The John Ray Initiative Environment Conference today held my attention for only half its length, I'm afraid to say. "Progress or Problem? Responding to Genetically Modified Food and Crops" was the title. "Some question whether this is even a debatable subject," its introducer warned. The first speaker, scientist Joe Perry of the EFSA, made out a good case for us to be there: a Christian and a risk assessor, he holds the firm view that GM is not productive of consequences of necessity outside God's will. And there is plenty to object in modern agriculture apart from GM. Organic farming is rarely enough. However, there was a sharp intake of breath around me when he asked, "Why shouldn't GM be integrated into organic agriculture?"
I hadn't really grasped the reason why GM product approval was so much quicker to obtain in North America than Europe: across the Atlantic there simply isn't the pattern of hedgerows and copses, the intermingling of villages with farmsteads. So what noisy local opposition is there likely to be to blanket spraying?
The JRI's Chair, John Weaver, spoke next, concentrating more on ethical and theological considerations. For a Baptist minister, he gave a surprising amount of credence to Catholic Social Teaching, especially its emphasis on nature as gift: it's not a reality to be left alone, but humanity is entrusted to evaluate and use it for the common good. The Catholic Church's overemphasis on the anthropocentric was let pass.
The supersize butterfly model in my photograph indicates perhaps which side some of the students of our hosts Redcliffe College, Gloucester were on in this GM debate.