thanks to firstname.lastname@example.org (jim mcnulty) for posting this:
IF THEY DIDN'T LIE SO MUCH, WE MIGHT LISTEN
Mail on Sunday (UK) Feb 21, 1999
HE world entered this, our 20th Century, in a mood of exalted optimism. It
leaves it, I fear, deeply pessimistic.
In 1899, the wonders which science was increasingly bestowing upon the
world were regarded as wholly beneficial.
All of the manifest social problems of the era seemed susceptible to direct
political action. Utopia was just around the corner.
We view the future through a glass darkly.
We deeply mistrust science and scientists.
We do not believe any more that politics can really find the solutions to
It's not the Utopia that Karl Marx promised that beckons any more, but the
arid deserts of Mad Max. I know of no recent futuristic film or book which
T envisages our tomorrow in anything but the most apocalyptic of terms.
Last week's so-called debate conducted on genetically modified foods has, I
think, shown how far we have travelled.
Scientists have told me they are simply horrified by the way the Press has
both misunderstood and distorted their work. Politicians cannot understand
how such a gulf has opened up between them and the public so that they are
simply not believed whatever they say.
When the Daily Mirror characterises Tony Blair as a Frankenstein monster we
have pretty well touched the bottom of the sewer which these days
characterises political reporting in our downmarket tabloids.
We have become frightened by science. I don't know when that began to
happen, but I suspect the die was cast as early as 1905 when Albert
Einstein published a paper called 'On The Electrodynamics Of Moving
Bodies', but which became internationally known as the Special Theory of
Suddenly the marvellous straight lines of Euclid's geometry, the notions of
absolute time implicit in Galileo's astronomy and the beauty and simplicity
of gravity as explained by Newton's physics were all up for grabs.
Euclid, Galileo and Newton had been the framework in which the Age of
Enlightenment and the quite incredible expansion of human knowledge
throughout the 19th Century had taken place. Any quite ordinarily educated
person could understand their science and, if they didn't, they would know
someone who could oblige. And then came Einstein. Every schoolchild knows
his equation E=mc 2 . But how many of us understand it?
Einstein ushered in the Age of Technology. He transformed us into lost
souls in a world we no longer understand. So we are both resentful and
suspicious, similar in so many ways to our equally ignorant pastoral
forebears who in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries reacted with such
violence and hostility to Edward Jenner, who invented the process of
vaccination which led to the elimination of smallpox, the greatest scourge
of his time.
Jenner, who took his original vaccine from cows, was accused of offending
all the laws of natural life. GM scientists today are told they are
behaving like God. 'Stop playing with our food,' they are told. Heaven help
us. For centuries they've been 'playing' with our food and, in the process,
spared all of the advanced industrialised countries of the world the
terrible spectres of famine and disease which, like smallpox, haunted our
forebears for generations.
Diseases like rickets, caused by malnutrition, have been eradicated, giving
children a fair chance of reaching maturity.
We are the first generation in the history of the world in which the thin
people are the rich people, and the fat the poor.
Because we no longer have to worry about where the next meal is coming
from, we can afford not to eat. That is an extraordinary revolution in the
conduct of human affairs.
But people don't know their history any more. These ignoramuses seem to
suppose that it was always that way that there always was a chicken in
every pot. There wasn't. Famine stalked our continent until quite recent
times. The Irish potato famine between 1845 and 1849 caused a million
deaths and drove a million more to emigrate.
Only our wealth, which allowed us to import food, kept the spectre of
famine away from these shores in the 19th Century.
Of course, it is right to be sceptical. Genetically modified foods have to
be most carefully evaluated before they are widely grown. Science, as we
know from the BSE crisis, can take a dangerous turning and it's not a bad
watchword in life to treat whatever the [ Monsanto Chemical Corporation ]
tells you with considerable suspicion.
E MUST therefore have a debate, but it must be a grownup one in which the
protagonists seek not to frighten, but to enlighten us. There are dangers,
but if these can be overcome, there are vast benefits to us all in this new
The scientists believe they will produce better, healthier and cheaper
crops. They won't destroy the living environment, they say, because so
efficient will they be in producing a trouble-free harvest that less of our
countryside will need to be under cultivation. With the right safeguards,
GM foods offer hope and not desolation.
This is what the Government has been trying to say. So why can't it get its
Well, let me tell you. Governments all over the world are not believed any
more. We have all grown wise over the years to the weaselly words of
politicians, their lies and half-truths.
Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair's Press spokesman, says the media trivialises
political debate. Maybe so, but Mr Campbell would do well to remember where
that process began. Politicians these days spend so much time playing to
the gallery that it's hard to believe them when they play it straight. They
twist words. They subvert the very meaning of language. They obfuscate.
They jump on every passing fashion and ask us to admire them for so doing.
Like the Tories' stance over GM foods there is no issue known to man over
which they won't play politics.
That 'cynicism' which Campbell deplores was not bred in Fleet Street, but
within the corridors of power.
The utter mendacity of the political process, and its hypocrisies, has
finally caught up with them all.
They cannot exercise the leadership which they want to provide and which
the world, I believe, requires because we don't trust them any more.
We are left with no compass in our lives no one whom we respect or trust.
So a debate on GM foods, so vital to us all, is held between competing
extremes the companies which hope to make vast fortunes and
unrepresentative, somewhat paranoid pressure groups who wish to impose a
singular and, in my judgment, rather nasty model of how the world should be
organised upon us all.
It's not the fault of the media that this is happening. It's because over
the years we, and other countries like us, have been denied clean, honest
and open government.
