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Sorting the GM wheat from the chaff

In an era of fake news and many uncertainties when it has become less easy to establish truth from untruth, particularly for complex issues, well written information that can be trusted has increased worth. The whole area of GM crops can certainly be called an issue with many considerations, complexities and controversy. Controversy has been caused by misunderstanding, partial understanding or no understanding and the manipulation and distortion of information. GM crops began as an exciting revolution more than 20 years ago with genuine aspirations to improve agriculture for farmers and society. Where GM crops have been adopted, they have been an enormous success, in fact of paradigm shift - increasing yields and farmer profitability, decreasing use of chemicals and in some cases preventing crops from being completely wiped out and preventing disaster. These positive aspects do not normally come through in the usual narrative surrounding GM crops - they have been subject to massive misinformation.

The point is not often made that GM food has been subject to the largest scale testing of any product ever known to man through billions of meals eaten, particularly in the US, and there has not been a single case of harm. Yet the field has been dominated by words, such as contamination and multinational companies, and erroneous reports of harm, such as to Monarch butterflies and farmer suicides. Pressure groups have blocked the adoption of GM crops that could literally save lives. This is serious stuff. What a relief, then, to be able to read a truthful, dispassionate book without an axe to grind, which not only presents the facts but is also funny, clear and very accessible.

Ian Godwin is a professor of plant molecular genetics at the University of Queensland. Even if we do not trust politicians or authority figures anymore, academia can still be considered a bastion of truth and impartiality. Where would society and civilisation be without the teaching, learning, discovery of knowledge and progress brought about by universities. Godwin’s book presents an authoritative account of the history of GM crops going back to their beginnings, including the science behind the technology and the first products that came to market. A wonderful story is woven of science, discovery and anecdote, with Australian directness and humour. Godwin explains and entertains. Information is drawn from many quarters from biologists, farmers, nutritionists and activists and from Godwin’s direct experiences over 30 years.

The book is wide-ranging and includes information about the development and history of agri-tech chemical companies and subjects such as organic food. The exciting new development of gene editing through CRISPR is highlighted. The book enjoys and celebrates science and life. One feels that a major injustice against GM crops and indeed science has been in some way corrected by this book. There are a number of pictures, illustrations and figures accompanying the text, which effectively illustrate the points made. Citations are included, so that source material can be consulted. Thank you, Professor Godwin, for writing this book; it is really excellent and highly commended. The book is relevant for anyone interested in the truth about GM crops, including biologists and agriculturalists, from school level upwards, and the public; it should be mandatory reading for anyone wishing to form an opinion and comment on the matter.

Good enough to eat? Next generation GM Crops

Author Ian D Godwin

Publisher Royal Society of Chemistry (15 Feb. 2019)

ISBN 978-1-78801-085-6

Price paperback £24

Reviewer Dr Matthew Paul

Rothamsted Research, Harpenden, Herts, AL5 2JQ

Email matthew.paul@rothamsted.ac.uk

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