Mr. Taverne argues compellingly that the conflict over gene-spliced crops is the most important battle of all between the forces of reason and unreason, both because of the consequences should the forces of darkness prevail, and also because their arguments are so perverse and so consistently and completely wrong.
In fact, agricultural practices have been "unnatural" for 10,000 years, and with the exception of wild berries and wild mushrooms, virtually all the grains, fruits and vegetables in our diets are genetically modified. Many of our foods (including potatoes, tomatoes, oats, rice and corn) come from plants created by "wide cross" hybridizations that transcend "natural breeding boundaries." Gene-splicing is no more than an extension, or refinement, of less precise, less predictable, older techniques, and gene-spliced plants, now grown in at least 18 countries, have for a decade been cultivated worldwide on more than 100 million acres annually.
They are ubiquitous in North American diets: More than 80 percent of processed foods on supermarket shelves -- soft drinks, preserves, mayonnaise, salad dressings -- contain ingredients from gene-spliced plants, and Americans have consumed more than a trillion servings of these foods. From the dirt to the dinner plate, not a single ecosystem has been disrupted, or a person injured, by any gene-spliced product -- a record that is superior to that of conventional foods.
As Mr. Taverne observes, the objection to gene-spliced foods is purely ideological, bordering on the religious. During a House of Lords Select Committee hearing in 1999, Lord Melchett, then director of Greenpeace, was asked "Your opposition to the release of [gene-spliced plants], that is an absolute and definite opposition? It is not one that is dependent on further scientific research?" He replied: "It is a permanent and definite and complete opposition."
May 4, 2005
Eco-fundamentalists spectacularly, willfully wrong on biotech foods (and just about everything else)
Excerpt from a review by Henry I. Miller on Dick Taverne's new book, The March of Unreason: Science, democracy and the new fundamentalism: