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A contribution to the Socialist debate
Simon Robinson, Leicester NUT member
The recent article in the Socialist issue 800 on genetic modification (GM) was an excellent antidote to the plethora of reactionary anti-science nonsense which prevails in a lot of media today. I would like to add my thoughts on GM to the debate.
I am a science teacher and you'll be surprised at how many students have absorbed a lot of the misleading ideas about climate change, GM foods and even the lunar landings.
In the US, science teachers are at the forefront of the battle against creationism in the science curriculum.
Giving students the power to look at information in a critical way and to understand the science is very important.
Since the beginning of agriculture, farmers have modified their environment, allowing human societies to flourish around the world.
The problem with capitalism is that the health benefit to society is no longer the priority - the priority in agriculture is profit. Monsanto typify this.
'Traditional' selective breeding is different to GM technology - both have radically altered the genetics of agricultural crops or animals, but just on a different timescale.
I think selective breeding (or inbreeding) has been just as damaging to the genetic health of some organisms and very damaging to biodiversity around the world.
Selective breeding is responsible for the mono-crop lifeless prairies in the US and the plains of Russia and the grotesquely distorted bodies of cattle or dog breeds. It is also the reason for the loss of traditional seeds.
Many hybrid crops will not 'breed true' ie if you plant the next generation, you don't get the same characteristics.
Most grain hybrids are like this. So, there is no real benefit from saving the seeds. Of course, this does mean that the farmer has to continually return to the seed companies to buy seeds, but this is not a GM issue in itself.
The research behind much of the GM health scare has been discredited. The real threat to health is from the aggressive marketing of cheap, high sugar, saturated fats and salt foods which we are exposed to everyday.
Other health scares are linked to agrichemicals which were used well before GMOs were introduced. Monsanto's own 'Roundup' herbicide is one such example.
Many environmental campaigners have been warning against over-use and mis-use of chemicals in agriculture for decades - from Agent Orange, to DDT, to artificial fertilisers.
It is estimated that 20,000 workers are dying from exposure every year to these agrichemicals.
There are some promising advances in GM crops. For example, in Bangladesh, brinjal (aubergine) crops are routinely sprayed with very toxic pesticides (linked to many diseases).
A GM version of the crop has been introduced to provide resistance to the pests, which will greatly reduce the dependence on chemicals, and the companies like Monsanto who make them.
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In The Socialist 19 March 2014:
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