The debate on the hot topic of genetically modified (GM) crops in London last month was a huge success. Organised by the City Circle and the Islamic Foundation for Ecology & Environmental Sciences (IFEES), it had the merit of giving space for real dialogue and information rather than merely banging the drum for a single viewpoint. Each of the two main speakers was given space to make his points and to respond to the other's opinion. The audience of almost seventy, comprising of both Muslims and those of other persuasions, were also given ample time to ask questions of the speakers.
Charlie Kronick, the Chief Policy Advisor for Greenpeace, focussed on world food politics saying that hunger was a problem of distribution, rather than a shortfall in food production.
The other speaker, Bernard Marantelli representing the GM industry's Agricultural Biotechnology Council, agreed with most of the political points that Kronick made. But his main point was: `GM will not solve world hunger by itself. GM offers part of the basket of solutions.'
But Charlie Kronick countered this by saying that there has been a deliberate attempt to play the world hunger card by GM. Further, he argued that intensive agriculture and high tech is the problem, not the solution. Instead, we need to give control back to the people. Biotechnology strives to adapt the natural world to humanity's needs; it must be the other way around.
Throughout the debate, it was clear that the audience reflected the feelings of the public at large in being overwhelmingly hostile to GM crops. One member of the audience, Imran Hayes, expressed his feelings to me: `Islam says a lot about the environment in general. It is emphasised in the Qur'an and GM isn't necessarily a good thing for the environment. I'm very uncertain about the long-term consequences. Until a number of questions have been answered, I would choose not to eat GM.'
At the end of the debate a show of hands was taken to determine the audience's opinions. The vast majority were still not persuaded that GM formed part of the solution to world hunger. However, radically changing peoples opinions over GM, was never the purpose of the event. The achievement of the debate was that both speakers provided the kind of information and expert analyses that we need if we are to shape our own informed opinions.
Gareth Lloyd, February 2004
City College Brighton