Ryeview – June 2003

Who listened to Friend Sykes?

John Clark writes…

First published: June 2003 – Gazette & Herald

If we could have avoided BSE in cattle would we have? If we could have avoided n.v.CJD in humans would we have? If we could have avoided the loss of Ryedale’s water meadow habitats and flower meadows would we have? The answers are of course yes, yes and yes.

Some of us questioned the causes of these disasters decades before they happened. In 1946 Friend Sykes predicted illness in cattle if we fed them ‘concentrates’ (processed food). He also predicted that human diseases would follow the bovine illness. Each outbreak of the ‘Black Death’ had been preceded by animal diseases in cattle, poultry, bees etc. His argument was that disease in plants, animals and humans were interrelated. For plants to be healthy they need a healthy soil. For animals to be healthy they need healthy plants to eat. It follows that human health depends on the ‘health’ of their food. The philosophy of organic farming is based on this logic. Unfortunately very few listened to Friend Sykes. The result: BSE and n.v.CJD.

The ‘Green revolution’ resulted in the worldwide use of pesticides, herbicides and modern plant varieties. The promises: it was scientific, it was safe and it would feed the world’s   starving millions. The effect on the environment has been disastrous: loss of biodiversity, a vast reduction in the number of farmland birds and loss of hundreds of varieties of wheat, rice, maize and other crops. Hundreds of millions of people in the world are still undernourished. In Britain our natural diversity has been decimated. Ryedale is, along with other areas, trying to salvage the remnants through Biodiversity Action Plans. If only we had gone slowly and with more thought. Not a case of ignoring the science, but looking at all the sciences. The Green Revolution and feeding cattle ground up protein ignored the biology, the ecology and the agricultural ‘science’ gained over thousands of years.

The next ‘big solution’ from science is ‘GM’. All the arguments are the same. It will vastly increase efficiency; it will feed the world and it ‘IS SAFE’. This time let us learn from history. Let us not rush or be pushed in indecent haste (for pushed we certainly are). There are millions of farmers who have farmed ‘sustainably’ for thousands of years. They save their own local varieties of seeds for sowing the following year. They use organic materials from their crops and animals to produce the next crop. Chinese peasant farmers have been successfully using compost for four thousand years.

If we go down the GM route the world’s food production is at risk. The potential problem is much more severe than chemical fertilisers, pesticides and cattle being fed with ‘concentrates’. Farmers and the public in the past had a choice. In the case of GM there will be no choice. Pollen travels from a GM crop to a non-GM crop. The GM material will get into the soil, water, air and even more importantly into the non-GM seed. Thus before long someone growing their ‘organic’ tomatoes in the garden could be unknowingly growing GM tomatoes. These tomatoes would look the same yet contain toxins, the exact opposite of the gardener’s intention.

The potential problem is so large and so invasive that the only way forward is to adopt the ‘precautionary principle’. Vast tracts of the world are already going down the GM route. Some areas need to be the scientific ‘control’.

The ideal would be no to GM in Europe, the next best would be a GM Free Britain. From Ryedale’s view if we get neither of these the best we can hope for is Ryedale to be declared a GM Free zone. It is up to the people of Ryedale to call a halt to this vast experiment. I hope they are persuaded that the risk is too great. If it ‘goes wrong’ then once again we will have ignored the wisdom of Friend Sykes. Did Friend Sykes not ‘shout’ loud enough or was it that we didn’t listen?

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