OF&G chief response to GM report on BBC Farming Today

18th September 2019

Why would UK agriculture want to exclude 6 out of 10 consumers?

On BBC Farming Today earlier this week, Bayer’s Mark Buckingham stated that genetic modification (GM) produces higher yields with less inputs.

He also said it’s extremely popular and successful, and has a lower environmental impact with 8% less pesticides used globally on GM crops, which he said is equivalent to 16 million less cars on the road.

The reality is, a report from the National Academy of Sciences suggests over the last 20 years there was little evidence of yield increase beyond that seen in conventional crops.

And a recent YouGov survey for the Agricultural Biotechnology Council, of which Mr Buckingham is chairman, showed 57% of people rejected GM. So, why would UK agriculture want to exclude almost 6 out of 10 consumers?

Also, a United States Geographical Survey showed that following the introduction of herbicide resistant GM there was a 33% reduction in fungicides and insecticides, but a 21% increase in herbicides. Over the same period in the EU, where GM is not allowed, insecticide and fungicide use fell by 65% and herbicide use by 36%.

Mr Buckingham claimed the use of GM was equivalent to removing 16 million cars worldwide but with global organic land area at almost 70 million hectares, the reduction in tractor passes from not using fertiliser or pesticides (using his methodology) would be equivalent to 1.7 billion cars worldwide, not to mention the greenhouse gas emissions savings that arise from the manufacture of artificial nitrogen.

Not searching for a silver bullet

The challenges that face the food system are complex and a ’silver bullet’ like GM is not the answer. As NFU president Minette Batters has stated, “the conversation must be around a healthy, balanced diet and climate friendly food, not searching for a silver bullet.”

The implications of GM economically, agronomically, environmentally and in terms of public health are all currently unavailable for independent peer reviewed analysis.

Why would organic farmers adopt such a technology when it’s simply input substitution where chemicals are substituted for genes (from chemical companies who now own the intellectual property for the genes)?

It doesn’t avoid the use of chemicals or artificial fertiliser.

GM is effectively ‘business as usual’ with the substitution of one input for another - something which everyone (including the UN and the IPCC) agree is no longer an option.