Science in Society Archive

Oxford Union Debate

8.30pm Monday 14th June 1999
Prepared by Angela Ryan
Molecular Biologist, Open University

The Motion "This house would not continue to feed GM material to farm animals"

Proposing the Motion Opposing the Motion
Dr Arpad Pusztai, Biotech Scientist, formerly of the Rowett Inst.Professor Derek Burke CBE, Former Chairman, Advisory Panel Novel Foods and Processes
John Ingham, Environment Correspondent,The Express Harry Kershaw, MD AgrEvo UK Ltd
Norman Baker, MPDr Sandy Thomas, Director, Nuffield Council on Bioethics

The main chamber was full, the gallery was packed and the heat was on the opposing side to defend GM food.

The opposing side argued that: the risks of eating GM food are akin to being run over by a bus; that the process of GM in agriculture creates such minute changes to the DNA of plants that the introduction of a few new genes is actually insignificant; the media has dominated this debate and perverted it to the extreme with lots of misinformation enabling an out of hand dismissal of GM; it is going to feed the world’s growing population and it would be immoral to ban it; it will save vast sums of money for everybody including the consumer; it reduces the use of pesticides and is actually beneficial for the environment; people have been eating it in American for many years and nobody has died yet; the regulations are adequate.

The proposing speakers argued that: only one paper has been published to do with the safety of eating GM food; the genetic difference between humans and chimpanzees is less than 2% but this is enough to manifest huge differences; every newspaper in the country is covering the GM debate; people do not go hungry in the world because of lack of food - this is a socioeconomic problem; people want real food not cheaper food; GM crops have been shown to harm the environment and have serious consequences for biodiversity; people are being used as guinea-pigs in a GM feeding experiment with no controls; there is no way of knowing whether GM foods are having ill effects on human health- nobody is checking; the regulations are not adequate - there is a revolving door between the regulators and the biotechnology industry e.g. In the USA many known individuals have been employed by both at one time or another; in Britain, English Nature, RSPB, BMA and the governments chief scientific officers have all expressed concerns; GM is a primitive science that bears many unanswered questions and requires much more extensive research.

There was common ground between both sides: more research must be conducted and great care and caution must be applied at all times.

The motion was won

478 for : 207 against

Article first published 1999

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