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My Thoughts On... GM Foods

GM foods - they're a bad thing. Genetically Modified foods are being hailed as the latest and greatest use of technology for the benefit of mankind. By splicing different species (and geni) it is possible to grow one plant with a certain characteristic usually associated with another, thus creating an extra large tomato, or one that stays fresh for longer than those produced by normal horticulture. The main example of where this has already pervaded society is GM soya, which makes it into a huge number of ordinary things we eat (and would never expect it).

The reason, however, that I think that GM foods are a bad thing has nothing to do with 'monster' plants (we've been cross-breeding plants for hundreds of years now, and anyway who cares about destroying the ecosystem - it will right itself, we couldn't create something so impressively monstrous that it could avoid that), nor does it have anything (as you can probably tell if you read my thoughts on... nature) with GM foods being 'unnatural'. The reason that I think GM foods are a bad thing is a purely economic reason.

Rather than consider what might happen with GM crops, let's consider what the people actually making them are trying to do with them. Are they trying to improve crops for the good of humanity? Are they trying to feed the world? Are they trying to inoculate everyone against disease, thus ridding Earth of Polio? Put simply, no; what they are trying to do is make a buck. Lots of bucks. Lots and lots of bucks. What is the one major difference between GM crops and any other plant ever grown? I'd suggest it's not later best before dates, juicier / tastier / larger / redder / more tangy foods - sure on occasion these might coincide, but the one thing that every GM crop shares is a big 'Patent Pending' label.

It doesn't matter whether they're better, worse, cheaper or more expensive, the one thing that people are soon going to become aware of when buying seeds or saplings is that they're copyright, owned - hell soon farmers might even not be able buy seed, they'll simply be able to lease them from the multinationals. Who cares that they've been farming corn for hundreds of years? The supplies they are now using are, despite any attempts to avoid cross-fertilisation, products of Monsanto, Ltd., and as such they aren't allowed to use them without permission from, or licensing fees paid to, the corporation that created the food-stuff (and no, it wasn't God Inc.).

One friend, and granted he admits to being ridiculously right-wing (and a Thatcherite - shudder), told me he couldn't see anything wrong with companies engineering food purely so that they can make money out of it, and without any other benefit or change. Apparently this is how the world works, and money makes it go round.

In a world where a superpower says the rights to Basmati rice are held by a company in Indiana (and you can't sell it under that name without permission) the prospect of having seeds which are owned is a very frightening one indeed. The debate arose when it was admitted that crops had been fitted with 'terminator' genes, meaning that they would not reproduce, and thus seeds would have to be bought every year rather than reserving some from the harvest for the next year. Even without such specific genes, however, the problem is still present, and if GM crops wipe out other non-modified varieties, we may very well find ourselves in a position where all food has to be bought, via farmers no doubt, indirectly from GM corporations - and we already have governments legislating to make sure they can protect these 'rights'.

So the sort of GM research going on in China, where it is for the good of everyone, and scientists publish their results, allowing better plants and offering real promise of an end to hunger - that's great, and I support it wholeheartedly, but corporations owning the rights to the very plants we live off, with the World Trade Organisation there to make sure that Third World Countries are forced to respect the property 'rights' invented by the First World, as they have done with medicines, which are far too expensive for developing countries to afford - no thanks!