You say you want a revolution?
LAST week, the Government announced that Britainõs long-held aversion to genetically modified (GM) crops could come to an end after Brexit. Finally, some might say; disaster, from other quarters.
Since 1998, only one GM product has been licensedña type of maize, MON 810, which is resistant to pestsñ due to general reluctance across EU member states. Indeed, last year, a new regulation allowed members to ban farmers from cultivating GM crops altogether and, of the 28 EU countries, more than half followed through, including Germany, France, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Ôthere has been no let-up in the constant stream of GM propagandaõ
And theyõre not aloneñcountries as far afield as Russia, China, India and Africa have policies in place to prohibit the growing of GM food crops.
Defra Minister George Eustice assures us that Ôpossible future arrangements for the regulation of genetically modi- fied organismsõ in the UK would be Ôscience-based and proportionateõ and a Defra spokesman comments that, in the wake of Brexit, Ôeverything is under discussionõ.
This news follows the publication, in May, of a report by the American National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, showing evidence that improving crops by molecular biotechnology techniques is safe.
It states: Ôwhile recognising the inherent difficulty of detecting subtle or long-term effects in health or the environment, the study committee found no substantiated evidence of a difference in risks to human health between currently commercialised genetically engineered (GE) crops and conventionally bred crops, nor did it find conclusive cause-and-effect evidence of environmental problems from the GE crops.õ
Environmentalists with long-standing concernsñwhich are still Ôshared by other European countries and consumers, and should not be dismissed lightlyõ, according to SNP rural affairs secretary Richard Lochheadñare unhappy with the potential change in policy. Clare Oxborrow, farming campaigner at Friends of the Earth, calls the move Ôa devastating own goalõ because of its potential effect on the European market for British farmers.
However, some argue exactly the opposite, that an outright ban on GM crops, which can have a longer shelf life, higher vitamin content and greater disease resistance, would blight our ability to compete with market rivals, as Europe is already a huge importer of American GM soya and maize for animal feed. Prof Huw Jones of agricultural science group Rothamsted Research says that banning GM organisms Ôserves to remove the freedom of farmers and narrows their choice of crop varieties in the futureõ.
Peter Melchett of the Soil Association counters that, although animal feed has been the only significant market for GM crops (apart from cotton) for the past 20 years, now, non-gm soya imports to the EU are growing, because of demand from major French and German supermarket chains. Ôthings are moving more slowly in the UK,Õ explains Mr Melchett, Ôbut Waitrose has refused to join supermarkets such as Tesco, Sainsburyõs, Asda and Morrisons in allowing poultry to be given GM feed. There seems little doubt that this last major market for GM crops from the Americas is already contracting and may in future rely mainly on exports to China.õ
Criticising the Ôpro-gm campaignõs uncanny ability to ignore facts (including new and better technologies)é in particular Marker Assisted Selection (MAS)Õ, Mr Melchett laments that Ôthere has been no let-up in the constant stream of GM propaganda from pro-gm campaigners, from the Royal Society
The UK has been slow to embrace GM foods and, now, some say that ÔGM is irrelevant and there are many better alternativesõ