25 May 2012
The rumours are wrong; I'll be at the picnic on Sunday, not destroying
the crop. I shall voice my opposition to research into GM crops that I
think is a bad, possibly dangerous use of public money. I strongly
support Non Violent Direct Action and disown damage to property, but
there's sometimes a conflict; in damaging military jets in an attempt
to sabotage an unjust war, or breaking windows in the name of womens'
suffrage, direct action has a complicated and distinguished place in
our democratic history. And I do understand the depth of despair and
the desperation that protesters feel. But they must face the legal
consequences of their actions, and think deeply about the ethics of
their actions - like lots of things in life it's more complicated than
some of my critics seem to want to admit.
Tweeters have 'insulted' me by call me a Luddite. Those fiery English
artisans destroyed factory equipment because they were opposed to
being forced into low paid, low skilled work for capitalist factory
owners. What better example of a reasonable cause involving damage to
The Green Party's position on GM is precautionary and sceptical (read
our policy here: http://policy.greenparty.org.uk/st#ST361). We think
more research is needed, and are happy to see research go ahead where
it is safe. But we must be sceptical when experts downplay a 1% risk
of contamination (possibly to 9.7% in warm, dry conditions with some
wheats). I have read of contamination in other cases in America where
similar claims were made. It would be folly to have our conventional
and organic farms contaminated by one tiny mistake.
My protesting about one research project doesn't mean my party no
longer subscribes to the Haldane Principle - that research programmes
should be decided on by researchers, not politicians. We want
scientific research, but it isn't sacred, outside the realm of
I'm also not attacking the scientists of Rothamsted. They have long
been part of a revolution in farming that has saved billions of people
from hunger and poverty. Of course the solutions we used in the middle
of last century were based on entirely open, public research. Any
farmer could take the lessons and apply them quite freely. These
solutions also created a huge dependence on oil, artificial
fertilisers and pesticides, they have led to the rapid destruction of
our soil and they have contributed to a big rise in anthropogenic
greenhouse gas emissions that are the single biggest threat to our
future food security.
Now we need a new green revolution to solve these problems, but not
one based on a science and technology riddled with patents and
corporate control. I don't want to see farmers unable to take seeds
from their crop to plant for the next season without permission from a
multinational corporation. This research project at Rothamsted may be
publishing its work openly, but we can't escape the fact that it is
part of a wider approach to agriculture that is no use to poor farmers
and to our future food security until we deal with the commercial
When the World Bank finished a major review of agricultural science
and technology in 2008 they pointed out that without new laws to
protect farmers from patents, and to secure access to land and natural
resources, scientific advances like GM would be of little use.
Rothamsted should use public money to conduct research into their
other areas of agricultural science and technology that aren't beset
with these problems.
Thank you to everyone who tweeted me, even the nasty bullies. It was
good to understand the depth of feeling on this issue. Sadly, I won't
be replying to anyone else on this topic - too many tweets, too much
other work. Thank you to Tom for this opportunity.