Pro-GM scientist's fantasy hour in Oz (27/11/2004)

A British pro-GM researcher has been busy telling Australians on ABC's Country Hour, in an interview broadcast in every state in Australia, that the UK is getting ready to grow GM crops, that public opinion has turned in their favour, that there's no future in going organic, etc. etc.

Yes, we're off down the golden road of biotech with the wonderful wizard of oz...

1. UK set for genetically modified crops, says Jim Orson
2. Jim Orson - a GM Watch profile
3. UK consumers are more strongly anti-GM then ever
4. GM firms finally give up on planting in Britain
5. UK Organic Food Sales Top 1.1 Billion

1.UK set for genetically modified crops
Annabelle Homer, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 26 November 2004

Genetically modified crops could commercially be grown in the United Kingdom and Europe within the next five years. That's according to Jim Orson, a British research director who advises the government on decisions relating to GM technology.

He says public opinion is changing as people are becoming more open to the technology. Mr Orson says people are tired of accusations being made against GM eventually proving to be false and they're starting to think there might be a case for GM after all.

He says a factor that may swing people would be inserting pharmaceuticals into the plants. He says the feel good benefits may be something that attracts people.

Since the increase in organic farmers in Europe it's not viable in the UK to be an organic farmer and there is a significant amount of farmers who would be interested in becoming GM Farmers.
Jim Orson, GM specialist


2.Jim Orson - a GM Watch profile

Jim Orson is the Director of The Arable Group (or TAG) which was formed in 2003 in a merger involving the Morley Research Centre, which Orson also previously directed. Morley was a farmer-owned research station in Norfolk UK, providing information to support the businesses of some of the biggest arable farmers in Europe.

In August 2002 Orson was appointed for 3 years to ACRE, the UK government's official advisory committee on GM releases to the environment. He has also served on the Advisory Committee on Pesticides. He also serves on the Scientific Steering Committee for the farm-scale evaluations (the UK government's GM trials on biodiversity).

The Arable Group, like Orson, take a strongly pro-GM position and Morley Research Centre, under Orson, has been involved in running GM crop trials - a potential source of income for a centre which newspaper reports suggest has experienced significant financial pressure (Sharp falls in farm incomes have put Norfolk's leading independent agricultural research centre under further financial pressure, Eastern Daily Press, November 6th 1999)

Among the companies that Morley ran GM research for was AgrEvo. AgrEvo became part of Aventis and then Bayer, whose crops the farmscale trials have been evaluating.

Orson’s public statements also put the question of whether his strong commitment to GM has not put at risk his ability to adequately assess its risks and benefits. He told Reuters, 'The gain to farmers [from GM crops] is clear in terms of higher yields. We believe there are also ways of manipulating herbicide resistant crops for the advantage of the environment.'

But the information on yields from GM rape and GM beet in UK trials does not indicate higher yields, and research on GM soya, the largest GM crop worldwide, shows similarly reduced yields.

Orson's belief indicates that regardless of the results of the UK government's farmscale evaluations, which showed a negative effect on biodiversity from GM rape and beet, Orson will argue not for rejection of the technology but for continued research - a perhaps not unreasonable position for the head of a research station interested in trialling GM crops.

3.UK consumers are more strongly anti-GM then ever
Consumers say NO to GM, says Which?
02 September 2004

British consumers are sending a clear message that they still don't want genetically modified (GM) food, says Which? today. They feel even more strongly about this than they did two years ago.

Which? repeated a survey of almost a thousand adults, first carried out in 2002, to see whether opinions about GM have changed. Despite commercial growing of GM crops in the UK moving closer, only around a quarter of people in the latest survey were in favour of GM crops being grown in the UK, compared with almost a third of people in 2002. The main concerns are the long-term health consequences and the impact on the environment.

The survey also found that 61 per cent are now concerned about the use of GM in food production (significantly higher than in 2002) and 58 per cent try to avoid GM ingredients altogether (a 13 per cent increase). (See notes for the full results of the survey).

61 per cent think they might be eating GM foods without knowing and, according to the Food Standards Agency, they're probably right. Foods that contain GM ingredients or derivatives should say so on the label, but foods can contain a small amount of GM material (0.9 per cent) without being labelled as GM if the manufacturer can show that contamination could not be avoided. It's easy for soya and maize - used in a huge range of processed foods - to become contaminated with GM material. Tests by Warwickshire Trading Standards found soya mince that was more than 50 per cent GM material - even though the label didn't mention GM.

The situation could soon become more complex. The government will shortly be consulting on the measures needed for GM crops to be grown in the UK, which could make GM even more difficult to avoid.

Shoppers are not only concerned about GM ingredients in food. 68 per cent want manufacturers to go one step further and source non-GM animal feed, so meat and dairy products would have no links with the GM process.

At the moment, all supermarkets' own brand milk and much of their meat comes from animals fed on GM feed. The only milks that make the grade are M&S milk and Sainsbury's Selected Farm semi-skimmed milk, and milk labelled organic.

Malcolm Coles, editor of Which?, says:

"Consumers clearly don't want GM food and are hardening their stance against it. It's hardly surprising when questions still remain about the risks for health and the environment. The government has ignored public opinion on this subject for long enough. It needs to rethink its policy before going ahead with growing GM crops commercially."

Notes to editor

For a full copy of the article, please call Martin Chapman on 020 7770 7373 or e-mail [email protected]

Spokespeople are available for interview.

Research Notes
The latest Which? face-to-face survey of 984 GB adults aged 15+ was conducted in May 2004 and the previous survey of 998 adults was conducted in May 2002. Results are weighted to correct minor sampling errors and are representative of the GB population in terms of age, sex, social grade and region. The results are as follows (figures show the percent who agree with each statement):
I am concerned about the use of GM in food production
2004: 61% / 2002: 56%

I try to avoid GM foods and ingredients
2004: 58% / 2002: 45%

I am satisfied manufacturers have removed GM from their food
2004: 33% / 2002: 28%

Do you think GM crops should be grown in the UK? (% who said yes)
2004: 26% / 2002: 32%

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