Opposition to the growing of genetically modified (GM) crops on alleged scientific grounds was yesterday dismissed as “a form of madness” by the chief scientific adviser to the president of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso.
Prof Anne Glover, who still holds the chair of molecular biology at Aberdeen University, was speaking after addressing a conference of leading European soil scientists at the James Hutton Institute in Aberdeen.
The conference of the European Network on Soil Awareness was being held to raise awareness of the importance of soil to the ecosystem and to encourage scientists to engage with the general public on scientific findings.
Glover, who was previously chief scientific adviser to the Scottish Government, said “not a single piece of scientific evidence” existed to support the claims by critics that food produced from GM crops is unsafe.
“No other foodstuff has been so thoroughly investigated as GM,” she said. “No scientist will ever say something is 100 per cent safe but I am 99.99 per cent certain from the scientific evidence that there are no health issues with food produced from GM crops. Just about every scientist I know supports this view. Opposition to GM, and the benefits it can bring, is a form of madness I don’t understand.”
The European Commission and the Scottish Government are both opposed to GM and Glover said she understood politicians had other considerations to take into account when determining policy.
“Part of the problem is public perception and the fact that the small minority of scientists who speak out against GM get the same credence in the media as the vast majority of scientists who support GM,” said Glover.
“Consumers should at least have the choice and those who have other reasons for opposing GM can continue to do so.
“But don’t put it down to science.”
The argument that adopting GM was playing into the hands of the big seed and chemical companies, such as Monsanto, was a different issue and should be viewed quite separately from the science, she said.
Glover added that, given the choice, she would opt for food produced by GM technology using fewer chemicals, fertiliser, pesticides and herbicides in preference to conventional food produced with all these chemicals.
She questioned the ethics of those opposed to GM Golden Rice, which was protecting thousands of children in Third World countries from the risk of blindness caused by a lack of vitamin A in conventional rice.
“Rice is the staple diet of a third of the world’s population,” she pointed out. “Who are we to say that they should not be allowed to eat Golden Rice which has a higher level of vitamin A because of genetic modification?”
Glover admitted it was difficult to achieve a consensus on the adoption of new science in the EU because of the different views of the 28 member states.