Why are arguments still being made in favour of GM crops when the public and - thankfully - the industry are so opposed to them?
As his parting shot before retiring from his post, the government's chief scientist, Sir David King, treated us to a lecture on how GM food would feed the world and save the planet. He is still trotting out the same simplistic, patronising nonsense that led to the GM lobby being trounced back in 1999 when the food industry - reacting to consumer opinion - refused to have any truck with this potentially catastrophic technology.
I can't for the life of me see why he thinks anyone will listen now, any more than they did then. If anything, public opposition has hardened: some 95% of us don't want to eat GM food. And the march of GM has just been dealt a major body blow.
EU environment commissioner Stavros Dimas is recommending refusing permission for two new varieties of GM corn because they pose "unacceptable" risks to the environment. There are bleak prospects, too, for Europe's only existing GM crop, a maize variety that may not be re-approved when it comes up for renewal. In France, its cultivation has already been suspended.
Dino Adriano, a former chief executive of Sainsbury's, hit the nail on the head this week when he observed that "GM is invasive, and if allowed to develop freely, will deny alternative choices for ever to those who wish to avoid it..... I remain doubtful that such a fundamental step should ever be taken".
Environment and public health fears aside, what's in it for the food industry? Any espousal of GM technology now looks like commercial folly. The food industry and retailers are generating nice profits and PR out of the growth in organic and ethical foods, so why risk that by getting involved with a campaign that giant pharmaceutical companies have fought and lost? Any company that embraces this controversial technology sends out all the wrong messages and puts red hazard warning lights around its brand.
Campaigners are now outing big pharma's strategy of introducing GM by stealth in animal feed. Consumer awareness of this issue grows daily. The only good headlines here will go to companies such as Marks & Spencer who can assure the public their fresh meat, milk and eggs have not come from livestock fed on GM rations.
Sir David King was backing a loser with GM. Let's hope his successor doesn't have to learn the same lesson.n
Joanna Blythman is the
author of Bad Food Britain