Sunday, January 16, 2011
GM Food Should Be Called ‘Vaccinated’
By Harry Wallop
January 07, 2011
The row over GM food was reignited after one of Britain’s top agricultural scientists suggested farmers should rename GM crops as “vaccinated” or “inoculated” in a bid to win over the public to the controversial technology.
His proposal was immediately attacked by campaigners, who said it was a “completely desperate” idea.
However, Bill Clark, who runs Broom’s Barn Research Centre, part of Rothamsted Research, said the renaming could help consumers understand the science and win over millions of families, the majority of whom are sceptical or outright hostile to GM.
Mr Clark said: “Fifty years ago if you told parents you were going to vaccinate their child against measles that would sound horrendous. Now it is considered essential.
“But if we introduce a small part of a virus into a plant they would immediately say that’s horrendous. But that’s what you are doing with GM.
“We need a new language. Perhaps vaccination or inoculation is less scary for the public.”
He has discussed his proposal with officials at the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
Speaking at the Oxford Farming Conference, he argued that without public acceptance of GM, British farms would be unable to cope with a growing population, water shortages and - most worrying of all - poor wheat yields in Britain and Europe.
Rothamsted, the country’s leading agricultural research centre, calculated that back in 1888, before mechanised farming, the average amount of wheat grown on British farms - the yield - was 2 tonnes per hectare. By 1958 it had doubled to 4 tonnes, before doubling again by 1988 to 8 tonnes. “But since then, there has been no improvement. Wheat yields have plateaued over the last 15 years. So too have yields of maize, barley and rapeseed all around Europe, wherever you look.
“We need a massive intervention into plant genetics if we want to see a step change in the yield,” said Mr Clark.
However, his appeal to rechristen GM was attacked by Peter Peter Melchett, Policy Director at the Soil Association, who said: “This is the biggest load of desperate rubbish I’ve ever heard. And they’ve tried this before. Back in the 1980s no one had heard of GM. It was called genetic engineering, and they thought it would sound nicer if they called it GM. It didn’t work then and it won’t work now.”
He added that, unlike when you inoculate a human, the DNA of a plant is altered when you inject a virus into it.
Mr Clark said, “But why should you object to a small fragment of the virus being introduced artificially when in nature the whole virus infects the plant and then reproduces itself?” He added that common crop diseases, that can destroy significant parts of the British harvest, such as Barley Yellow Dwarf Virus could be wiped out by the “inoculation” process.
Farming of GM food on a commercial basis in Europe is outlawed, but becoming increasingly common in South America, Canada and India with 135 million hectares (334 million acres) of GM crops under cultivation - an area about ten times the size of England.
Most consumer surveys, however, suggest that the public do not favour a relaxation in the rules to allow GM farming in Europe.