Clare Oxborrow, Becky Price, and Peter Riley
1st November, 2008
In the past decade, the sales pitch of the biotech companies has shifted with the climate of public opinion. Public scepticism has remained high, but politicians seem to have bought enthusiastically into the GM ‘solution’. In many ways this encapsulates where science has gone wrong – by inventing technologies without first deciding what problems need addressing. If GM crops are the answer, what exactly is the problem?
In the 1990s, the biotech industry’s promotion of its wares was mainly aimed at farmers, and pushed GM herbicide-tolerant (GMHT) crops as a solution for cleaning up weedy fields. Then, in 1998, when the public turned against GM crops, Monsanto engaged in a cheap and nasty public advertising campaign claiming GM could feed the world, based on the slogan ‘Let the harvest begin’.
Following closely on this was the claim that the biotech industry had found the cure for blindness caused by vitamin-A deficiency. All that was needed was to splice a gene construct built around a daffodil gene into rice to create ‘golden rice’ – rich in beta-carotene, the precursor in the diet of vitamin A. In 2008, there is still no ‘golden rice’ available to malnourished people. Early attempts did not produce enough beta-carotene to meet daily intake requirements, and despite progress in this department, we seem no closer to the ready availability of golden rice than we were in 2000. Meanwhile, more sophisticated analysts than those who work solely for the biotech industry have correctly pointed out that good health comes from a balanced diet that provides all vitamins and nutrients,...
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