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The danger of GM foods

The attempts by Tony Gilland ('Genes, greens and soya beans', February) and Roger Bate ('A risk-free environment is bad for our health', February) to convince us that genetically modified (GM) crops will 'produce cheaper and higher quality new food products' and that 'GM foods in general pose no special risks' are highly misleading.

GM foods have not enjoyed 'many years of trouble-free [use]'. The genetic alteration of bacteria used to produce the food supplement Trytophan may have caused up to 37 deaths and 1500 serious disabilities in the USA since 1989. Commercial development of a soya bean containing brazil nut protein was stopped when it was found that the bean caused a reaction in people allergic to nuts. And because of the nature of GM organisms, it is almost impossible to trace back such side effects once the food stuff has been commercially released.

Once GM crops are widespread, multinational agrochemical companies will have control of every aspect of the foods we eat, from plough to plate. Far from altruistically working to provide better, cheaper foodstuffs for a hungry world, the agrochemical companies see GM organisms as a way to boost their already vast profits.

Finally, I must take issue with Gilland's assertion that 'most crops, genetically modified or not, do not survive in the wild', implying that the release of GM crops into the eco-system is therefore harmless. In the late nineteenth century, gardeners introduced rhodedendrons, Japanese knot-weed and bracken from the Orient. The proliferation of these plants has since caused untold problems in gardens and estates. If even a few 'mega-weeds' such as GM oil seed rape escape into the countryside, it may require a whole new generation of pesticides to bring them under control. I am sure Monsanto and their friends will be more than happy to provide them.

Chris Brown Newcastle

Professional restraint

In 'Who's afraid of a five-year old?' (April), Brendan O'Neill quotes women at the bus-stop as saying, 'It's a bit odd that a teacher can't cope with a little boy'. Yes, it is a bit odd, not to say pathetic that the teacher is so traumatised that she cannot return to school, but it is not odd that she could not restrain him.

In these days of increasing legal regulation of public institutions and decreasing trust in professionals, any teacher who tries to restrain a child with serious behavioural problems runs the risk of litigation and the almost certainty of losing their job. No longer is the teacher respected as a professional with genuine authority. Any deviation from the accepted 'code of conduct' relating to matters concerned with child protection will more likely result in the teacher being sued than her being applauded for using professional judgement in the restraint of a violent child.

Jenny Payne London E8

Theatre of revulsion

Frank Furedi ('Wear your heart on your sleeve and a ribbon on your lapel', April) cited the mass displays of moral revulsion which took place in Spain against the ETA assassination of Miguel Angel Blanco in July last year, comparing these with similar events in Belgium or the UK. Although I would be wary of interpreting responses in Spain in exactly the same way, there are certain emotional characteristics typical to all. At demonstrations held in Spain since that fateful day, including those called in response to subsequent ETA excesses, there have been shouts of 'ETA no, vascos si' (no to ETA, yes to the Basques), but more disturbing still has been the exaggerated symbolism of a show of white-painted hands held aloft (a touch invented by a Madrid student). What is of course lacking from this mass theatre is any sign of politics.

Gareth King Zaragoza, Spain

Re-branding Marx

Recent interest in Marx ('The return of Marx (& Spencer)', March), heightened by the anniversary of the publication of The Communist Manifesto, is not surprising and indeed already predicted:

'During the lifetime of great revolutionaries, the oppressing classes constantly hounded them, received their theories with the most savage malice, the most furious hatred and the most unscrupulous campaigns of lies and slander. After their death, attempts are made to convert them into harmless icons, to canonise them, and to hallow their names to a certain extent for the "consolation" of the oppressed classes and with the object of duping the latter, while at the same time robbing the revolutionary theory of its substance, blunting its revolutionary edge and vulgarising it...They push to the foreground and extol what is or seems acceptable to the bourgeoisie.'

Lenin (for that is who it was) goes on to explain the importance of re-establishing the substance of Marx. The fact that Mick Hume explains this again in 1998 is a testament to the continuing relevance of these words and the need for a magazine such as LM.

David O'Toole Gateshead

Childish adults

The real danger in advertising youthful images for grown-ups (Andrew Calcutt, ' 'Pop goes adulthood', April) is not the increasingly childish behaviour of adults but the presentation of childish adults as role models for the younger generation. The 'I don't give a shit and just want to live life dumb and happy' attitude displayed in daft ads is rather appealing to youngsters and especially common in my generation (born '78). Adults will most likely remain such, despite stupid adverts, but a generation who see infantile behaviour praised as the way to be, will find themselves rather lost once they have to take some responsibility.

A word about Tony Wilson's reply to the question of why music nowadays sounds so boring. For somebody who grew up to the tunes of Led Zeppelin, the Doors and Pink Floyd, modern pop cannot but appear otherwise. They simply beat the pants off (nearly) every current band.

Matthias Edinburgh

Talk is cheap?

Much as I agree with your campaign for free speech ('Why the right to say, write, listen to, read and watch what we want should be the big cause of '98', February), to claim that it is the big issue of 1998 is going too far. I appreciate that your editorial staff are in danger of losing their livelihoods and the journal may be forced to fold but I am afraid that you are losing perspective on what constitutes the really crucial issues of the moment. Did you all support the right of the neo-Nazis to free speech? And the editorial's objectionable final sentences, 'The legal process has demonstrated that free speech can be an expensive business. But I trust you to put your money where our mouth is', was not so much an appeal for funds as an attempt to let us know what you consider our duty to be.

Peter Mole Oxford

Kosovo and the Serbs

John Wright (LM-Mail, April) is right to suggest that the loss of Kosovo might cause Serbia to fall apart. If that were to happen, the reason would be as much psychological as political or economic.

