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Genetically modified foods

Mike Scantlebury photoIn England, GM foods will always be associated with lies and deception. That's for a very good reason, because everything we have been told here about GM over the years is provably untrue. Take one example: we were told that GM crops were necessary for the good of the Third World. It would help eradicate hunger, it was said. Now we find out that the vast majority of GM crops in the world today are grown in North America. If GM type food is being developed for the benefit of the Third World, why is the First World deriving so much benefit from it first, before the others? Why on earth do the wheat growers of the US and Canadian prairies need seed that delivers higher yields? If GM is so important for Africa and Asia, why aren't they top priority instead? It beggars belief that GM is touted as the answer to world hunger but is busy being devoted mainly to feeding the fattest people on the planet, and not the needy and under-nourished.

Nobody is saying the scientists are lying. The men in white coats who invented the new way of growing crops no doubt had the best interests of humanity at heart. Unfortunately, their patents are in the hands of businessmen, people who struggle to produce a convincing picture of altruism. One example: GM seeds that are making it to Africa are being sold to the farmers there, sold in a market where farmers rarely deal in a cash economy, and, moreover, sold as First Generation hybrids, which means they are sterile. Local farmers are used to conserving seeds from one season to the next, to provide for the new crop. They are having to get used to a brand new system of selling all their harvest each year and saving money from the proceeds to buy next year's seed. It's a plan that ties the dirt poor farmer to the big seed companies - forever. There is no way the farmers can break out of the trap. Worse, they are being tempted to grow inappropriate crops: the rice farmers are not just being offered GM rice, but the whole range of GM plants. Farmers are switching to what might seem the most profitable product available, a short-term philosophy that ignores local need; local climate conditions; and local food supply.

Back in Britain, the GM bandwagon arrived in the 1990s. The population was told that GM crops would need to be 'tested' in our country. Why? Is the climate that different to the US, or the soil, or the agricultural methods? If GM foods are helping the hungry, why does prosperous England turn out to be the next area for colonisation on the list? Worse, the British public soon had to get used to the news that GM seeds were carried by the wind, and spread. We were promised that this wouldn't happen; we were told that these GM 'trial' beds would be isolated and protected. Rubbish. GM plants spread into areas where farmers didn't want them, and farmers who had consciously said they didn't want anything to do with the 'GM revolution' were finding their fields polluted by the new technology. It didn't end there. The GM companies then had the damn nerve to sue the victims for 'stealing' the GM crops, the invaders on their land, (which they hadn't asked for and didn't want) and were being awarded damages in the courts! In Canada, even more bizarrely, the GM companies were suing farmers for 'trespass' and said they were threatening their patents, and were being awarded not only the produce of their fields but their land as well. That was the last straw. If there's one thing that Englishmen hate, it's legalised robbery. It reminds them of the dust bowl of the 1930s in America, the tragedy that John Steinbeck and Woody Guthrie chronicled so wonderfully, where farmers were swept off their land by caterpillar tractors, all perfectly legally and at the behest of rapacious banks and landlords.

There was more to come. The media got on the case and decided that GM crops represented 'Frankenstein foods'. No, it doesn't make any sense, but that didn't stop the campaign. The bogey of eating 'artificial' food was scarey to the British public and they turned off the idea in droves. They stopped buying anything that even had a hint of GM about it. The GM industry hit back, and made sure that food labelling was no longer required to specify if packets of soya beans were GM or not. One week, labels might say, 'made from 50% GM crops', the next week they said nothing. The population was livid. Big Business had once again rigged the game, forcing politicians to kowtow to their call and outlaw information that might be detrimental to their sales. People weren't buying GM? The cynical response was not to tell people it was there. How's that for deception? Oh, did I mention it was all perfectly legal? That just made the angry people madder. They felt used, abused, and manipulated, and turned against GM companies.

The GM industry had one last trick up its sleeve. It recognised that a huge publicity campaign had been mounted against its most vociferous advocate, Monsanto, so it simply collapsed the company, dropped the name and started up again under another title. Bad move. If anything, this just convinced the doubters they were right. If the company was so unsure about sales that it could re-invent itself overnight, then what else was invented, spurious and untrue? The move proved one thing. If you critisise the GM giants, they cry 'Foul' and talk about the free market and consumer choice. If consumers then actually go ahead and choose, well, like choosing something that isn't in the big companies' interest, like buying their food, then they'll change food packing; change company names; and outlaw information. What happened to the Free Market? Oh, that's only good when you, the people, buy what the company wants to sell you. If you won't buy it, they'll rig the market. It won't be so darn 'free' then, but at least sales will hold up. So much for capitalists; they believe in capitalism, when it suits them. If it doesn't suit, they'll choose Big Government, every time.

Mike Scantlebury is one Internet Author who fears Frankenstein farmers. He lives in Manchester, England, the big city, but manages to grow his own veggies in his back yard and a small allotment. He's never had time for GM foods and reads the labels, every time. Hear what he has to say on other topics, see him on YouTube and MySpace.

Re-published from in September 2012

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