CSIRO Experiment Destroyed by Greenpeace – Right or Wrong?

Written by Daniel Morrison on July 15, 2011

Genetically Modified crops are a complex technology, with serious risks and serious benefits.  And so we investigate.  We experiment, we conduct controlled trials, the same way we’ve always done.  Humans have been modifying crops for millennia – modern agriculture is the sum total of thousands of generations selectively bred for our purposes.  That’s what we do.  The difference with GM is the efficiency we can do it with.  With this comes a corresponding increase in both the potential good and harm that result.

This is what the CSIRO was looking into down in Canberra yesterday, when 3 Greenpeace activists broke in before dawn and destroyed the crop with whippersnippers.

ABC News story:

The risks of GM food lie in its lack of testing.  Experiments like this are exactly what needed, and this particular trial was the result of 15 years and millions of dollars worth of research, untold priceless hours meticulously devoted towards understanding this technology.  And in one fell swoop, Greenpeace acrimoniously steps in and destroys the whole lot.  Criticizing a product for being untested while simultaneously destroying the tests is brain-breakingly hypocritical.

If the product was about to be released on to the market without properly being tested, then such an action would be understandable.  But this was a controlled and contained field trial, doing exactly what this technology needs.  For Greenpeace to shut it down like this is profoundly unscientific.

Good environmentalism is and must be based on good science – without it is is merely hyperbolic hysteria.  Greenpeace’s success in the past has been due in no small part to their scientific rigour – their adherence to the facts in the face of sizable corporate opposition interests.  That has what set them apart as brave environmental warriors.  But here they have not just ignored science, they have actively destroyed it.

And it has cost them.  At least in the short term, the negative reaction has been visceral.  People have been posting on their facebook page shaming them, and pledging to remove all support.  And this is partly my motivation in writing this piece.  I believe Greenpeace remains a force for good, and the fact that we don’t agree on everything doesn’t negate that.  I don’t want to see them lose the reputation they have worked so hard to earn.  And that is why I hope they will reconsider actions like this in the future.

The problem with GM food isn’t in the technology itself, but in the commercial applications of it.  The patenting of particular strains and subsequent monopolisation of agriculture by companies like Monsanto is an issue with serious consequences, and one that needs to be addressed.  They charge poor farmers impossible fees to grow their product, effectively shutting out independent growers all over the globe.  Then with the risk of cross contamination of untested crops, it’s a quagmire of an issue, and needs to be handled with the utmost care.

The technology itself, however, has the potential to save billions of lives.  Thanks to pioneers such as Norman Burlag, it already has.  This isn’t hypothetical theories, this is very real stuff.

If there is a way of growing a crop so that you get a greater and healthier yield, in less space, with less water, and less pesticides, then that is A Good Thing.  The benefits of GM food are huge, and it is worth investigating.

Greenpeace yesterday robbed the public of Science, something they had no legal or ethical right to do.  The power of their actions is in their symbolism, and this symbolises willful ignorance. They have shown they’re not interested in getting results, and instead prefer to peddle propaganda.

We need to embrace Science, and debate the issues surrounding GM in a productive manner, not a destructive one.


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