Finding the common GM ground

I’M OFTEN asked why I don’t take a strong position on the GM debate – its either the best thing since sliced bread, or a disaster similar to asbestos waiting to happen – right?

Unfortunately, in real life things are a little more complex than that.

The latest furore surrounding a study finding rats fed GM corn developed serious liver and kidney issues is merely another in an ongoing propaganda war that needs to be reined in by an independent umpire.

Both proponents and opponents of GM are so entangled in the bitter war of words that its nigh on impossible to get any objective comment on the issue, with arguments having their pros and cons.

To the crux of the matter – do I think GM food crops should be allowed? The short answer is yes, but that does not mean a free-for-all of commercialisation of GM food crops.

The opponents of GM will point to a range of studies pointing to potential health damage done by consumption of GM foods as evidence my opinion is irresponsible.

My reasoning, however, is simple. GM foods have been available in America for 20-odd years, and if they were as dangerous as has been made out, wouldn’t people be dropping dead everywhere by now?

Is there a risk the negative impacts on health will take time to assert themselves? Of course there is, but as a keen student of the world grain supply and demand charts, I just can’t see another means of feeding the world’s ever-expanding population. I’d rather get ill in 40 years than starve today – and we are running into the thin end of the wedge in terms of the productivity gains from conventional breeding.

There’s a risk and reward scenario here, and I don’t think we can stop the use of GM on the off chance the sky will fall in, after most scientific studies indicate the food is safe to eat.

That’s a judgment call and I’m happy to acknowledge others will disagree. To this end, at an Australian level, so long as the labeling laws are strong enough, they will have the choice not to eat GM. This needs to mean an end to the various unmarked GM products that sneak into the food supply chain through various loopholes, which will not please all biotech businesses, but there needs to be choice.

Equally, it may mean non-GM consumers pay a higher price for some foods, but if they have the unwavering opinion it is unsafe it will surely be a price they are prepared to pay.

Given current consumers trends, there will be some who are happy to do this, and others that may profess doubts about GM yet aren’t prepared to spend an extra $2 not to eat it.

Why will non-GM food be at a premium? The idea behind GM crops, indeed all new varieties is that they produce more for less, meaning it can be done cheaper. If it can’t, then this whole debate will be meaningless as no growers will use the technology.

A big question that needs to be ironed out is that of who conducts the tests on whether the food is safe – the current system provides satisfaction to no-one.

For mine, the anti-GM lobby missed a trick in having Giles-Eric Seralini, a long-term opponent of GM, as the face of the campaign into the safety concerns surrounding GM corn, however, they do make some good points in terms of long-term and independent testing.

The current system in Australia, where the onus on doing the testing lies with the company attempting to commercialise a variety, is ridiculous, a poacher cum gamekeeper situation if ever there was one.

Surely there needs to be funding to have the likes of Food Safety Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) and the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR) do the tests themselves.

I’d argue this would be preferable to the biotech companies themselves, even though it may take longer and be more expensive, as then the testing lies with an independent regulator and no-one could argue the toss, claiming that the data is compromised, which is currently a tactic applied with gay abandon by both sides of the debate.

Further multi-generational studies are also a good idea – stewardship should not stop the moment commercial varieties hit the paddock.

All this will cost more money, which may have some biotechs squealing, but I think it’s a small price to pay to developing an industry where it is possible for Australian consumers to find some reliable data and make their own decisions regarding safety rather than the current chasm where you are either for or against GM and never the twain shall meet.

Date: Newest first | Oldest first


1/10/2012 5:44:25 PM

Gregor, only you and the GM lobby are making suggestions of dropping dead from GM. The French study on GM corn NK603 was a lifetime study. A lifetime for most of us is more than 20 years. That's exactly the point! What the Seralini study did determine, was that the side-effects of eating GM corn in the long term brings on some pretty nasty ailments. We ARE seeing these ailments in Americans and we DO have anecdotal evidence that by reverting to a non-GMO diet, the ailments reduce. While there is no labelling, population studies are impossible. Let's hope Prop 37 gets up in California Nov 6.
3/10/2012 7:59:08 PM

Hi Gregor Your view of the GM issue is a little one-sided. There is more than enough food to feed the world now and in the future. This is another myth put out by the Biotech corporations. A book has been written about this - search it. One cigaret won't kill you but over a period of time the accumulation of chemicals and nicotine might have some impact on your body. Alice (1.10.12) makes some valid comments!
4/10/2012 10:23:42 AM

While your raise good points regarding labelling and independent testing - but not by OGTR or FSANZ since they are hardly independent bodies - you missed several others. 1) Compensation for non GM growing farmers, whose crops have been contaminated at any point in the growth or supply chain. This compensation must be paid by Biotech companies in full and be adminstered by an independent ombudsman with binding powers to stop producers facing massive legal costs. 2) An end to calls for "adventitious" GM contamination in non GM products by Biotech companies. GM free means 100% GM free.
4/10/2012 10:33:54 AM

There is one other point that should be made: "GM foods have been available in America for 20-odd years, and if they were as dangerous as has been made out, wouldn’t people be dropping dead everywhere by now? " Anecdotal and sweeping statements like these are VERY BAD science and demonstrates the opinion of someone who is possibly to not qualified to make such a statement. While there are many mitigating factors for heatlh and obesity, to exclude GM as a possible causal factor is irresponsible and obstructive to scientific enquiry.

Great comments people - agreed with some, disagreed with some, but that's why we have these forums, to discuss things. Credit for all for not getting into slanging matches! Anyway, the labelling argument certainly has merit - agree people should know what they're eating. I do tend to think, however, that people talk one way and act another - will be interesting to see what happens if the prices differ as to what people will buy.

Food security - I just don't think a lot of people realise how tight it is, and with the volatile weather we have today, these events such as the American drought this year or Russia a couple of years back are becoming the norm, rather than the exception.

Science - point taken it was a rather crude way of representing the information, but how long out do we have to go with proving something is safe?

AP and contamination - agree that it should not be up to those marketing a product as non-GM to clean up a mess from others, but just can't have this 100pc, no AP, argument. Nothing is absolute in nature, and I think its a bit fundamentalist to not have a minute buffer there. If it exceeds these levels, then we need to have some sort of system in place to compensate those impacted.

Cheers for the comments, and will be interested to see what people think about my reply.

Posted by moderator: Gregor Heard on 8/10/2012 11:48:03 AM
19/10/2012 8:21:03 AM

Gregor, good to see you in reply. In Australia, we should have no need to accept any amount of GM contamination. We are an island continent. If our border security was at all inclined, we could be the control group for the world if science chose to do any population studies. As it is, GMOs have been released to the environment WITHOUT these health studies being done. Our kids are getting sicker sooner and our hospital waiting queues are getting longer. Strong positive correlations that are NOT followed up by epidemiological studies. Put the dollars to the health studies BEFORE more GMOs.
30/11/2012 12:01:11 PM

Hi Gregor, Thank you for your response to our comments. "how long out do we have to go with proving something is safe?" I think we need to look at the history of the Tobacco industry for this one. In reality, nothing is safe in foods and medications unless it has been tested as such by credible independent bodies. There was a time when smoking was good for you - because having TB was much worse! But long term usage has proven otherwise and I strongly believe that GM will prove the same. Nothing is absolute in nature - I think you are obfuscating natural vs man-made. Cheers, B
Grain of TruthRural Press grains writer Gregor Heard on the big issues facing the broadacre farmers today.


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