Trust is not freely given, it has to be earned. There are many lessons for
politicians everywhere in the GM debate. I just hope Tony Blair, William
Hague and all their friends are listening.
posted by email@example.com (jim mcnulty)
Greens and growers wide apart on bio-tech food
February 22, 1999
CARTAGENA, Reuters [BR] via NewsEdge Corporation : Fears of mutant maize
food'' have been pitched against promises of a horn of plenty to end world
famine at a United
Nations conference on genetically-modified crops this week.
More than 500 delegates from 130 countries are meeting in Colombia's
colonial port city of
Cartagena to hammer out rules for the import, export and use of crops and
food engineered in laboratories by scientists mixing genes and DNA from
plants and even animals.
Environmental activists accuse bio-technology companies of trying to make a
fast buck in what is already a multibillion-dollar industry at the risk of
sparking a huge ecological disaster and damaging human health.
The manufacturers of genetically-modified foods accuse the pressure groups
of using ``bogus, metaphysical'' arguments in a bid to wrap the industry up
in red tape.
U.N. officials hope government representatives will adopt a protocol by the
end of the meeting Tuesday but concede that any agreement would likely be
``based on moral suasion rather than punishment'' -- effectively a dog with
``It's now possible to do stuff that only writers could imagine before and
build up completely new life forms. The argument that we need
genetically-modified food to feed the world is complete bull,'' Mika Raila,
a Greenpeace spokesman at the conference, told Reuters.
``The U.S. government has said it sees the bio-tech industry as the second
most promising after information technology ... and it's been bullying
everybody to please the U.S. bio-tech industry,'' he said, adding that
other major grain exporters including Canada, Argentina and Australia were
also lobbying for as few controls as possible on genetically-modified food.
Last year, about one-quarter of all maize, or corn, grown in the United
States was transgenic,
together with about 35 percent of soybeans and some 45 percent of cotton,
according to industry estimates.
The bio-technology industry says their advanced techniques ultimately will
allow the world to feed its ever-growing population by boosting crop
quality and yields on existing farm land without encroaching on hitherto
But alarm over the potential environmental and health risks of
genetically-engineered produce has reached fever-pitch in parts of Europe,
leading the British press to dub it ''Frankenstein food''.
This week environmental activists dumped four tons of genetically-modified,
U.S. soybeans on British Prime Minister Tony Blair's doorstep, after he
said he had no worries about eating the hi-tech food.
Raila argued that genetically-modified crops could cross- pollinate with
wild species causing
unwanted changes or even wiping out plants, insects and animals right up
the food chain.
The health risk to humans of eating such foods is as yet unknown but there
are signs it could cause allergies, resistance to certain medicines and
possibly even affect internal organs, he said.
``Nobody has more of a vested interest than ourselves to make sure these
products are safe for the consumer. Bio-technology gives us the possibility
to modify plants with precision,'' Val Giddings, vice president of the
Washington-based Bio-Technology Industry Organization, told Reuters.
``The argument that gene exchange is problematic is bogus. Greenpeace and
its likes have made a decision for metaphysical reasons that it is opposed
to bio-technology,'' he added.
Environmentalists and industry experts appear to be poles apart on the
issue, but only government representatives are taking a direct part in this
week's talks in Cartagena.
Michael Williams, spokesman for the U.N. Environment Program said the
discussions, which began last Sunday, had been tough.
``This is a very complex issue and negotiations have been difficult. But
we're optimistic we will have a reasonable protocol at the end,'' he said.
Controversy has centered on whether new rules should just apply to modified
seeds or extend to products made from genetically-modified crops. There has
also been argument over who should be liable if a genetically-modified crop
produces unwanted side effects or environmental damage.
``There's a potential incompatibility between environmental and trade
interests here,'' Williams said.
[Copyright 1999, Reuters]
Express your support for Prince Charles and his fight against GE foods at
Sunday Express 21 Feb 99
Charles Defies Blair on GM Food
by Andrew Pierce and Mark Fox
PRINCE Charles is locked in a battle of wills with Tony Blair over
genetically modified food. Down ing Street is pressurising Charles to
withdraw his website, in which he describes GM food as a potential risk to
public health and the environment and an unacceptable challenge to the
natural order A defiant Charles refuses to change the site which is visited
daily by thousands of people worldwide. In it he states: "We should not be
meddling with the building blocks of life in this way" Charles adds: "There
is an important public debate needed on whether we need GM crops at all."
The Sunday Express has learned that far from being silenced, the Prince
will continue to speak out strongly against GM food once the political
controversy has died down, so that he can capitalise on the new wave of
popular concern. Only last week he hosted a seminar at Highgrove with the
Soil Association to discuss the best way of taking his campaign. forward.
With the Government increasingly rattled over the political fallout, Mr
Blair dramatically intervened yesterday. In a newspaper article. he refused
to bow to demands for a three-year ban on the commercial growing of GM
crops and accused the media and Tories of distortion. Ministers fear
Charles's outspoken comments, posted on his website in December -before the
row erupted over Science Minister Lord Sainsbury"s involvement with the
biotech Industry - will damage efforts to reassure the public.
Downing Street took the unusual step last week of phoning Buckingham Palace
to advise the Prince to withdraw the website comments. He was also advised
to refrain from any public comments until the political heat has cooled.
Charles has decided the site, due to be changed this week, will now remain
for several more weeks. As soon as the political climate allows, he will
make an outspoken speech on the issue.
A Palace aide said, "The Prince feels very strongly this is absolutely the
right moment to drive home his long held concerns about this sort of food.
"He first made a speech on the subject two years ago. He is determined not
to be left out of a debate he feels he helped to start."
[End part 1]
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