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Following is the note Trewavas sent to
Jean Saunders of the 'Friends of the Earth' who after hearing our
debate at the Royal Agricultural College in UK wrote a critical
report to FOE discussion group (which I post below). Tony replied to
her and I also reproduce below here.
Your coments on the RAC debate last Friday have been passed to
me. I am sorry that you didn't think I addressed the topic in
question. I assumed that Patrick Holden and Mark Griffiths would in
the eventuality deal with the organic side whilst it was the job of
Prakash and myself to deal with GM. We have had some very
positive comments from Mark Griffiths trying to explore areas of
agreement but we will not see a meeting of minds over organic
farming until those who are persuaded that modern technology,
(which they use in breeding such as Patrick Holden's farm where
they use F1 hybrids) can also be extended to what is called genetic
manipulation. You probably do not know that when F1 hybrids were
first introduced in the early part of the 20th century that there were
vigorous objections from people like yourself at the time who
claimed that hybridisation would destroy agriculture, that it was
un-natural that it would destroy wilderness by spreading breeding
depression and so on.
I have published a short article on the safety of organic food in The
Independent last July but I assumed in a debate where we are trying
to be positive and to meet each others objections that this would be
no place for such material. I can take issue with them on other
occasions when this is more to the point. In debates of this kind we
depend on the audience raising questions. If they don't raise then I
do not do so. I do not believe in attacking speakers for their beliefs
although I am well armed if the occasion demands.
I am also sorry that you find discussion of the lives of people in the
third and developing world as emotive clap trap. Perhaps you can
explain to me how you propose to solve a problem which is both
serious and demanding and requires expansion of agricultural yield
on the same area of land by at least 40% in the next 25 years. As I
said in my lecture we know there are ultimate limits to organic
agriculture because of the insistence on not using mineral fertilisers
and in fact at six billion people on this planet our options are very
limited. Perhaps as I have suggested for Prince Charles you
should go and work on an African farm for several years where out
of necessity, not choice, organic is what is used. You would find
that manure is in very short supply, they use it for fuel and for
building and the poor yields obtained by subsistence agriculture
usually ensure that farmers simply eat what they grow. They need
minerals but these are expensive although very much desired by
such farmers. I find that concern for the lives of others is primary
with me. Opposition to ways of improving their livelihood and
ensuring that all people can develop their full potential is to me not
comprehensible. Particularly as so much of the opposition seems
to prefer to place the environment, whatever that may be, above the
value of human life. Western environmental views are no more
than another aspect of western cultural domination and resented by
very large numbers abroad.
I enclose below a copy of my speech since I think there are parts
which you may have missed and I hope you are able to read it with
an open mind.
From: Jean Saunders
Subject: GM-ACT: CAN AGRICULTURAL BIOTECHNOLOGY LIVE WITH ORGANIC FARMING?
Content-Type: text/plain; charset="us-ascii"
CAN AGRICULTURAL BIOTECHNOLOGY LIVE WITH ORGANIC FARMING? was the subject
for public debate at the ROYAL AGRICULTURAL COLLEGE, ClRENCESTER on 2nd
It was sponsored by the Royal Agricultural College and the Embassy of the
United States of America. The speakers opened with their presentations.
Professor Prakash, Director of the Centre for Plant Biotechnology Research,
Tuskegee University, Alabama, USA (Member of the USDA Advisory Committee on
Agricultural Biotechnology) talked about food production in India and how
desperate it was getting to feed the world. The usual guilt-trip stuff
about 1 billion going to bed hungry every day - and the usual drivel about
genetic engineering just being an extension of what has happened in the
past. Little about the subject matter apart from saying that in India 80%
of farming is organic because the farmers can't afford to buy agro-chemicals.
Patrick Holden, Director of the Soil Association did speak to the subject -
talked about why sound soil management was vital to sustainable agriculture
and how another technical fix won't cure the problem - that GM crop growing
cannot sit comfortably alongside conventional farming let alone organic.
Professor Anthony Trewavas, Director of the Institute of Cell and Molecular
Biology, University of Edinburgh did not address the subject at all (except
to say that organic food was too expensive and that poor people will be
deprived or fresh fruit and vegetables - and that organic farming was
authoritarian - oh yes and a dig at E.Coli) and I have never heard so much
emotive clap-trap in my life (feeding the world again) coming from a
scientist who loves plants. He made an ageist remark about Pusztai that at
68 (?) he was past retirement age (tell that to our politicians!) so his
work and findings on GM potatoes fed to rats must have been crap or words
to that effect. However he did say in question time that, with regard to
the potential that GM technology might have to offer GM CROPS IN THE UK
DON'T CONTRIBUTE VERY MUCH (and on that we will all agree).
Mark Griffiths, Anti-GM Campaigner and Environment Spokesman for the
Natural Law Party provided evidence as to how poorly GM crops were
performing with regard to yields and economics - how new generations of
pests were evolving.
Well I am reassured that we have won the battle, if this is the best that
the pro-GM lobby can offer.