Cool heads needed on GMOs

27 Nov, 2002 10:00 PM
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FANS of the wonderful Rumpole of the Bailey will be aware that Horace R, when faced with a dicey trial, would often revert to his favourite defence, the "golden thread that runs through English law."

This thread was the famous presumption of innocence, the law which stated that all people who were facing a charge in the courts were to be presumed innocent, until proven guilty.

It is a part of the English law which we also share, but in real life the opposite often occurs, with people being presumed guilty until proven innocent and, occasionally, still considered to be guilty, even when declared innocent.

It's not a new phenomenon, as shown by old sayings such as "where there's smoke, there's fire" and "if you throw enough mud, some will stick," so we can't even blame it on modern society.

A variation of this "presumption of guilt" option is the proposition that all change is bad, unless proven to be good, with the same addendum being that change is bad, even when proven otherwise.

Politicians have a track record of using this ploy when opposing an initiative from the other side of the political spectrum, warning against the unknown by urging "where there's doubt, throw it out".

Many groups and individuals continue to use the fear factor to preserve the status quo, with old cartographers defining the edge of the known world in their maps with the warning: "beyond here be dragons."

The dark greens are experts at using this tactic, predicting all sorts of doom, desolation and despair if the public fail to heed their warning over everything from chopping down a tree to using fertiliser on the crops.

Rather than enter into an informed debate on forest policy, these people offer only the worst case scenario, that unless the forests are locked away for ever, someone will chop down the old growth forest and turn it into wood chips.

Extremes at either end are seldom wise choices, but it seems to be the basis of modern marketing to talk only of these options, with Greenpeace being an expert in this field.

Although Greenpeace is a billion-dollar multi-national, it sees no contradiction in claiming that multi-nationals are the cause of all our woes, using the same logic to warn that the use of GMOs will cause the end of the world as we know it.

About the only "proof" offered by the Greenpeace disciples is the anecdotal evidence that the people selling the GM technology are "a pack of bastards", because the company has been unreasonable when dealing with farmers.

This was to be verified by the Canadian farmer they brought to Australia to preach the anti-GMO gospel, but it seems that he was not quite the white knight defending the goodies from the baddies as was originally claimed.

Even if the company had been unreasonable in charging farmers with retaining seed from GM crops, it says a lot about their lack of business skills and very little about the technology.

The anti-GMO fanatics should lose any credibility by their claim that the evil multi-national owners of GMO crops have been forcing farmers to buy high-priced GM seed that results in lower yields and profits.

Even people with a low opinion of the average Yank would have a hard time trying to explain how a free enterprise farmer in a market economy would be gullible enough to fall for such a con.

But, as the TV advert claims, "there's more!" It seems that GM canola is bad, therefore all GM crops must be bad, so all GM crops together with the scientists, the technology and all who profit from or promote the concept should be banned.

Against this background, the nation's grower organisations were very wise to reject the offer from Greenpeace and friends to fund a referendum on the future of GMOs in this country.

Farmers have been able to survive by adopting new technology as it became available, being smart enough to identify the acceptable options while rejecting the offerings from the snake oil salespeople.

Modern gene technology may well provide the new generation of farmers with the tools to continue to prosper, perhaps by making new cereals drought, frost or salt tolerant, or even breeding more profitable farm animals.

Many of the queries about the first fruits of this technology are now appearing in the media as "facts" with the uninformed accepting the scaremongering about "Frankenstein Foods."

The technology is too important and the farmers' need is too great to allow this option to be rejected on the basis of uninformed criticism from people and groups with dubious motives.

GM technology is at the stage where it requires cool heads and scientific study, not a media frenzy that could see a good idea become a political football.

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