The excellent Tom Heap looked at GM crops the other day on Costing the Earth; the Grauniad featured it this week. The ethical case for GM is no further forward, and really we should learn from all our past mistakes – the latest being the accidental import of the Asian Longhorn beetle – that we can’t control Nature, and that once a GM seed is out, we can’t take it back when unforeseen negative side-effects happen 10 years on.
The chief argument for GM is that is that it may be ‘greener’ than conventional farming, with crops requiring less water and fewer and less pesticides. But this begs the question. We are sufficiently scientifically savvy now to be able to farm in a much more sustainable way without any GM experimentation. It’s just that we need to make some moral choices – choices that will affect us materially. We must first stop seeing agriculture as an ‘industry’: such a concept implies the mass-production of food for a market which wants cheap stuff and plenty of it. We, the consuming public, need to appreciate the real worth of food. Cohabiting now with chickens, I know that even a tenner for a bird is dead cheap; a free-range, organic bird will still be slaughtered at about a year old, and will be of a breed nurtured for quick-growing meaty plumpness rather than all-round good hen-ness. Many dairy cattle are so over-bred for maximum production of milk that they have back pain; they don’t have a very nice cowy time, but that’s all right, because we get enough milk for our necessary daily ice-cream. We’ll just pile in the bread and cakes – throwing loads away when it shows any sign of being less than fresh – getting fatter and fatter: agrarian production will keep up the supply either by annihilating any wildlife in the area or by introducing GM crops. (Will someone invent a wheat that helps you lose weight? Then no fat person ever need change their behaviour – they can keep cramming in the cakes.)
A further problem which the GM debate shies away from is that there are too many people in the world to feed. The human population is too big. We’re at the top of the food chain; we can control our environment, including diseases; there is nothing to stop the population growing and growing and growing. But this would be terrible – catastrophic for every other species and ultimately destructive to the human race. So we must really address population as an ethical problem, and food production is part of this. If we can get the world population down, then we won’t need so much farmed food – so we won’t need GM.
Before we change the world, however, let’s change the country. Let’s have lots more community growing (examples here and here), raise the price of meat (and stop importing meat, too), start eating pike again, have a fast food tax and such other crazy-but-sound schemes. Let’s also ditch the GM experiment – it’s just too potentially dangerous, whatever the biologists say.