Last week our Prime Minister’s office issued an “independent report” calling for the UK to override EU regulations and start growing GM crops in the UK. What we were not told was that all of its authors had close links with the GM industry, as seen in the national press since the report’s release.
Even though I took the government to the High Court in the 1990s to challenge the legality of GM crop trials bordering our farm, I am not a Luddite. We have made such a mess of our planet that we need to harness science in the search for sustainable co-existence, but we must acknowledge how much we don’t know and that the most important science is the least understood; namely ecology.
Were Monsanto or Syngenta to come up with a perennial, nitrogen-fixing wheat, maize or rice, I would find it hard to argue against it. Yet after 30 years the GM industry has failed to deliver any substantial benefit. The debate doesn’t seem to have moved on and this report isn’t going to help, whatever its true motivations.
I remain marginally anti-GM, though mainly for sociopolitical reasons. Firstly I don’t like the world’s food supply being controlled by a small number of global corporations (Syngenta, Monsanto and DuPont already control 47% of the global seed market); I also lament the continued loss of nutrition, food culture, and the autonomy of small scale farmers that accompanies the drive towards globally traded monocultures.
In Uganda, where 30% of calories are consumed as bananas, a wilt resistant GM variety was widely promoted as an example of how GM could feed the world. According to the farmers I spoke to it was inedible; another case of hyperbole before reality. In the meantime simply better agricultural practices could increase output many-fold and farmers have found other means of living with wilt. Watch our film on my recent Uganda trip here to see how giving farmers independence rather than introducing dependence on GM and agri-chemicals is what is driving positive change.