Four things that I share with Stephen Tindale

Stephen Tindale

I can think of four things that I share with Stephen Tindale, the former boss of Greenpeace (and former Special Advisor to Michael Meacher).  They are:

1. This blog – as Stephen wrote a Guest Blog about the EU here back in February.

2. A belief that nuclear energy should play a part in our combatting of climate change.  Stephen had a different view when he was running Greenpeace but ‘came out’ years later, and I kept my preference private whilst working for the RSPB but revealed it on p184 of Fighting for Birds.

3. Our birthday.

4. A belief that GM crops might, and probably should, play a part in the future of agriculture – here again you can find my take on it in Fighting for Birds (page 248).  Stephen said this in a blog back in January and he said it again on Panorama last night. That doesn’t mean that all GM crops are good, but it means that some of them might be.


I expect there are many other things that I share with Stephen too. As with all groups of people, and all industries, there is a danger that everyone thinks the same thing, and that nobody ever changes their mind. It’s a good thing that people like Stephen think about things and are able to change their minds.

I wonder what I should change my mind about? Any of these things?  I don’t think so. Feel free to suggest some things about which i ought to change my mind.

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20 Replies to “Four things that I share with Stephen Tindale”

  1. The problem with the 'PR' gene being engineered into the food chain is that it is being used by the very large corporations as leverage to keep their rather unsavoury products on the market ... For example, the myth that 'roundup ready' crops, that are resistant to the poison glyphosate, were going to reduce agrotoxin use has long since been dealt with - the amounts are increasing, and older and more dangerous chemicals are being re-engaged with as resistance in the weeds grows. ( for example) So - yes, there might be a place for GM in food production, but it is politically naive to think that this is not going to be used as a front by Monsanto et al to further seek control over the commodity crops around the world.

    1. Hugh - I agree. Tricky isn't it? Many industries misrepresent the facts. How lucky we are that the British grouse industry is so clean in that respect.

    2. The degree of control over world food crops by the global seed and pesticide hegemony is itself a cause for concern whether crops are bred using GM or not. The principle of diversity healthy lack of diversity unhealthy applies to the means of food production as well as to the natural world

  2. Yeah pretty poor the way the 'environmental' community has automatically taken up total rejection of GM crops (rather than abuse of the technology). However, traditional agriculture is in many parts of the world, for instance cattle grazing in Madagascar, doing a better job of turning forests into desert than feeding people. Humanitarian and ecological disaster, but evil multi nationals and scary hi tech not involved so not discussed, doesn't tick the necessary campaigning boxes.

  3. Walking to the car park one day with A H Bunting we were talking about Edward Cocking's pioneering work on interspecies hybridisation and AHB said he thought this was the future after all cabbages never got wheat stem rust "Ahh so" said Cobb "and wheat doesn't get finger and toe - yet" in a possibly career threatening retort

  4. GMO policy and science is very complicated, because each GM is different and safety, environmental or health, cannot be conferred from one modification to another.

    It is an area where generalisations are very unhelpful, yet seem to predominate.

    The answer is clearly to maintain scientifically robust vigilance and rigor in assessing risk prior to, and following, approval.

    It is wrong to say that the environmental community has a single position on GM, but I also hope that the 'it's too risky, we can't control it, ban it' approach has had its day (but perhaps served its purpose). However, for this to be the case we need to know that the appropriate safeguards are in place and of this I am uncertain.

    We should remind ourselves that taking positions that are purely ethical and not 'evidence based' is not wrong, I respect (but may still argue against) someone saying "I can't stomach the idea of meddling with the code of life and releasing it into the environment".

    Over-riding evidence with ethics is arguably immoral, arguably not, but ignoring, misrepresenting or making up evidence to support your ethical position is deeply unethical.

    The BBC trailed the Panorama programme with the line "Former EU scientific adviser says green groups "make stuff up" to scare public about GM crops".

    So I was watching carefully for the evidence that would back this up. The only evidence presented was of Action Aid (an international aid charity rather than an environmental NGO). Who said in one radio ad in Uganda that that GM was linked to cancer and infertility. The charity apologised for the mistake and explained that it operates in dozens of countries and does not campaign on GMOs.

    I was shocked and saddened by this. While half an hour is not enough time to do the topic credit, the construction of an "NGOs vs. science" fault line for the sake of a headline needed better evidencing than one mistake in Uganda.

