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GM: taking views on food resilience

Date Published: 27/03/2017

GM: genetic modification

The debate around genetic modification (GM) of crops has resurfaced this week after Princess Anne said she believed the technology could bring important benefits to food production.

In an interview with BBC Radio 4’s Farming Today, the Princess Royal said the country had to accept that GM technology had ‘real benefits to offer’.

While genetic engineering would ‘maybe have an occasional downside’, she said she suspected those downsides would be few and far between, and as a result she’d be happy to use GM for crops and livestock on her own land.

Her views are dramatically at odds with her brother, the Prince of Wales, who has previously said that GM crops could cause an environmental disaster.

She does raise some points that are worth considering.

In the interview, Princess Anne went on to say that if the country was going to be “better at producing food of the right value”, then we have to accept that genetic technology is part of that.

To OF&G, justifying the use of GM to secure food supplies just isn’t an argument that stacks up.

Farming has to be resilient to climatic and economic shocks, and producing high yields of globally-traded commodities doesn’t address either of those issues.

What’s more, it’s incorrect to assume that GM results in bigger and better yields.

Analysis of the UN’s data on crop yields showed that in comparison to Europe, the United States and Canada where genetic modification has been widely adopted have “gained no discernible advantages” from their use of GM in terms of food per acre. While in the US herbicide use increased by 21% when over the same period in France, Europe’s biggest producer, they recorded a 36% drop.

For us, the answers lie in growing good quality, nutritious food that enhances the environment, reduces reliance on external inputs and addresses the challenges of food waste and human health.

Around 800 million people are chronically hungry, two billion are overweight including 600 million classified as obese and yet between 30% and 50% of the food we currently produce gets wasted – either at the farm, during processing, packing and distribution, at the supermarket or at home. At a European level, the UK is the worst culprit, as we have the highest level of food waste of all, so finding ways to address this issue is a priority.

At a farm level, much can be done to build more resilient and sustainable food production systems that will help British businesses capitalise on new opportunities.

We’ll be talking more about these challenges and opportunities at our 10th annual National Organic Combinable Crops event in Hampshire later this year (6 July), and we’d welcome any growers – whether organic or non-organic – to come along to learn more and share their experience and views.