A regular repost
This piece has already been posted a couple of times since I started blogging, but the issue of GM food keeps coming up, this time in the comments thread to a recent post. This is what I had to say about GM food and ‘golden’ rice a year or so ago.
On this issue, I’m a big believer in the principle of subsidiarity, that is, letting the people directly affected make the decisions. Speaking for myself, I’m convinced by the scientific evidence that GM food is as safe as the ordinary sort, that is, not perfectly, but safe enough that I have plenty of bigger things to worry about. On the other hand, the idea of tomatoes with fish genes makes me a bit queasy, and I think I and others should have a choice about whether or not to eat them. Hence, I’m in favor of labelling and I think the producers of GM foods, as the innovators, should bear the cost of this.
Taking it a level higher, I think that this is an issue that is within the competence of individual countries to decide. If Australians, contrary to my preference, decide to ban GM foods altogether, then that is our decision to make and we should not be subject to punishment by bodies such as the World Trade Organisation. To paraphrase our beloved leader, we will decide what foods we eat and under what circumstances. Similarly I think the Americans are showing some chutzpah in taking Europe to the WTO. The Bush steel tariffs are a far more fundamental breach of free-trade principles than food-safety laws which, whatever their scientific basis or lack of it, have no obvious discriminatory impact. Obviously the same freedom should apply to poor countries that want to take advantage of GM foods – they should not be subject to bullying from anti-GM Europeans.
My only dispute with the pro-GM side on the latter point is that I haven’t seen much evidence of GM foods that are actually useful in feeding the poor. Rice with added Vitamin A sounds nice, but it’s scarcely the next instalment of the Green Revolution. Most of the effort seems to have gone into making crops like soybeans “Roundup Ready’, which is not much use in poor countries. I have a bit more to say in this 1999 article entitled, The pros and cons of labelling are food for thought