I have changed my mind on GM Foods.
I used to be against them. Picking apart my objection, my position was generally confused and ill-informed.
In part I was wary of big business and skeptical of their selfless rhetoric. I am still wary, but there are also vested interests in resisting GM Foods. And it is the latter which I think will lead to higher prices for the poorest people.
And in part I also held a silly-sentimental view about authenticity. But that is bullshit. The foods we eat today are from generations of genetic engineering. To do this in a scientific deliberate manner is an issue of type and not principle.
Furthermore, our processed foods are teeming with artificial additions. Look at the list of ingredients on the first thing you see in your kitchen cupboard. This desire for authenticity is rightly derided today by Nick Cohen - see here. Why should the "authenticity" only attach itself to certain raw ingredients and be forgotten as we open some packet?
What tipped me to being pro-GM Foods was my realisation that they are simply necessary for dealing with staggering global population growth and world poverty. George Bridges deals with this here.
I did not mind the contribution of Prince Charles in this debate. Some fellow conservatives did - see Conservative Home. (If this sort of thing nudges a Tory towards republicanism, what would the behaviour of many other heirs have done?)
Prince Charles has a right to free expression. I happen to think he is right on architecture. I also find his interest in comparative religion refreshing for someone destined to be head of the Church of England. And by warming up the GM debate, he triggers another debate on the issues - even if his views are bonkers.
One blogger on Conservative Home ("NigelC") raised the issue of the UN IAASTD report, which he described as "the work of over 400 international scientists, on the future of global food production under the challenges of climate change and population pressure which concluded that transgenic GM crops didn't have much to offer".
Nice wording, which was actually copied and pasted directly form the Soil Association website - see here. To take such a statement without attributing it is not a promising way to contribute to any debate.
However I looked at this report - a summary of which is here and the fuller report is here
Read it for yourself, especially the latter, and you will find it extremely hard to square with the Soil Association's (and "NigelC"'s) take on it.
Conclusion 10 of the full report indeed says:
"Many of the challenges facing agriculture currently and in the future will require more innovative and integrated applications of existing knowledge, science and technology (formal, traditional and community-based), as well as new approaches for agricultural and natural resource management. Agricultural soil and biodiversity, nutrient, pest and water management, and the capacity to respond to environmental stresses such as climate change can be enhanced by traditional and local knowledge systems and current technologies. Technological options such as new genotypes of crops, livestock, fish and trees and advances in plant, livestock and fish breeding, biotechnology, remote sensing, agroecology, agroforestry, integrated pest and nutrient management and information and communication technologies (ICTs) will create opportunities for more resource-efficient and site-specific agriculture" [Emphasis added.]
The report as a whole makes some highly sensible points about intellectual property law, and it rightly emphasises that the benefits of improvement need to be shared fairly. But it does not support NigelC's point. One wonders if he just copied and pasted without actually reading the report itself.
But how far will my rejection of silly-sentimentalism go? What about free range foods? It is a tricky one. Animals do not have rights of course, but humans have an absolute duty not to be cruel. If there is no cruelty, however, what could be my possible objection? Why am I still free range?
Even accepting fully all the scientific and economic arguments in favour of battery hens, I still prefer free range (for now). The reason is entirely aesthetic. I find the ugliness of the battery farm too much for me. I do not want to be part of it.
However, I wonder how long I can maintain this noble position in the age of millions of starving children.
For that would be rather ugly too.