The Leader

UK opens gates to GM foods as Australia bolts and bars the door

By: The Leader
Published: Thursday, June 13, 2013 - 09:03 GMT Jump to Comments

The UK Government wants to change the rules on GM crops based on political and commercial interest as Australia beefs up the scientific checks and balances on GM production.

A recent study by Warwick University, working together with Glasgow University, examined why people who understand the dangers of global warming do little or nothing to change their behaviour.

We persist with our self destructive behaviours, apparently, because we don't trust the science that offers evidence for global warming, we don't trust the politicians who support measures to ameliorate global warming, we don't trust the media who spin and trivialise their reports on global warming and we don't trust the energy companies who are pushing alternative forms of energy production.

We are facing a similar conundrum over whether we allow humans to eat genetically modified (GM) foods. In the same week that ministers of the current UK government have embarked on a mission to allow GM foods for human consumption, the Australian government is not only tightening up controls on GM food production, but boasting that they lead the world in this area.

Who and what should we believe?

The UK Environment Secretary, it seems, is to put pressure on the European Union to relax the current, strict, restrictions on growing GM crops for human consumption.

In a speech due to be given next week, Owen Paterson, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and Member of Parliament for North Shropshire - a largely rural and farming constituency -  is rumoured to be initiating a review of EU restrictions.

This follows on from comments at the Cheltenham science festival by David Willetts, Minister for Universities and Science, that we would be wise to ease the existing restrictions on GM crops in order to avoid the UK food production industry getting stuck in a 20th Century backwater.

Farmers Weekly, a magazine, has reported that UK farmers are now shifting substantially in their attitudes towards GM with 61% now saying that they are willing to grow GM crops. Ironically the driver for this change, it seems, is global warming. Farmers want to use plants that have been genetically modified to better withstand sudden and violent changes in weather.

We in Britain, it seems, are about to change the rules based on the immediate interests of our farmers and their political representatives. At the same time, Australia is refining their ability to make evidence based decisions and claiming global leadership in assessing risks to human health and the environment from gene technology.

The Australian Parliamentary Secretary for Health and Ageing, Shayne Neumann, speaking at the opening of the 5th National Institutional Biosafety Committee Forum in Canberra has launched a revised Risk Analysis Framework updating Australia’s system of regulating GM crops, and other research and development activities with genetically modified organisms.

“This revised framework ensures that the regulatory scheme for GM organisms licensed by the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR) remains comprehensive, transparent and science-based,” Mr Neumann said.

The main changes in the revised Risk Analysis Framework are a thorough overhaul of how risks are communicated; incorporating weed scientists’ knowledge and experience of assessing risks from problem plants; and ensuring a consistent approach to risk analysis for all types of GM organisms.

In short, the Aussies intend to make sure they do not give in to the interests of farmers or politicians but take their decisions based on the science. Evidence based decision making at it's best.

Who should we believe? The politicians? The scientists? The food producers? The media? Or should we condemn and ignore them all as we have done so far over global warming.

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