European consumers are being pushed from every angle to change their minds on genetically modified (GM) foods. Some European governments, such as the UK, Netherlands, Sweden and Finland amongst others, along with the European Commission, are seemingly desperate to get us to change our minds. Is the pro-GM propaganda beginning to work?

In the UK, all the major supermarkets, other than Waitrose, have reversed their anti-GM animal feed policies. They now say they can no longer guarantee that animal products are not derived from GM-fed animals, with GM soya a particular culprit. It seems that the reasons for this are complex, but lie more with a slow down in exports of soya from Brazil caused by inadequate infrastructure linked to this year’s bumper crop. One of the main problems, it seems, is a lack of berths in Brazilian ports causing a logjam of ships intent on getting Brazil’s soya crop - about 90% of which is now GM - to other parts of the world. 

But another reason could be about finding ways to put pressure on the UK and other EU countries to accept GM imports from the USA. It’s certainly got nothing whatsoever to do with alleviating poverty, the biotech industry’s favoured driver to persuade the European public to accept GM. The bottom line is that people, the world over, don’t much like Monsanto and their ilk. And that’s what the 25th May global March Against Monsanto is all about. Check out the locations for marches if you want to take part in one nearest to you, wherever you are in the world!

I was invited last Monday to participate in a Green Monday debate on GM. Green Mondays is a forum, developed in association with Ernst and Young, designed to get topical, green debates relevant to the corporate community turned over by people on various sides of the issue. This one was themed "The corporate community should now embrace GM crops and food". No doubt about what the aim was, then. It involved some fancy mobile voting systems that allowed voting to be undertaken on key issues before and after inputs from the panel. For Peter Melchett, policy director of the Soil Association, and I, it may have been a little akin to bringing lambs to the slaughter. Among the 5 speakers and 4 Google Hangout invitees, of which I was one, we were the only two fully signed-up anti-GM protagonists.

The video of the event will be published by Green Mondays on its website in due course, and that will reveal the detailed results of the voting. But it was pleasing to see quite a number of companies being discerning about their adoption of GM. While some voiced concerns about the health or environmental effects, others were simply responding to the desires of the public, the majority of which continue to prefer non-GM choices in their shopping baskets.

What concerned me most was the gusto with which the pro-GM scientists spoke. It was as if their superior selves had superior knowledge that afforded them a superior vision of what might be in the decades to come. Dr Tina Barsby, CEO & Director of the National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB), was fully subscribed to this approach, and she was closely followed by Dr Jonathan Jones, senior scientist at the Sainsbury Lab in Norwich, who was ‘virtually’ alongside me in the Google Hangout group.

This group of scientists have now turned the tables on anti-GM activists. They blame anti-GM protesters for creating a regulatory nightmare for the registration of GM crops that has now made it only accessible to the biggest corporations. We are to blame, they say, for the concentration of agricultural resources among a handful of biotech companies like of our many complaints about the technology.

One has only to imagine what the world would look like if these people had free reign to do as they wished, without any respect for public opinion.

Till next time...

Rob Verkerk