ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

12 November 2001


This is from Jim O'Connor's delightful Irish organic site,, which has recently been the subject of the litigious attentions of Prof Tony Trewavas - or 'Tricky Trewavas' aka 'the irascible don' , as regular Planorganic readers have come to know him. According to Jim:

Prof Trewavas has contacted me (and briefed his lawyers!) about my comments on the recent Greenpeace/Melchett/Herald libel case ... The plot is getting thicker by the email, as mysterious figures are hinted at who may or may not be the authors and distributors of the original letter.  Any volunteer legal eagles out there? Start the fund? Inside track?
"Planorganic" <>

Prof Trewavas who recently trashed organics on Irish radio was originally billed to speak at the following debate but pulled out in mysterious circumstances, thus making way for that other well-known GM lobbyist Prof Vivian Moses.

News&Comment   News and Comment 11th November, 2001. Remembrance Day.
"The modern food industry is a cause for celebration." This was the motion before the house at the Trinity debate last Thursday night. The title of the motion went through several modifications over the last few weeks. Firstly, it was; "Is Modern Farming a Public Health Risk?" (considered too "negative" apparently - but for whom?). Then it was, "Factory Farming - Dicing with an Irishman's Comestibles?" ( too frivolous?).

Prof. Vivian Moses opened the debate for the motion. The London don reflected the undergraduatish atmosphere of the proceedings by ceremoniously donning his overcoat and scarf in complaint at the lack of heating in the cavernous lecture room. Moses, replacing the notorious anti-organic Trewavas, gave us a light romp through food safety issues, (interestingly, never mentioning organic farming) concluding, predictably enough, with an exhortation for consumers to accept that GM food was the safest around because "it was the most studied and the most restricted".

Speaking  against the motion, Richard Auler, organic farmer and pioneer of the organic movement in Ireland held the audience's attention well. He described with humour and passion his conversion over 20 years ago in Germany from conventional to organic farming and had a good story about organic heritage potatoes. He also, as if to the manner born, adroitly handled the disconcerting mid-talk questions from the floor (Phil. Soc. rules).

Dr Alan Reilly, Food Safety Authority of Ireland, left us a mite confused (a FSAI habit? See last week). He told us of the dreadful health risks from conventional chickens - 60% of samples with campolybacter and 40% with salmonella! Then there is the deceit of the "Irish Chicken Kiev" - the only Irish ingredient of which is water! He warned us that "When things go wrong today, they go wrong big-time!".  I thought for a minute he was talking against the motion but then he launched off into telling us that Chinese genetically modified fish and modified rice are the answers to world hunger! He later reminded those of us who didn't already know it that the FSAI are the advisory body to the govt on "novel" and GM foods.

Raymond O'Rourke, solicitor and expert on European food law *, gave us the meatiest contribution of the evening - and the best quote - "The health of a people is really the foundation upon which all their happiness and all their power as a State depends". Disraeli, 1877. He urged openness between govt and consumers on food safety issues, reminding us that one of the main conclusions of Lord Philips' BSE enquiry was to "trust consumers". Mr O'Rourke however didn't think there was much evidence of this trust emanating from govt, citing Ireland's hosting of a EU round of talks on food quality in Dublin Castle last May where attendance was by ticket only - he was refused one (R.O'R, it gets worse - I was refused one too!). He read from a recent speech by Renate Kuenast, the German Minister of Agriculture, where she outlined her vision of a reformed CAP. Whilst  reminescent of De Valera's, 1940's "comely maidens dancing at the crossroads" speech, nevertheless Mr O'Rourke told us, "this was the thinking of the most powerful nation in Europe and has to be taken very seriously".

*Raymond O'Rourke has just had a book on food law published. I hope to review it shortly. He has also just been chosen to stand as a  Fine Gael candidate for Wicklow in the coming election.

Those were the four main speakers. But, in another twist of the quixotic house rules, some student speakers had their five minutes of fame at the lectern too. One of these, Jeff Black, English Dept., made the interesting point that, just as the Industrial Revolution had led to cheap and shoddy goods, the industrialisation of agriculture has led to cheap and awful food. He proposed that we are all complicit in this and that we get the food industry we deserve. We might save ourselves, he continued, by becoming quality-food conscious like the Italians. He furthermore suggested that we do not need GM food -" GM food would give us the square chicken  - easier to stack, I suppose." And to pluck, stuff and carve! He finished off his talk by  asking us to remember, "Production must be the servant of the food industry not its master".

Steve Daley, Econs. Dept. one of the organisers of the talks, based to some degree on experiences he had in India, did not think organic farming could be a solution to third world needs and was a strong advocate of GMOs. (Later I drew his and other speakers' attention to Prof. Jules Pretty's report earlier this year, Sustainable Farming Can Feed the World.
George Monbiot in The Guardian, 24th August, 2000, also has a remarkable article on the subject. On a planet wallowing in surfeit, people starve because they have neither the land on which to grow food for themselves nor the money with which to buy it. Even a Novartis director admits that GM will not feed the world, to do which, he says, takes political and financial will. .)
The motion was then put to the attendance and by a considerable majority the nays had it and the motion was defeated.

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