After yesterday’s startling news that Jenny Jones of the Green Party backed the “decontamination” of GM research crops at Rothamsted, and my blog post on the topic, she asked for the right to respond, which I am happy to give her; I haven’t edited the below except for house style.
Because this is my pulpit, of course, I’ll take this opportunity to point out that I didn’t say she’d be personally destroying the crop, but that she supports the “decontamination”, which as far as I am concerned is pure vandalism. I’d also like to know why the page on the Green Party website which originally said she supported Take the Flour Back’s actions has been taken down [Update: in fact a subtly edited version of the page has gone back up on the site. A cached version of the original remains here]. But anyway, here’s Jenny:
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 women’s’ 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 property?
The Green Party’s position on GM is precautionary and sceptical (read our policy here). 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 one per cent risk of contamination (possibly to 9.7 per cent 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 political action.
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 problems.
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.