The Guardian, Wednesday June 2, 1999

Eco soundings

John Vidal

The Nuffield Council on Bio-ethics reported last week to government that GM foods were OK and that it was a "moral imperative" that they be grown in developing countries. Tony Blair said this was exactly the sort of report needed, but who did the team of moral philosophers, academics, lawyers and others consult? Why, no less than 50 unbiased organisations, including the DTI and many of the biotech companies planning to grow them in poor countries. Oh, and 69 mostly unidentifiable individuals. So how many of the world's 2bn Indian, African , Asian and South American farmers were consulted in the 18-month study? Er, none, though they did find a Mr Reddy from an Indian agricultural college, which must have eased their profound ethical dilemma.

When 45 Indian farmers from the Inter Continental Caravan turned up at the Nuffield offices last week offering to discuss the matter, you might have thought the council would think it a "moral imperative" to at least listen? Instead, the farmers were sent packing and Nuffield issued a press statement: "We welcome discussion about the complex issues raised in our report about GM crops. But we take the view that debate on these complex issues is best conducted through careful argument . . ." Others might take the view that Nuffield, funded partly by the Wellcome Trust, which supports much biotech research, believes Indian farmers are not capable of careful argument on these complex life-or-death issues.

Bemused and offended by Nuffield's moral insensitivity, the farmers took a bus on Saturday to Bishop's Stortford, Hertfordshire, to join British campaigners squatting a GM oil seed rape trial site. Under the eye of the police, they proceeded to plant organic vegetables. Jagdish Singh then sang a Punjabi song, "a promise to our guru that we will not run away >from our fields of battle." The activists agreed.

© Copyright Guardian Media Group plc. 1999