Sugar beet (Beta vulgaris L.)

It is of course no surprise to anyone in the environmental movement when Channel 4 produces a programme like “What the Green Movement Got Wrong” as they have a track record of such inflammatory and biased reporting of green issues. While it sometimes feels a bit like beating your head against a brick wall, it’s worth discussing some of the problems with the positions taken in the programme that was shown on 4 November and whilst it also talked about nuclear power, this article will focus on the GM debate.

The section on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) seemed to be based on two questionable assumptions: firstly, that we need them to feed the world; and secondly, that our argument against them is simply the ‘precautionary principle’, that if there’s even a slight amount of doubt about the consequences of GMOs, we shouldn’t go ahead with them. The programme’s conclusion was that ‘the greens’ should simply grow up and accept the risks involved in using new technology to provide food for the world’s population

In reality, much of the opposition to GMOs today comes not from a fear of what might go wrong, so much as a knowledge of what does go wrong when GM crops are introduced, taken from the experience of those countries that have invested heavily in them, which provide numerous examples of why environmentalists are really so anti-GM.

From a climate justice perspective the problem is not just one of uncertain science, but of corporate power and the rights of the poor, the powerless, and the indigenous. A full list of the social and environmental problems caused by GMOs would take up far more space than I have here so please see my blog post for more details.

Most importantly, the assertion that we need to support GMOs if we are to feed the world is faulty in itself. We are already capable of growing and distributing enough food to feed all the people on this planet, without the need for technological ‘miracles’ like GMOs. What we need is the political will to grow food rather than feed, and to put people before profit. It’s this that environmentalists and other social movements around the world are calling for under the banner of social and climate justice, whatever Channel 4 thinks.

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