The UK Environment Secretary, a certain Owen Paterson (of Badger Cull fame) opened his mouth again this week, however this time not to attack badgers for “moving the goalposts”, but instead to criticize all those opposed to genetically modified (GM) crops, labelling them as “wicked”.
His outburst came in an interview with The Independent newspaper, in reference to various environmental NGO’s continuing opposition to the development and use of “golden rice”, which has been genetically modified and fortified with beta-carotene, giving the rice its distinctive golden colour. It also makes it a potential source of vitamin A, when prepared correctly and in the presence of the correct fats (which requires a balanced diet, something generally lacking in developing countries).
Now there are two camps with regards to GM crops. The first consists of a small group of global companies that between them control about three-quarters of the worlds seed markets, and their patrons and supporters; government ministers who are connected with those businesses, and a gaggle of billionaires who have funded the research under the name of philanthropy, but who would, of course, never expect or hope for anything in return in the future. This group, to which the environment secretary belongs, claim that GM golden rice will solve many of the developing world’s food problems, improving health and saving millions of lives. A fairly substantial claim.
And on the other side of the argument are the environmental groups and other non-governmental organisations. They support many of the third world farmers on a local level. This group says that there are a number of issues with GM crops; The seed will be owned and controlled by a few multinationals, restricting farmers rights to breed and exchange seeds. Malnutrition, which the bio-companies claim to work against, is primarily down to problem of access, given the massive amount of overproduction and food waste in the developed world. They also highlight that even though the dose of beta carotene (the precursor chemical for vitamin A) has been boosted in the latest version of the rice, it still has a huge question mark over how effective it will be, as it degrades over time and when cooked. It also requires longer cooking time, and therefore more fuel.
Seems like a lot of work for so little return. Surely it would be simpler to give out carrot seeds (they are a far better, and natural source of vitamin A) and teach people how to grow it?
So, given the two contrasting positions on this contentious issue, one ponders the truth of the situation.
Who would you trust? The conglomerates and their government backers? Or volunteers groups, and African and Asian farmers who fear that they will lose control of their food sources?
Is there a better, more balanced way to deal with the world’s food problems, that directly address the real issues of incomes and food distribution?
And what next? Is golden rice just a “Trojan Horse”, to ease a sceptical public into acceptance of GM crops in the future, with free seed handouts, and other demonstrations of generosity, patent waivers and too-good-to resist deals, only to then be replaced by tight controls on future GM seed ownership, distribution, and rights to buy once enough people have become completly dependent on them?
I think that I will let my poem do the talking on this one.
How to set up a trap and then snare?
Mix a potion of rice with hot air,
Say it cures all and claim that it’s free!
Just don’t mention seeds later won’t be.
Billionaire’s row funds the show,
Then sits on the panel that decides it’s good to go,
False prophets proclaim it saves all that partake,
While counting the future profits they’ll make.
What started as a miracle no longer meets needs,
Awaiting handouts or more debts for new seeds,
Sold our souls for GM golden rice,
Should have bought carrots for a better long-term price.