ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

Sweet as you are

Review by Dr. Jeremy Bartlett

"Sweet As You Are" by Jonathan Hall. Y Touring Theatre Company, John Innes Centre, Norwich, 2 September 1999.

After a successful run at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Y Touring Company stopped off for one night in Norwich to perform "Sweet As You Are".

The play was commissioned by Norwich's John Innes Centre and the Teacher Scientist Network (based at the Centre). It was followed by a debate on GM food
and has an accompanying information pack. A similar teachers' pack is to be produced, for the aim is to tour schools in Spring 2000, performing the play for 14 - 16 year old Science and English pupils.

Jenny, who is very house-proud, works for an advertising agency and has a fiancÈ, Ben, who is a campaigner against GM foods. He is a boorish character who dresses up in a carrot mask and forces Jenny to type up his speeches even though she is ill with 'flu. He feels inadequate and is using GM as a way to gain fame and popularity.

Andy is an untidy Dr. Who addict who moves into Jenny's flat. Before long Jenny, who has a very weak personality, is watching "Dr. Who and the Seeds of Doom" instead of washing up. Andy turns out to be a laboratory technician and is the calm, rational scientist who can see benefits in GM technology, whilst ironically remaining a member of Greenpeace. Jenny eventually leaves Ben because their views have diverged so much. Although she originally shared Ben's views on GM, she has no qualms by the end of the play in accepting a job promoting "U-Save", a supermarket that sells GM foods.

The play was well written, well acted and enjoyable, with plenty of humour. What concerns me is the messages that it will put across to an audience of
susceptible 14 - 16 year olds.

The GM campaigner looks ridiculous, behaves deviously, has no proper arguments against GM and loses the girl. His fiancee listens to the rational scientist and
furthers her career by promoting GM foods. We're told that science is pure and unbiased and that only scientists are qualified to comment on GM.

The debate that followed was led by Dr. Belinda Clarke, the scientific advisor, who works at the John Innes Centre and writes regular pieces for Norwich's
"Eastern Daily Press" extolling the virtues of GM crops.

The misinformation on offer included:

Big business is a good thing and biotechnology firms are helping the Third World by providing their expertise, often free of charge.

GM crops will solve lots of problems by making better crops that last longer and need less herbicide to produce.

Government controls are in place; besides which GM foods go through a lengthy testing process before being produced commercially.

The current crop trials are very thorough and are looking at the effects on microbes in the soil.

Organic farming will never feed the world.

The information pack follows the same trend. Of seven views on GM crops and food, three advise caution (Consumers' Association, GeneWatch and English
Nature), while the other four (Dr. Phil Dale of the John Innes Centre, Rev. Dr. Michael Reiss, Dr. Bernard Dixon and Monsanto) are strongly in favour of GM crops and foods. Significantly, these four have ten pages against their opponents' five.

John Innes Centre scientists have already manipulated genes and tried unsuccessfully to manipulate us. It appears that our offspring are the next target.