Thursday, May 13, 2004

Monsanto pulls out of GM wheat

Monsanto have decided to stop marketing their RoundUp Ready wheat. This is apparently a delay to their plans rather than a change. Monsanto claim there a lack of demand, while opponents of GM food point to the growing consumer resistance to GM in any form. But surely these are the same thing? If people don't like stuff, for whatever reason, they won't buy it. And if the end purchasers, the people in the supermarkets, don't want it, then the farmers aren't going to be able to sell it, so they won't want to grow it. It all fits together.

The question is, of course, why this consumer opposition has arisen. Certainly a crop designed to withstand use of a herbicide which is normally highly toxic to plants is controversial, but most people have no more than a vague idea that "it's bad". Environmental pressure groups press for freedom of choice: GM food should be labelled so that we can choose whether or not to eat it. But this only matters if the fact that something is genetically modified is important.

To me there are two reasons it might be important that a food product has had artificial changes made to its genes. The first is a possible risk to human health. Unless the genetic changes were to introduce a new poison (not the case with a glyphosate resistance), this is not very likely. The second is a possible risk to the environment. This is more of an issue.

But there are so many other things about our food that don't get labelled. I have no idea what chemicals are sprayed on my food, GM or otherwise, or what conditions the labourers work under. The only way to be sure is to buy organic and fair trade -- and when I look at the prices and the lack of choice (and the fact that a lot of it has been jetted halfway across the world, and loses in fuel pollution what it gains in non-chemical production), I usually end up buying the ordinary, pesticide-soaked variety. Surely then I would be a hypocrite to insist on it being GM free?

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