The Serbs have been under enormous pressure since the break-up of Yugoslavia. Hostile propaganda has vilified them in the eyes of the world. They have lost their ancestral lands in Krajina, Slavonia and parts of western Bosnia. Through the Drayton accords they have lost their areas of Sarajevo too.

Since the end of the Second World War more and more Albanians have flooded over the border into Kosovo until they have become the larger ethnic group. Now they claim the territory as their own and have much international sympathy.

Kosovo has special historic and religious significance for the Serbs. It is the seat of the Serbian Orthodox church and the site of its most holy shrine. To take Kosovo from Serbia would be to tear the heart out of the nation.

MSJ Thompson Peterborough

The dumbing down of student politics

In the recent NUS elections at my university the candidates formed into slates of 'like-minded' people, rather than the familiar ritual of independent campaigns. Essentially all their agendas were identical: Student Choice, Students First and Above and Beyond, promised to oppose tuition fees etc and make the union more 'student-centred'. Not exactly ambitious.

When I asked a presidential candidate (who also happens to be the editor of Shout, the students' union magazine) what he thought about the dumbing down of higher education, he replied that I was the only person to have raised the issue with him. But most students I know resent the condescending quality of the service we get. The problem is the lack of any credible forum in which our concerns can be addressed. I suggested that it was the responsibility of 'go-getters' like himself to force the issue. His response was that it would be arrogant to impose an agenda on the electorate. So, a rhetorical commitment to the idea of bottom-up democracy justifies the trivialisation of politics and points the finger at an 'apathetic' student body.

A Orgill Liverpool


What a shame that so much of Sara Hinchliffe's recent weight loss ('Less is more', April) was from the brain. I hope she has eaten lots of Easter eggs and will be writing intelligent articles again soon.

Phil Hayward Morecambe

The what's NOT on guide

UNBEARABLE: Michael Bond, the 72-year old author of the Paddington books, has been battling against censorship during the making of a Canadian TV series featuring his marmalade-loving bear. Bond reported that 'they've been saying you can't say this and you can't say that because you might offend someone'. He 'drew the line' at the producers' insistence that a bank manager should be portrayed as a Hindu woman and that a building-site foreman should also be a woman.

BARRED: The Millennium Dome will not have room for a traditional British pub, although there will be space for a wine bar, a fast-food outlet and two restaurants. 'We don't want gangs of lads sitting around getting beered-up all day', said an official. They have hardly started building it, but some people have been barred already.

HOUSE OF CORRECTION: MPs are no longer allowed to smoke in the loos at the House. On 20 April the Commons Administration Committee extended the ban on smoking in public sessions and committees to include nearly all the House, nearly all the time. Committee chair Marion Roe said that MPs would be relied on to police themselves.

VETTED: Under the new regime at the British Board of Film Classification, a panel of experts in child welfare, probably including psychologists and charity representatives, will vet films and videos before release. This is in addition to the board's own panel of classifiers. Recently appointed president Andreas Whittam-Smith explained that the new panel would balance the interests of children with those of distributors, who can appeal against the board's instruction to cut or ban movies. Home secretary Jack Straw has said that children should have greater protection against screen violence. He did not say anything about protecting adult audiences from the overwhelming tendency to treat them like children.

REVERSED: Adrian Lyne's film of Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita (see review, p39) has still not found a distributor in the USA. The fact that US distributors are running scared of child-protection legislation has given rise to an exceedingly rare instance of a film being passed for public exhibition in Britain while remaining unseen in America. No doubt Whittam-Smith and Straw will ensure that there is no repetition of such an outrage.

GILLED OFF?: A group calling itself Christian Survivors of Sexual Abuse has called for the removal from Westminster Cathedral plaques by the Catholic artist Eric Gill depicting the route to Calvary taken by Jesus. The objection to Gill's Stations of the Cross is that he had sexual relationships with two of his sisters and two of his daughters. After a furore in the letters columns of the Catholic Herald, a spokesman at the Catholic Media Office replied: 'I do understand the difficulty and the sensitivity of this subject given all the awful associations of child abuse for a victim and the implication of the Catholic church. But if you remove Gill, where do you stop? Do you remove Caravaggio too?' And close down the Sistine Chapel while you are at it.

HITCHED: Express columnist Peter Hitchens was forcibly ejected from Blackpool's Winter Gardens by officials of the National Union of Students (NUS), after he spoke in a debate about the legalisation of cannabis. The NUS officials who had him 'hurried out of the hall amid a flying wegde of security men' could not tell him exactly what he said that was so offensive, but Hitchens deduced that the following words must have prompted his removal: 'According to your categories, I am a reactionary sexist homophobic, and an ex-Trotskyist to add to the inflammatory mixture. What is even worse, I am proud of it. If there is anyone out there who agrees with me, I would advise you to keep very quiet about it. You are unfashionable, the worst crime you can commit these days.' While half-joking about contemporary conformism, he became the butt of it himself.

COVER-ALL CENSORSHIP: Writing in the 'Space' supplement of the Guardian, Jonathan Glancey mooted the extension of the definition of pornography in need of censorship to include 'out-of-town superstores', 'executive ranges of office furniture' and 'the liveries and logos of privatised railways' rather than erotic prints or lewd engravings. He concluded that 'censorship, like beauty, is in the eye and mind of the beholder and the light of one man's life is another woman's X-rating'. In other words, you can never be sure that something that seems all right to you is not offensive to somebody else, so everything should be the subject of self-censorship. It's a pity Glancey did not take his own advice before writing this offensive tosh.

Compiled by Andrew Calcutt

Reproduced from LM issue 110, May 1998

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