The latest push to get GM food on our plates came from the John Innes Centre (JIC) in Norwich, which recently presented its blight-resistant Desiree potatoes as a technological breakthrough. This was downright misleading: there are already blight-resistant, non-GM cultivars on the market.
Nevertheless, the puppy-dog science media went into ecstasies about the JIC spud. It evoked apocalyptic starvation scenarios along the lines of the Irish potato famine, and studiously failed to point out that non-GM varieties are already growing in our fields, not succumbing to blight, and feeding people.
When the existence of these varieties became too obvious even for docile science correspondents to ignore, Professor Jonathan Jones of JIC dismissed the Sarpo variety - pioneered in Wales by the Sarvari Trust- saying people don’t like their taste.
” Non-GM blight-resistant spuds are already growing in our fields”
I’d love to know the empirical basis for this remark. I have tasted two different cultivars of the Sarpo family, bought at farmers’ market and grown organically, and can assure him their flavour and texture is at least as good as Desiree. What’s more, they knock spots off the boring, blight-prone likes of Maris Piper.
Sarpo isn’t the only non-GM variety that is up and running and seeing off blight. M&S has been selling the Athlete variety, developed in Scotland by Agrico. It has demonstrated exceptional resistance to disease and thrives when grown organically without pesticides. M&S’s taste panels selected it “as having better flavour than Maris Peer, our favourite new potato”.
The GM lobby characterises any opposition to its goals as a Luddite attack on science, but as this latest JIC potato trial shows, it is less interested in knowledge creation than bringing one increasingly outdated and superseded technology to market.
Bunked up as it is with big biotech, the government’s ideological urge to force GM down our throats is blinding it to simpler, safer and more effective technologies that are viable today.
The JIC trial cost UK citizens a cool £3m, all for a crop consumers don’t want. JIC didn’t even bother planting Sarpo to compare its non-GM blight resistance. Where was the open-minded science in this exercise?
Joanna Blythman is a journalist and author of What to Eat