GM trial survives - but 'war' goes on

Protesting mother and child The day was more about chants than chainsaws

The demonstrators gathered in a park beside the research centre, a good-natured throng sheltering from the scorching sun beneath a tree, enjoying spirited singing and delicious organic bread.

Speech after speech denounced GM as a tool of multinationals, a mechanism that would not benefit the poor, and science gone wrong.

Children played in the margins, people stretched out on the grass and the numbers slowly swelled. There are always arguments about turnout for these events: my colleagues and I reckon "about 200" is fair.

A short distance away, a group of pro-GM supporters clustered in another patch of shade. This was a counter-movement by the group Sense About Science. Appeals had gone out to show a pro-science presence. Again, trying to be fair, their number: about a dozen. Neither side exactly achieved mass-mobilisation.

One idea had been for the pro-science team to link hands to keep the antis at bay but the Rothamsted scientists had feared that might lead to trouble so the plan was dropped. Instead the group offered interviews to support the case for GM - and ice-creams, which were welcome on a sweltering day.

The big moment came when the speeches ended and the long-awaited march began. Linking arms and singing, the campaigners advanced towards the police line.

They were never going to get through. The leaders of the action, Take the Flour Back, had acknowledged that in advance. The security presence was too overwhelming.

The march reached the police and got no further. Any dreams of reaching the plot of GM wheat were dashed so the protestors sat down and chanted "No GM" instead.

One woman protestor had adorned herself with the word "biodiversity" in body paint. A young man with a banner started up a siren but a police officer pointed out that this would alarm the horses so he agreed not to use it. It was that kind of event - no scuffles, no violence.

And the GM trial survived. The security plan triumphed. At least for today. The challenge will be to maintain this level of protection in the weeks and months ahead.

One key test is which arguments gain ground with the public. It was consumer fears that led the supermarkets to declare themselves GM-free. Now the debate has moved on. Will the worries of the 90s continue now?

The scientists have learned to be as upfront and open as possible. That will make life harder for the campaigners.

Today marked a tactical victory for GM. But this is a war.

David Shukman Article written by David Shukman David Shukman Science editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 122.

    Indeed. Natural selection is purely tactical, with no long term aim.. It can only climb an existing slope in the fitness landscape, with no possibility of going briefly downhill to reach a higher summit.
    Artificial selection can operate strategically, aiming towards long term achievement, even through short term decreases in functionality.

  • rate this

    Comment number 121.

    #112 shane

    Machine evolution is moving roughly 1 billion times faster than natural evolution. Natural evolution also has a critical weakness - it depends on random selection & mutation so ordered evolution is much much faster. Random evolution can only hill-climb where ordered evolution can use intelligence to make diametric leaps.
    The difference between the two is almost beyond comparison.

  • rate this

    Comment number 120.

    118 Entropic man - If you're looking for hypocrisy about insulin, look no further than the vice president of PETA; she uses insulin developed from animal testing because she "Needs her life to help end the suffering of animals" despite their organisation sending death threats to animal testers!

    119 shane - I'm sorry, but that's clearly nonsense. Back it up if you can, but I'm not optimistic...

  • rate this

    Comment number 119.

    Drunken Hobo, Skeletal remain of pre agricultural, and examples of untouched hunter gatherer societies tend to indicate they live/d just as long as we do nowadays, and were in fact much much healthier than we are in our society.

    Enthropic-30% more yield means less of other lifeforms. The planet can only sustain so much bio matter. We are turning everythign on the planet into man and mans food.

  • rate this

    Comment number 118.

    With most "human" insulin now produced by genetically modified bacteria, I wonder how may diabetic GM protesters would refuse it in favour of pig or beef insulin taken from killed animals.
    Would they even realise its GM origins?


Comments 5 of 122



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