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What exactly are the "risks" anyway?

February 5, 2010
Wired Magazine columnist Matt Ridley writes a piece for its February magazine that makes a strong case for the global adoption of biotechnology and criticizes the European Union for its “protectionist” policies regarding biotech products. 
As with all protectionism, it is the consumer who suffers most. British groceries rose in price over the past few years while American groceries fell in price. A big reason is that British food producers are not allowed to use most genetically modified crops, which are now much cheaper on world markets. Since virtually all soya beans are now genetically modified, and soya beans are the best feed for livestock, it is increasingly difficult for British farmers to find cheap feed for their livestock. Several ships that have carried GM soya or maize in the past have been turned back just for having residual dust in their holds. Unsurprisingly, shippers are demanding high premiums to ship old-fashioned crops to picky Europeans in spick-and-span ships.

What exactly is the risk that we are being protected against? More than a trillion GM meals have been eaten worldwide and nobody is known to have had a tummy upset as a result. Genetic modification is a technique, not a product. To say it carries risks is like saying cooking carries risks so you should ban cooking.

Nor is there a risk to the environment from genetic modification: indeed, the reverse. GM crops are proving to be unambiguously, spectacularly good for wildlife. Insect resistant crops mean half as much insecticide is used: all over China, India, South Africa, the birds, bees and butterflies are coming back into cotton crops. Higher yields save wilderness. Even the ‘spiritual’ (or ‘yuck factor’) arguments have been exploded. Geneticists now know that genes cross species barriers in nature too.

And this is just the first generation of GM crops. In the pipeline are ones that use less nitrogen; hoard water better; have added nutrients making them better as feed for pigs or salmon; and have omega-3 fatty acids in them, giving us all health benefits. North America, South America, China, India, Australia and increasingly large parts of Africa are now growing these crops and are delighted at the impact on yield, price and wildlife.

Americans merrily eat not only 100 percent pure GM seeds in their food, but also the animals that eat these seeds. Yet we in Europe are not allowed to eat 0.01 percent GM food. This is not just ludicrous; it is scandalous.