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GE witch hunts – by Lance Kennedy

Witch-hunts usually target people, Lance Kennedy writes. But in recent years one of the most successful witch-hunts targeted an innocent technology.

It all began in 1997 with a piece of incredibly shoddy science. A researcher fed raw genetically modified potatoes to lab rats and notice they became sick.

He passed the results on to the world¹s media and what followed was a frenzy with Armageddon-like declarations.

On the back of this free publicity the anti-GM lobby launched their crusade.

Six months later two findings were ignored. The first was that the GM potatoes were harmless. All raw potatoes, GM or not, are toxic to rats.

The second was that an anti-GM crusade was an ideal way to arouse public fear and paranoia. Membership in anti-GM lobby groups was up and so was fund raising.

Some of the larger groups, over six years, increased their earnings from under $50 million to over $150 million US per year.

Anti-GM hysteria was very profitable. These groups had vast amounts of money under their control and that meant increased power.

Even when the scientific claims that launched the crusade were found lacking the campaigns continued. Today they rely upon lies, wild speculation and emotionalistic propaganda.

If we discard the red herrings that are thrown out we are left with two important issues surrounding the use of genetically modified crops and foods.

The first question: Is it safe?

The second: Is it useful?

For all government approved GM crops and foods the safety issue is clear. They are totally safe. The list of scientific, extra-governmental bodies that have researched and approved GM foods is almost endless: the World Health Organisation, the Food and Agriculture Organisation, the United Nations Food Program, the British Royal Society, the French Academy of Science and Medicine and many more.

When it comes to safety GM foods are the most studied foods we eat. Just in the United States alone each GM crop or food undergoes about 1,000 laboratory and field tests.

So far over 2 billion people have eaten GM foods for over a decade and there is not one single scientifically confirmed case of any harm, no matter how slight, arising from the genetic modification of these foods.

Are they useful? Absolutely.

GM sweet potatoes in Africa are immune to a devastating disease that often kills 100 percent of vital food crops.

The inventor, Dr. Florence Wambugu says this will feed an extra ten million starving Africans.

The most used GM crop is a herbicide resistant soya bean. Using it allows no-till agriculture that saves one billion tonnes of topsoil from erosion each year in the United States alone.

GM corn is cultivated without the use insecticides and reduces the amount of toxic pesticides by 5,000 tonnes per year. That figure is increasing.

Golden rice is a GM variety with extra vitamin A. It has the potential to save hundreds of thousands of children from going blind.

Anti-GM witch-hunters are causing enormous human suffering.

In Zambia, where 3 million people are starving, the United States offered food aid in the form of corn that contained some GM varieties.

Americans have been eaten those varieties for years with no harm. But the anti-GM lobby got to the Zambian government with a staggering

lie: GM corn is toxic.

In the Philippines 30 percent of children suffer from vitamin

A deficiency. Golden rice, which was to be released there, was stopped by anti-GM lobbyists.

They claimed it could cause impotency or make one¹s hair fall out.

Greenpeace was especially vitriolic in it¹s attack. Some proponents suspect this is because Golden rice is especially useful and if it were seen to have dramatic benefits it would undermine the entire anti-GM crusade.

What of the future?

Experience with past witch-hunts suggests that hysteria eventually reaches a peak. And it appears the hysteria against GM is peaking.

From now on we can expect to see the rational elements growing stronger till the anti-GM lobby is discredited. Apart from a few die-hards the campaign will cease.

Much damage has already been done and the lives of thousands have been lost by these ill advised attacks.

But again if history is an indication the witch-hunters will simply move on to new hysteria. Already some of the anti-GM crowd are gearing up to launch a campaign to oppose the fledgling science of nanotechnology. Nonsense never ends.




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