Seeds of Discontent

Author: Simon Webster
Sydney Morning Herald . (Source)

Genetically modified crops got the thumbs up from the NSW and Victorian governments last week.

Future generations are expected to endorse the move by giving several thumbs up with each hand, as well as nodding vigorously with both heads and making a weird slapping sound as they bash their webbed fingers against each other in a clapping motion.

Fears that GM food carries health risks have been dismissed by biotech companies such as Monsanto. The multinational says its genetically modified bank account has never been in better shape and is expected to stay in rude health for years to come.

NSW and Victoria lifted a ban on GM canola that had been in place for four years. Leaders in other states and territories, concerned that their non-GM crops would be contaminated, had their minds put at rest by Victorian Premier John Brumby.

"Farmers and consumers will get choice," Brumby said. "Farmers will have their choice as to whether they wish to grow a GM canola or whether they wish to grow a non-GM canola."

Officials believe birds, animals and the wind will do the right thing and hand in the mutated seed in at fruit and vegetable border patrols, especially if threatened with a fine and a stern telling-off.

GM crops are not expected to leap from one paddock to another, as the grass is unlikely to be greener on the other side. On the GM side it will be amazingly green, having been modified with genes from green M&Ms. The cows are going to stack on the weight with all that chocolate in the middle.

Despite a poll in The Land newspaper finding that more than half of Australia's farmers don't believe GM crops should be grown here, the NSW Farmers Association welcomed the move.

GM crops are injected with proteins from other life forms that change their characteristics, just like Tour de France cyclists. A common modification is for plants to be made resistant to specific herbicides such as Roundup, which can then be sprayed about like champagne on a winner's podium killing weeds without fear of damaging the crop.

Biotech manufacturers of GM crops say herbicide and pesticide use goes down when GM crops are used. However, should the use of chemicals increase for any reason, the companies will be on hand to help. Roundup is manufactured by Monsanto.

GM crops produce better yields, say advocates, and may be the answer to food shortages in the Third World.

Monsanto has previously shown its concern for the world's poor by selling seeds containing a terminator gene, making plants sterile. That meant that instead of having to perform the tedious task of collecting seeds from plants to sow the following year, African farmers could simply buy more seed from Monsanto and enjoy more leisure time, perhaps spending their days off lounging around in humpies, eating gruel and squeezing water from old rags.

The terminator gene is no longer used. Now it's the patenting of seeds that prevents farmers saving and sharing them.

As Neil from The Young Ones said: "First we sow the seed, nature grows the seed and then we eat the seed. Then we buy more seed. Then we buy the Roundup. Then we ... oh man, this is getting really heavy!"

Critics of GM food say it reduces biodiversity by contaminating other crops, leads to the emergence of pesticide-resistant superweeds, encourages high-input, environmentally damaging farming methods, makes poor countries grow crops for export rather than food for their people and has unknown short- and long-term effects on animal and human health.

Genes have been shown to jump from one species to another. If you find yourself standing on one spot for long periods, waving in the wind and causing the death of all insects that fly close, you should see a doctor.

GM food may be responsible for the massive increase in food allergies in recent years, as people produce antibodies to fight off proteins that weren't previously in the food chain. Twenty-two of 33 proteins incorporated into GM food have similarities to known allergens, says Greenpeace. Soy allergies in the UK doubled in one year - 1999 - shortly after the introduction of GM soy food products. UK supermarkets have been GM free ever since. And here, Coles spokesman Chris Mara recently told a parliamentary forum in Victoria: "Coles listens to our customers and over 90per cent do not want GM ingredients in their food."

With sales of organic produce booming and people increasingly concerned about local, healthy food production and the adoption of sustainable farming, the NSW Government has yet again shown that policy will not be dictated by public opinion. The opinion of big business is far more important

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