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Before anybody gets paralysed or panicked by the headline, I am just twisting a quote in the style British newspapers have become so notorious for since the arrival of Rupert Murdoch on the UK media scene in 1969.
There must be some point to misleading headlines and articles in newspapers. I can sort of see it in low-end, red-top, shag rags, but I fail to see the point at the higher end of the market in a business where circulations are plummeting year on year. Not down at the ‘Indy’ though. And it’s obvious why.
The paper, which used to be innovative and refreshing when it was young and hungry, ran under the banner “free from party political bias, free from proprietorial influence”. The slogan was dropped in 2011, along with standards that were already in steep decline. Probably from fear it might be in breach of the Trades Description Act. From competing with The Guardian, The Telegraph and pre-Murdoch Times in its glory days – even winning readers from all – having changed ownership a couple of times, the ‘Indy’ seems to be racing down the slippery slope towards brazen sensationalism by trying to compete with the likes of The Daily Express and The Daily Mail. This Friday’s edition provided at least one very good example of that trend.
In a leading article, headlined Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK the paper trawled the depths of the sewage tank. Had it employed the words “British spud” instead of potatoes, and “foreign” crop pests, it wouldn’t have looked out of place in The Sun. Turns out a real, fully-qualified, scientific, boffin type is getting we Brits all het up over crop pests that invade our beloved spuds by putting the blight back into Ol’ Blighty.
In regard to the potentially devastating threat of fish ‘n chips without any chips, and bangers ‘n mash without the mash, Professor Sarah Gurr, of the University of Exeter and Rothamsted Research, is reported as saying to The Independent:
“The UK has significantly underestimated the scale of the threat. This is a huge problem that is lacking in public and political awareness. People are absolutely paralysed with fear of diseases like Ebola, but while they are extremely dangerous, the need to tackle crop diseases is just as pressing,”
Have you all gone stark, raving bonkers over there? Admittedly, I haven’t been back to the old country for a while, but I still have contact with family and friends. So far, none of them have mentioned being ‘absolutely paralysed’ from fear of Ebola. Perhaps the absolute paralysis is the reason I haven’t heard from some in a week or two.
But what isn’t mentioned in the article is the Rothamsted Research’s connection with GM foods and Monsanto funding. Neither is the increasing pressure on European governments by the US to overturn current restrictions of the planting of GM foods and sale of them without labelling them as such. Monsanto is one of the leading companies trying to push GM foods on a sceptical European public.
My intention here is not underestimate the threat of Ebola, or to pour scorn on its victims and their families, but this sort of rhetoric helps nobody.
To put blighted chips and mouldy mash aside – and what true Brit wouldn’t? – I can see the coast of Africa from my front room window.
Each year, thousands of illegal immigrants, desperate to escape the grinding poverty of the continent, risk drowning by crowding into unseaworthy wooden boats to cross the Straits of Gibraltar in search of better lives. Many don’t make it.
Quite a few come from Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria, the nations most affected by Ebola so far. On occasion, they land on a beach not fifteen minute’s walk from my home. Some get caught by the coastguard and are sent straight back, others disappear into Spain and the rest of Europe to search out menial, low-paid jobs. A very small minority might even prosper.
The risks they take most Europeans wouldn’t be able to understand, let alone consider. So, before the professor starts breaking open another thesaurus of superlatives, perhaps she wouldn’t mind assuring people the risk of catching Ebola in Britain is extremely low at the moment, and the chances of survival are far greater in the UK than in Africa.
To equate poor people, often suffering near-starvation on a daily basis, and all the more susceptible to disease because of bad diet and poverty, with the the British potato being ‘off the menu’, as The Independent puts it, is cynical enough to qualify as psychopathic. And perhaps the professor should have mentioned a potential conflict of interest where potatoes are concerned.
Not one of the locals I speak to, living in Europe’s nearest point to Africa, has been ‘absolutely paralysed’ with fear of Ebola. They haven’t even mentioned it. And we’re all still venturing out without face masks when the wind from Africa blows our way, which it often does. So, I cannot believe there is even one person actually ‘absolutely paralysed with fear of diseases like Ebola’ in Britain, which is so much further away. Unless you’ve all gone soft in the head.
We now have experts deliberately confusing people and creating paranoia by linking entirely unrelated events, some that haven’t yet happened, and may never happen. There is little doubt much of it is at the behest of Big Pharma coughing up enough cash, and as many perks as it takes, to flatter scientists into conducting controversial research before publishing highly-questionable and heavily-redacted results. At the same time, but less reported, increasing numbers of other scientists – not funded by Big Pharma and Big Farmer – are starting to regard GM food as a bigger long-term threat to the world food supply than the naturally occurring threats that have existed in the environment since time began.
I have little doubt there are diseases out there that can destroy potato crops. It wouldn’t be the first time. Potato blight led to famines all over Europe in the mid 19thC, which, in turn, led to starvation, death and massive migration to the USA. But cut out the overheated rhetoric, prof. It’s not the job of a scientist to create panic and foment rumour with underlying racist dimensions. It’s your job to spread calm and give advice, not to spread unnecessary fear in the interests of commercial gain by any party. It is immoral and unethical in the extreme.
Copyright © 2014 Bryan Hemming
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