It is time to put the GM debate in a lead-lined coffin. To lay it finally to rest. And get things in perspective again.
It is the role of a father to educate his children, if he can. That includes dispelling myths, belief in witches and ghosts and other false views of the world. To this end, I would try to educate my daughters when we would go shopping about the dangers of GM or their complete absence. I would point out vegetables and fruits that had been produced by cross-breeding and crude genetic modification, like tiger tomatoes. We would hunt for the most genetically modified, which was hard because most things had been engineered. I encouraged them to seek out products which included GM ingredients and to shun those which claimed to be GM free. One has to support the good and at least discourage the bad.
In one of my more zealous moments, I contemplated getting a T shirt made saying “I ONLY eat GM”
I looked into the GM debate in the late 90s to see if there were interesting ethical issues. The only ethical issue I could find at that time was the unethical resistance to a safe, useful and well tried technology. I was shocked at the level of public debate in Europe over GM.
Colin Blakemore has written a thoughtful exposition of the treatment and regulation of GM in this country and in Europe. What is interesting from a perspective of practical ethics is how such a negative debate could persist about GM for so long. Is it vested farming interests? Luddite lack of education? Religion, including rabid runaway environmentalism?
The rest of the world will utilise the benefits of GM. Europe will just be left behind with more expensive, inferior quality, less useful, less healthy foods. If they resist GM, how would they ever embrace nanotechnology that holds the promise of healthier everyday foods, including less fattening fats?
I recently bought a 60s or 70s house in Oxford. I was looking at the plumbing and realised it had lead pipes supplying the water. I nearly fell over with shock. Lead is a dangerous substance known for years to cause cognitive impairment and a number of health problems. It makes you dumber. It reduces your IQ, or at least that of growing children. I was even more shocked to find that 40% of dwellings have lead pipes supplying drinking water and lead was used until the 1980s. Since December 2003, a standard of 25 µg/l has been applied to the point of use by the consumer (commonly regarded as the kitchen sink tap). In 2013, the standard in the UK will tighten to 10 µg/l. This implies that even by those standards, we are drinking water with 2.5 times too much lead. And it is likely to be substantially higher in individual supplies. The government and people don’t test their water.
Lead is much more likely to be harming people’s health than GM foods. Yet this has attracted not one iota of attention compared to the monster of GM.
Risk and harm surround us every day. The challenge is to evaluate these with good evidence, rationally. The story of lead and GM is sadly a common one. We place vastly too much attention on the miniscule risks and fail to attend to the elephants in the room. People are biased. The availability bias explains why people believe homicide is more common than suicide, despite that latter being much more common.
Yet bias, fear, irrationality, faith and misplaced values dominate and lead public debate. We will be the ones who are worse for it.