14 Mar 2013

I read a great quote the other day:

Insanity is a perfectly rational adjustment to an insane world
Scottish psychologist R D Laing

Quotes like these have an immediate impression if you can apply them to something you have just experienced. The fact was that I had just previously read that the Serbian Minister of Agriculture had apparently accused pro-GM groups (?) of contaminating a consignment of conventionally grown maize from his country with mycotoxins so that it failed to meet marketing standards.  

This did seem to me to mirror the insanity that is now associated with GM. Rational thought and good common sense has gone out of the window. There are now 170 million hectares of GM crops grown around the world annually and no one has caught even a sneeze from their cultivation. So if you do oppose them what do you do?  Perhaps make statements like those attributed to the Serbian Minister of Agriculture.

As he must have scientific advisers, he would have known that he was on weak ground about possible mycotoxin levels in conventionally grown maize. This may explain such a dramatic statement. GM Bt maize for the control of insect borer pests typically has lower levels of mycotoxins, in particular fumonisin and aflatoxin. This is because the fungi that cause the toxins can grow quickly along the tunnels in the maize plant caused by the borers. The sheer efficiency of control of the modified maize means that there are no, or fewer, tunnels. Not only are these mycotoxins toxic but they also inhibit the ethanol production process from maize. Hence, the ethanol production plants prefer to process Bt maize rather than conventional maize.Forage maize

There is a small part of Europe that grows Bt maize. The area of this GM crop is steadily increasing in Spain where it is grown for animal feed. I met some Spanish agronomists last year and they said that at one time the GM maize had to be segregated from conventional maize along the chain to the animal feed mills. Now, with its increasing dominance, it doesn’t have to be segregated. They also said that the feed mills prefer it because it has significantly lower levels of mycotoxins than conventionally grown maize.

I know that the so-called green groups in Spain have thrown everything, including the kitchen sink, at Bt maize. Each accusation has been patiently followed up by scientific study and found to be groundless.

In my (insane?) opinion, the history of the anti-GM movement is littered with ‘ill-judged’ statements. Some of these have been mere mischief-making and some may be the cause of avoidable human misery. The prime example of this is the apparent hatred of golden rice (genetically modified to have a high Vitamin D content) that offers so much in reducing the occurrence of blindness in hundreds of thousands of children in some parts of the world. I have written about this before but it is so important that it is worth another reference.  The anti-GM movement says that this is a cynical exercise to achieve acceptability of GMs. I have to ask who the cynical ones in this story are; those non-profit making organisations that developed it and are trying to get it introduced or those (often) multi-million pound/dollar international so-called green groups who rely on a good scare or two to keep the subscriptions coming through the letterbox?

Institutional amnesia or downright rejection of uncomfortable truths is a major concern in today’s society as the issues around Stafford Hospital clearly demonstrate. It may have always been thus. However, you must ignore everything I say: I may be completely bonkers.