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ARE WE STANDING ON THE EDGE OF GM ABYSS?

 
09:00 - 14 July 2003
 
  
 
The same mistakes which resulted in the BSE crisis and the exacerbation
of the foot and mouth epidemic are being made again with GM crops, a new
book warns.

Devon author Andrew Rowell carried out research of all three issues for
his latest publication, Don't Worry It's Safe to Eat.

And he believes his studies have revealed evidence that could result in
the "catastrophic" decision to commercial GM crops.

"Before BSE and during the foot and mouth crisis any scientist who was
critical of what was happening was silenced, marginalised and had their
professional reputation attacked," said Mr Rowell, who lives at South
Brent, near Ivybridge. "This is happening again with biotechnology."

He says few people living in the region could have escaped the
devastating effect that foot and mouth had on the farming community and
other businesses.

But he said the way in which eminent scientists, who raised legitimate
concerns surrounding the decision not to vaccinate cattle against the
disease and the efficacy of the contiguous cull, were ignored
demonstrated what drove Government decisions.

"Anyone who was being critical of the way it was being handled weren't
being taken seriously," said Mr Rowell, an investigative journalist.

"There were major decisions being taken that were based on brutal
economic interests and overriding common sense, consumer interests and
those of the farming industry.

"On biotechnology, Michael Meacher has come out and said the Government
is downplaying the risks and that it hasn't looked at the critical
issues.

"Now even the former environment minister can't raise legitimate
concerns about this technology without being attacked by the scientific
establishment."

The launch of his book, which took him ten months to write and which
required constant updating in response to developments, coincides with
the Government's much-criticised public consultation on the GM issue.

Mr Rowell said there were legitimate concerns about GM crops' impact on
the environment and public health. And he describes any reassurances
given by the Government or the scientific community that GM is safe as
"worthless".

The majority of research into GM crops, he says, has been produced by
the biotech industry and has not been published.

Few independent scientists, he says, are now willing to take on analysis
because of the experiences of other experts in the field whose work
produced damning results.

"Tony Blair has said, and some in the scientific community have said,
that it is safe to eat.

"They admit there are ecological issues to be resolved, but say 'don't
worry it's safe'," he said.

"If anyone says GM is safe they are lying because the testing simply
hasn't been done."

One of Mr Rowell's biggest fears is for farmers, who he believes will be
"caught between a rock and a hard place" if GM crop commercialisation is
permitted.

"There will be mounting pressure on farmers to go down the GM route but
there is real evidence that consumers don't want it," he explained.

"There's also the issue about liability if something goes wrong, which
the biotechnology industry has refused to accept. It makes one think if
it is so safe why don't they put their money where their mouth is?"

Mr Rowell, who published Green Backlash in 1996, reaches a number of
conclusions in his new book if Britain is to head towards having "safe
food".

Among his recommendations are the reform of the Common Agricultural
Policy, greater import controls, and developing policy that encourages
local family farms which would receive a fair price for their produce.

On GM foods, he adds: "People compare GM crops with nuclear waste but at
least that has a half life. If we release this technology it will be
there forever.

"We are standing at a critical moment in history. We can allow the
commercialisation of GM or for once the consumer and the farmer will
come first."

agreenwood@westernmorningnews.co.uk