production in the world; every year farmers the world over would have to buy their seeds. I don't want them to. Would American farmers buy such seeds from a company in say India if it made them dependant on such purchases? I very much doubt it. Here in Bolivia practically every form of food can be grown, from pineapples to potatoes, what the farmers of the developing world need is free access to world markets and not GM modified seed that would make them dependant on yet another American multinational.
Ian Hill, Bolivia(UK)

Scientists do not know the long term effects of altering nature at such a fundamental level and until they do know, this technology should be confined to the laboratory and not the dinner table.
Chris, Brighton, UK

Sad to see so many are against GM. You'll be disappointed - this is a Prime Minister who went to war against the wishes of the majority, so what hope is there for the anti-GM lobby? Or the Pound for that matter.

Hard to believe the ignorance of the British public, and their unwillingness to learn. GM foods are here, they provide the answer to world hunger, and are already well proven to be totally safe. Do your research before running scared, the sky is not falling!
Tony Blunt, Canada

Some of the resources produced were certainly pro-GM but the debate will only be misleading if the Government doesn't listen to the overwhelming rejection of the technology by UK consumers.
Linda Martin, Scotland

I don't believe there has been a proper public debate about GM crops. But last week, I visited the Horniman museum in Forest Hill, South London, and discovered that already starlings and sparrows have declined because of declining insect numbers. An exhibition pointed out that if GM crops were introduced, certain other breeds of common birds in Britain would die out too, disturbing the entire food chain. I hope the GM idea is kept in a laboratory somewhere and we can rely on either conventionally grown or organic produce for many years to come.
Claire, UK

I have a feeling that if the US government suddenly went anti-GM, a sizeable amount of our population would mysteriously go pro-GM... As a science student I find it unbelievably arrogant that the public and media think they have the most qualified say over this.
T Anderson, Britain

There is absolutely no evidence to suggest that GM crops pose a serious danger to the world
Sebastian, England
The so-called GM food "debate" is a disgrace to democracy. It is not a genuine debate; it is just a front for an anti-science, anti-knowledge, scaremongering campaign. This hostility to a new technology, that could potentially revolutionise the world, is based on the same thing that got people killed for saying that the Earth is flat, or that the Earth goes round the sun. It is purely a blind fear of knowledge and progress.
The fact is that there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that GM crops pose a serious danger to the world. Until this changes, the genuine debate is over. But the fact that so much ignorance can be so passionately trumpeted by so many without the slightest regards for real facts shames the very core of our democratic principals.
Sebastian, England

I recently watched an American farmer talking about why he would continue to grow non-GM crops. The yield less but the premium price paid because this is what the consumer wanted to buy. Basically that is it and Monsanto and the like can lobby politicians to force it onto a reluctant public.
Burtie, Lakenheath

One of the striking features of this forum, as opposed to the Government's GM debate, is the plurality of views voiced here. I think the scientists definitely have a cause for grievance if this is indicative of true public feeling.
Clyde Davies, UK

No it has not been misleading, it has been lost. The British people have overwhelmingly decided that they don't want GM foods and in a democracy that is what matters. After the debacles of other 'wonder' technologies, like nuclear power, and the shady relationships between scientists, government and the corporations who want to make big money, I say who can blame them!
Luke Rendell, UK

Discussion of GM crops in the mass media has been mostly irresponsible and disgraceful
John, UK
There has been no public debate. For the most part we have been treated to video clips of very young people destroying some of the field tests that are designed to obtain the data that is needed in order to conduct a rational debate. To discover the very real benefits that GM crops could bring to literally billions of people on this planet we have to search through material that is not easily accessible even to well-educated people. In my opinion, the treatment given to any so-called discussion of GM crops in the mass media has been mostly irresponsible and disgraceful.
John, UK

1) Antibiotic resistance is scary, using these genes as GM markers is asking for trouble. 2) GM crops encourage farmers to use heavy duty weed-killers and pesticides. 3) In Canada contamination is widespread. OK, you might say, but then Monsanto sued a contaminated farmer for growing their crops without a licence! 4) The benefits are not so great - they don't use 'half the land' of organic crops.
Adrian, UK

How many people eagerly debating this technology actually know PRECISELY what a gene is? Better scientific education is the key...
Andy, UK

I don't think we should just blindly trust science and scientists
Edward, UK
First, it was scientists who developed and "ok-ed" the feeding of dead sheep to cattle. Result? BSE. Thalidomide, anyone? So I don't think we should just blindly trust science and scientists. Second, there is absolutely NO demand for GM food in this country, but there is an ever increasing demand for organic food.

If the same effort and money went into promoting and improving organic agriculture, prices would come down, there would be less pesticide/herbicide used, and wildlife would flourish. But the American multi-nationals don't want that, and our spineless government are more than likely to roll over for them. Free market? Only when the US makes a profit.
Edward, UK

If the scientists feel that the public is ill informed, then they should set out to inform them. The public has a clear set of questions to which they want answers. Is GM food safe to eat? Does GM genetic material cross-fertilise conventional crops? Can GM crops be proved to have environmental advantages in the form of less need for artificial chemical inputs (of all sorts, not only herb/pesticides)?

The public as a whole is savvy enough to know when it is having the wool pulled over its eyes. Politicians are seen as being at the beck and call of their paymasters and their credibility has suffered as a result. Scientists are now on the same slippery slope.
James, Scotland

Blair and the pro-GM lobby keep bleating about the lack of science among those opposed to GM. Why not set up a proper scientific experiment to investigate whether cross-contamination will occur. This is the issue on which most anti-GM feeling is based; nothing to do with which herbicides are to be used.

