Science Media Centre behind pro-GM anti-organic hype (18/4/2007)

2.'Only intensive farming' will feed Britain - The Guardian

GM WATCH comment: The head of a Scottish agricultural college saying organic farming will not feed the world and we'll need more intensification of farming plus GMOs may not seem exactly like a headline-grabbing story for the national press. After all, proponents of industrial ag. and GMOs make claims like that every day of the week.

So how come this story was prominently reported by the BBC, the Guardian and the Telegraph today?

Answer: thanks to a presentation to their journalists c/o the Science Media Centre.

For more about the SMC, see 'Complaint about Science Media Centre and the LM group'

'Professor McKelvey is right that food security will be one of the defining issues of the 21st century but he is wrong that we can tackle this only through industrial-type agriculture.' - Patrick Holden, Soil Association director, responding to Professor Bill McKelvey, head of the Scottish Agricultural College, in the Daily Telegraph

The Daily Telegraph reported on McKelvey's presentation at the Science Media Centre and his comment that 'We are becoming less self-sufficient in food... It's possible in the next 25 to 50 years that there will be food shortages in the UK... We have to remember the competitive situation between the use of grain for food production and biofuel production.'

BBC Radio 4's Today programme interviewed Bill McKelvey and Peter Melchett, the Soil Association's policy director.

Professor McKelvey was interviewed first and said, 'Over the next 25 years we need to double food production and how do we do that? We don't want to take more land out of its current use [because of the environmental impact] but increase the production on existing land. [..] We in the UK and Europe need to look again at GM to increase levels of production.'

Peter Melchett responded, 'I agree with Bill we have choices and of course we don't want to continue the terrible destruction of rainforest. But, we can make choices, for example to stop pouring millions and millions of tons of grain into industrially reared livestock and to cut back the amount of meat we have in our diet. That would allow us to feed the world quite easily and would allow the problems Bill talks about to come to pass... This century we have [a] new challenge, how do we produce food for the world's population given that we have to reduce greenhouse gas emissions? The Government says there hasn't been any yield advantage from GM crops. Bill what disturbed me about your speculation to the media is you didn't quote recent scientific papers which looked at world agriculture and how we can increase production from world agriculture - two papers, both of which show that by converting all the world's production to organic, this would increase food production.'

Peter Melchett also spoke of agro/biofuels, saying that a 1% emission reduction is the most that can be achieved.

Listen to the interviews at

After today (18th April) the programme will be available via the 'Wednesday' archive for 7 days.
2.'Only intensive farming' will feed Britain
Organic agriculture 'will never meet demand'
Professor warns of soaring prices and shortages
David Adam, environment correspondent
The Guardian, April 18 2007,,2059591,00.html

Britain must continue to intensify its farming practices to meet soaring demand for cheap food and prevent shortages, a leading agricultural expert said yesterday. Demand for biofuels, booming economies of developing countries and climate change will put demand on food supplies that can only be met by intensive techniques, said Professor Bill McKelvey, head of the Scottish Agricultural College. Prices could soar and future generations in the UK may find they can no longer take plentiful food for granted.

At a London briefing, Prof McKelvey defended intensive techniques and said alternatives such as organic farming would not cope with predicted growth in population. 'There is a need to continue to intensify farming. Organic farming has a place but it will never feed the growing population of the world,' he said.

Media criticism of modern farming techniques after the bird flu outbreak at the Bernard Matthews turkey farm in Suffolk had been unfair, he said, adding that intensive farming protects the environment because it reduces the amount of land used for agriculture. Europe would also have to overcome its 'illogical' opposition to genetically modified crops to help boost yields, he said.

'In the UK, we are becoming less self-sufficient in food. I think it's possible in the next 25 to 50 years that there will be food shortages in the UK.' The proportion of average British family income spent on food might double from 10% to 20%, he said. The UK currently provides 60% of its own food, and imports were increasing, said Prof McKelvey, who advises industry and the government.

With world population forecast to grow from 6bn to 8.5bn in 50 years, he warned that countries such as New Zealand that export food to Britain were likely to switch attention to China and India. Food demand there is increasing sharply and meat consumption in China has doubled in the last decade. Prof McKelvey said the solution was farmers producing more food on the same amount of land. Wheat production increased four-fold in the last 50 years and in the next 50 years would probably have to rise by the same level again, despite a shortage of suitable land. 'There are only two ways to do that. We either take land from rain forests or we intensify existing farms. We will protect the wild environment by making better use of farms.'

Plant breeding - conventional and using genetic modification - was the best way to produce more food from the same amount of land. Although very little is grown commercially in Europe, millions of hectares of GM crops have been grown across the world in recent years.

'Europe is going to have to face up to using GM crops,' he said. Climate change is also expected to put pressure on food supplies, despite an initial boost in productivity for some crops.

Prof McKelvey said great swathes of agricultural land would be lost to desert, with the effects already felt in areas such as southern Spain. Bio-fuels, a suggested solution to global warming, could bring added problems for food production.

Patrick Holden of the Soil Association, which promotes organic farming, said 'business as usual' intensive farming would not be possible in future because of the fossil fuel costs and the greenhouse gas emissions associated with nitrogen fertilisers. Organic farming could equal and sometimes even exceed the yields of chemical intensive farming systems. 'The challenge that global agriculture confronts today is to research and develop these systems, because we are on the threshold of a post-fossil fuel era.'


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