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More worrying signs on GM co-existence

Date Published: 16/12/2010

Since the debate over the use of genetically modified crop varieties in our countryside began, OF&G has urged close attention to the practicalities.

This is an organic crop. Obviously we'd like it to stay that way...

It’s easy to accuse the organic sector of having Luddite tendencies with regard to GM, but there are very real concerns about how (indeed, if) you can stop GMOs from contaminating everything around them. And if they do, who is going to be responsible to the organic farmer who can no longer sell his produce as organic?

Common sense, fair play, call it what you will, says the polluter should pay because contamination certainly wasn’t the fault of the contaminated. It’s entirely out of their hands and they, and the livelihood of their families, can become victims overnight. Unfortunately when this argument is raised you will hear very few sympathetic sounds from the policy makers.

In one of those moments that truly makes your heart sink, we see this story from Western Australia about farmer, Steve Marsh, who has had this very thing happen to him. Bang; there goes his organic certification. No doubt the certifier hated doing this, but it had no choice.

If history is anything to go by, this could be only the start of his troubles if the company that owns the patent to the GM seed involved decides he has to pay up for having its product on his land. Sounds far-fetched? It’s not.

Steve Marsh’s case is far from being the first. There are many around the world. The only reason we don’t yet have issues in the UK is because public sentiment has held the widespread approval of GM crops at bay.

Of course it’s one thing to tell a pollster that you don’t much like the idea of GM crops and quite another to actually put pressure on your MP and ministers to take seriously the need to ensure that our entire food chain is not contaminated with privately owned seed strains that could put an end to organic farming (and even non-GM farming) as we know it.

It would be great to think that as a mature democracy we will have a wide and open debate about the future of GM in our countryside. It’s doubtful that many people will be holding their breath for that though.