Taking court action is always a risky business. Win and you’re
right, lose and you’re wrong. This reality is the latest difficulty
Coverage of its failure in the High Court last week to secure a
permanent injunction against campaigners digging up GM test crops
inevitably aired the reasons for the judgment.
This was Monsanto’s second legal setback in as many months. In February,
it was fined in connection with the management of a GM trial site in a
widely-reported case. The company now finds itself trying to win over
public confidence while it is losing legal arguments which touch the
very heart of the GM foods debate.
Effective environmental regulation and monitoring of crops are vital
issues for both sides of the argument. The biotech industry has now
drafted a code of practice for commercial growth.
Not surprisingly, the code has been heavily criticised by the likes of
Friends of the Earth for lacking proper safeguards. And it is not hard
to imagine pressure groups lobbying hard to stop any attempts by the
biotech industry to police itself.
Nevertheless, the prospect of a voluntary code seems to be gaining
support with the Government. Agriculture minister Jeff Rooker has said
that such an approach is needed because there is no Parliamentary time
to give the code legal teeth. However, the biotech companies will have
to show they have put their houses in order if they are to persuade a
sceptical public that self-regulation is a feasible option.
Winning hearts and minds in Westminster is crucial. But the politicians
will keep a close eye on the public mood.
The problem for Monsanto and others continues to be how to simplify a
complex scientific issue into language that people understand.
In contrast, the Green lobby has cleverly sown the seeds of fear and
uncertainty by talking on an emotional level - the label ’Frankenstein
Food’ is proving a hard nickname to shake off.
At the start of its campaign, Monsanto said it wanted to stimulate open
debate. With the expectation of a full trial in the wake of the High
Court ruling, and the certainty of high-profile media interest in the
expert opinions for and against GM foods, it looks as though the company
is going to get just that.