The problem here is that there has been no real "debate"
Dan Murray, USA
Open debate is never "Misleading". The problem here is that there has been no real "debate". The tabloids and much of the public have rushed to judgement over GM, and down shouted anyone who disagrees with there cock-robin views. This is so typically British to focus on the negative.
Dan Murray, USA

Putting aside the environmental arguments for and against GM foods. One of the main issues about this technology is that the UK's food production would beholden to a small number of big businesses. Anyone who thinks that Syngenta and Monsanto are pouring millions of pounds into this technology for the good of mankind and to feed the poor are living in cloud cuckoo-land.

Anyway - scientists have told us many times in the past that things have been safe only for the opposite to emerge years later (BSE-cjd, thalidomide etc)so why should the public trust them now? And who give them the right to interfere with animals on a genetic level - goats producing spiders silk - its absolutely sick!
Phil Doherty, UK

There are no simplistic good vs bad answer here. Even the questions are more complex than the average person on either side of the debate can grasp. If we want ordinary citizens to play a meaningful role in policy decisions on topics like this we must dramatically increase the standard of science and maths education in the UK and US.
Peter Nelson, USA

Do we want to introduce GM crops that the majority of people do not want to eat, that may have adverse effects on the environment in order for some US biotech companies to increase their profits? Scientists such as these said that BSE was not a danger! Is it worth the unnecessary risk? I think not.
Jules, England

I haven't yet formed an educated opinion, but it seems that GM foods are the future, by default. They are so interwoven into the American diet that they will never be displaced unless new studies confirm harmful effects to animal life or the environment. Perhaps there exists enough food in the world, but getting it to where it's needed is not as simple as snapping one's fingers. As with every new technology, mistakes will be made, some perhaps irreversible, but we can't expect to prosper as a species if we don't move forward on the technological ladder.
Chris, US

When even the limited tests carried out showed harm to the environment one can only wonder what proper tests would shown.
Simon, UK
Any scientist who thinks that the field trails were valid tests of the risks of GM should think again. There were no meaningful tests of the impact on soil bacteria etc. When even the limited tests that were carried out showed harm to the environment one can only wonder what proper tests would have shown up. Scientists seem to be acting only to protect their own high-tech jobs and seem to care little about the long term consequences of their meddling.
Simon, UK

I believe it is ethically wrong to interfere with the natural reproductive methods of plants, developed over millennia to ensure survival. Taking the genes and cutting them up to insert genes from other species is totally different from cross-pollination methods used before. There is no telling what will happen when all weeds are tolerant to weed killers - will our food plants then be 'strangled' so they don't grow and we starve? Just because you can does NOT mean you should. It usually means you shouldn't yet.
Mike Perry, England

If the scientists feel undermined, let them reflect how ordinary members of the public feel. It appears that many of the GM scientists are backed by funding from companies that have a vested interest in promoting GM. Their judgement often seems skewed in the interests of those who fund their work, rather than in the interests of the people. The distortion has come from scientists and multinationals that tell us they want to "feed the world" when what they really want is to make a nice profit!
Paul, Wales

I find it extremely strange that the idea of a cornfield that is cleaned of weeds can be seen as a bad thing! Rational debate has been stifled by the fear mongers within the environment movement - who need a frightened population in order to keep their donations coming in! I've been eating GM food for the last few years on my trips to the USA - I don't see people dropping like flies over there. Please, let's cut the hype and the shroud-waving and get things into perspective. Some of us want GM foods!
David Moran, Scotland/Australia

We neither need nor want GM food. It seems that "more than a hundred scientists" have failed to properly understand that the public does not want GM crops.
Steven Forrester, UK

The apologists for GM crops lost the argument
Trevor Mendham, England
The apologists for GM crops lost the argument. They should now accept the public's decision and the government should ban this unwanted rubbish.
Trevor Mendham, England

Newspapers have given very misleading reports on GM trials. None of the trials concluded that the actual GM crops in anyway hurt the environment. The only negative results were due totally to an increase in herbicide killing of more weeds (as one would expect).

This is still misleading however as GM crops will obviously mean less land needs to be devoted to farming (something which is very damaging to the environment no matter what method is used). 1 acre of GM crops and 1 acre of woodland is far better than 2 acres of organic crops!
Malcolm, UK

There hasn't been a properly informed debate on either side really, much of which is the fault of sound bite reporting. Personally I am generally anti-GM, but I'd much rather people came to the same conclusion through open and genuine investigation rather than because of stupid 'Frankenstein' headlines.
Katherine, UK

Yes the public have been given a distorted view, by the 'scientists'. They keep claiming it doesn't infect the countryside, but it does. They claim it can solve world hunger when there is already enough food grown in the world. And when they still cannot convince us they hide behind their 'we are the experts' tag. GM crops bring risks and are not needed - fact.
Jonathan Kelk, UK

Debate? What debate? All I've seen is sensationalist nonsense in the tabloids (and even some of the broadsheets) about the "Pandora's box" we'd be opening in employing GM technology.

When people are given more than hyperbole, speculation and conjecture and (shock horror!) some actual science, maybe then we can have a debate.
Damian Leach, UK

Scientists attack Blair over GM
31 Oct 03  |  Science/Nature
GM tests show wildlife dangers
16 Oct 03  |  Science/Nature
All sides claim GM 'victory'
16 Oct 03  |  Science/Nature


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