    Accusing people of ignoring evidence and getting their ethical priorities wrong is one thing, accusing NGOs of whipping up concern about GMOs to boost their own profile would be another potentially viable accusation, but accusing people of lying is more serious and really needed to be properly evidenced by the BBC.

    Incidentally Buglife's position is that GMs need rigorous testing and risk assessment against impacts against a wide range of biodiversity prior to approval, and vigelance needs to continue. We believe that some GMOs may benefit the environment if they can reduce the exposure of non target invertebrates to pesticides. There is evidence that this is happening, at least in some places with some modifications. However, we should be alert to novel risks in the pipeline, such as those presented by Cry wolf wheat -

    It would be good to depolarise this debate, but I doubt that Panorama has helped in this regard.

  5. I'm sure we would all support the principle of 'evidence-based policy' in most areas of decision-making, including GMOs. However, we are moving towards a situation that could be better characterised as 'policy-based evidence'. Genuinely independent evidence is becoming a rarity, and it is simply naïve to imagine that research funded by a vested interest group will be objective and unbiased. If my long experience working with the pharmaceutical industry is anything to go by, we should usually take the industry's claims and evidence with a large pinch of salt.

    1. Big pharma & the grouse industry - evidence based, integrity & trustworthy? We can dream?

      Maybe if pharma industry particularly were, then perhaps there would not be all the mistrust? Sadly, money means more to most.

      Agree about independent evidence, absolutely .... but how is it funded? If regulators levied industry and revenue were to be awarded to secure independent research - could we trust statute not to be influenced by industrial lobbyists?

      Ever an observant agnostic ....

  6. I think you should try and like linnets more! Whenever I see a linnet in the sunshine I think of you and by extension lead, harriers, agricultural grants etc. Maybe they are all little Avery ambassadors.....

  7. 5. You and Steven (and me and a few others) were told face to face by David Cameron that he would deliver a Conservative Party policy portfolio that would be green in every aspect. That was on his second day in post as party leader.

  8. RE: GM

    A billion years of evolution vs a few thousand years of agriculture? Why on earth do you think we can control nature. Already the yield of certain crops is approaching 100% with very little left for the traditional arable birds to hoover up after harvest. GM crops will just add to the ecological desertification of the countryside. Nature is a balance so why not stick to what is best? In a few tens or hundred years time when something happens will we be saying "oh! Didn't think of that one! We were so silly". The human race has done it before and we'll do it again. Keep things as natural as possible. The human race will not benefit from GM, only the multinationals and their share holders benefit from the overhyped, heavily patented scientific "wonder product".

      1. Relative to the amount of harvestable crop vs the amount spilled or lost. Modern techniques leave nothing. Traditional techniques left a small amount that was quickly taken by wildlife. The loss of this bounty is what I perceive to be the greatest cause of species decline in the arable dependant flora and fauna.

        1. Thanks for explaining. You may well be right about the effect on bird numbers. Harvest machinery now allows greater recovery of tail-corn, harvest trailers are built not to dump seed over the place, cereal varieties are bred to have better-filled grain, oilseed rape is bred to prevent premature pod dehiscence, grain is no longer casually stored on floors, grain stores are bird- and rodent-proofed following Mrs Currie's Gert Salmonella Panic, winter cropping is favoured over spring for a raft of reasons and the Climate Change Act insists that all sectors of industry must strive to minimise emissions of GHGs involved in producing every kilo of output.

          All this stuff is legal, if not compulsory. What is illegal - I posit - is prophylactic use of pesticides against cereal insect pests. Where Oh Where are the clouds of aphids that used to drift dreamily over the wheatfields of the A1 corridor, cementing themselves to our number plates, headlamps and windscreens with the carbonaceous glue they had stolen?

  9. Agree about linnets. Can't believe you mean it, is it a filler when you have run out of blog material? Answer: get out more!

  10. I'm not so sure the GM conundrum is that difficult - so long as the legal duty of companies like Monsanto is soley to their shareholders I would suggest we have an insuperable problem - and not one that can be solved simply by regulation. We've seen what happened in the financial sector - the difference was that the consequence was not global starvation. I just have this nightmare of some clever team fiddling with genes to, for example, ensure no one can breed seed from their patented maize and accidentally making the US maize crop sterile. Far fetched ? Possibly not when resistance is already building to glyphosate - but of course Glyphosate is nowout of patent....


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