GE Debate on the Web
Helen Varley Jamieson, 22 July 2002
One organisation that purports to be "an independent and objective source of credible information on agricultural biotechnology for the public, media and policymakers" is the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology (pewagbiotech.org), established by Richmond University (USA).
The site is well-designed and very up-to-date (carrying the Seeds of
Distrust story the day it broke) and though based in the United States,
it has a global focus. There is a comprehensive links section, stretching
from the Organic Consumers' Association to seed companies Monsanto and
Novartis. The Pew Initiative aims to encourage debate and dialogue around
the issues through its online polls, e-mail lists and discussion forums.
Yes, it's text-based and reasonably fast, but little thought has been
given to creating user-friendly navigation and the long pages of text
are quite off-putting. However, if you are really interested in understanding
the issue, the content is worth delving into, and the second page has
a succinct and readable summary of this group's conclusions.
If this site is too simplistic for you, try the report of the Royal Commission on Genetic Engineering (www.gmcommission.govt.nz). This is available online as a series of PDFs, or you can buy the definitive report in print for bedtime reading, or in CD-Rom format. Commentary on the report from both sides of the debate is available at sites such as the Green Party (www.greens.org.nz) and the New Zealand Institute of Food Science and Technology (www.nzifst.org.nz/gmfoods.htm).
Once you start digging, there's no end of interesting information to find on the web. For instance, when I searched on Google for "consumer demand for GE free", top of the results was a media release from June 2000 announcing that Novartis (the company behind the possibly-contaminated corn of "Seeds of Distrust") was bowing to consumer pressure and no longer using GE ingredients in its food products (including Ovaltine, baby foods and health products). Clearly there's a market for GE free food; yet the company still continues to produce and sell genetically modified seeds ...
We have more than enough information at our fingertips. It's not a matter of public ignorance or confusion the simple fact is that at the end of the day, no-one - no scientist or politician or clairvoyant knows absolutely what the long-term consequences of releasing genetically modified organisms into the environment might be.
We didn't know the consequences of 245T when it was sprayed around the country; we didn't know the consequences of thalidomide when it was prescribed to pregnant women; we didn't know the consequences of nuclear bombs when they were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
We do now.
© Helen Varley Jamieson 1999-2011