You say you want a revo­lu­tion?

Country Life Every Week - - Town & Country - Edited by An­nun­ci­ata Wal­ton

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

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