GM seeds of discontent (18/9/2007)

Letters in today's Guardian responding to 'Return of GM: ministers back moves to grow crops in the UK', (Guardian, September 17).

Letters from:
*Clare Oxborrow, Friends of the Earth
*Dr Mark Avery, Director of Conservation, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds
*Hilary Benn MP, Secretary of state, Defra
*Pete Riley, GM Freeze
*Simon Fairlie

GM seeds of discontent
Letters, The Guardian, September 18 2007,,2171300,00.html?gusrc=rss&feed=science

The government should take a close look at the how poorly GM crops have performed before getting into bed with the biotech industry and the NFU. The GM industry is no closer to tackling the urgent challenges facing the environment than it was 10 years ago. Having failed to convince the public to accept GM in our food, the industry is now turning to concerns over climate change to launch a new PR offensive. But this is still the same industry dominated by a few global players, like Monsanto, that after 30 years of research has produced only a handful of commodity crops, which are used for animal feed. Since the introduction of GM crops, pesticide use in the US has increased after resistant weeds have emerged, Monsanto has sued farmers when their crops have been found to contain the company's patented traits, and GM contamination of our food is increasing.

Instead of backing this risky technology, the government should promote safe and sustainable farming methods, such as organic and locally produced food. And we should ensure that communities around the world have access to land where they can grow food, and that diversity in seeds is maintained so that crops adapted to changing local environmental conditions can continue to be developed.

Clare Oxborrow
GM campaigner, Friends of the Earth

The government's farm-scale trials proved that three out of four GM crops tested harmed UK wildlife, backing the fears of the RSPB and others. The fourth crop produced marginal benefits but part of this test used a powerful herbicide that is now banned. New seeds must be tested individually and, while a blight-resistant potato might not harm wildlife, other GM crops may still do so.

Dr Mark Avery
Director of Conservation, RSPB

I would like to make it clear that there is no change in the government's position on GM crops. Our policy has always been that the sensible approach is to consider GM crops on a case-by-case basis provided the evidence shows that they are safe for human health and the environment. Any proposed crop would go through a detailed risk assessment involving careful scrutiny by independent scientists.

Our GM policy remains precautionary, evidence-based and sensitive to public concerns, and our priority is safeguarding health and the environment. That's why we have strict controls. Ultimately it will be for farmers and consumers to decide whether they want GM products.

Hilary Benn MP
Secretary of state, Defra

It is extremely worrying that an anonymous minister is backing GM biofuel crops when world grain reserves have reached their lowest point for 50 years, partly because of the "biofuels rush" generated by George Bush's plans to reduce US dependency on foreign oil imports. Ministerial backing for GM, based on claims that the biotech industry can produce crops to cope with all kinds of environmental stress, is also misplaced. Recent unpredictable weather in Africa and the UK illustrates the problems of second-guessing growing conditions - should drought-tolerant or flood-tolerant crops be planted?

In fact, dependency on GM seeds with their limited genetic diversity would be foolish. Instead, government ministers should be giving more backing to plant-breeding programmes aimed at producing seeds with a broader genetic base which are more capable of adapting to whatever nature throws at them.

Pete Riley
Campaign director, GM Freeze

Julian Little of the Agricultural Biotechnology Council asks why on earth we in the UK would not be interested in GM crops when millions of farmers around the world are growing them.

Instead of following the crowd, Britain would do better economically to produce GM-free foods and landscapes, which not only would be in high demand, but would also provide a "control" for all those scientists who enjoy experimenting with nature.

Simon Fairlie
South Petherton, Somerset


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