GM is not an alternative to good husbandry practices

Good practice and Integrated Farm Management are important regardless of GM technology

Good practice and Integrated Farm Management are important regardless of GM technology

This morning, UK Environment Secretary Owen Paterson, gave a keynote speech on the subject of GM (Genetic Modification) at Rothamsted Research in Harpenden, Hertfordshire.  Mr Paterson said, “GM has already been used to make crops that can resist attack from specific insect pests or plant diseases.  Other traits are being developed, including using scientific expertise here in the UK.

“We cannot expect to feed tomorrow’s population with yesterday’s agriculture.  We have to use every tool at our disposal.”

At LEAF, we recognise the importance of innovation and technology, including modern biotechnology and developments such as GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms). The potential benefits to farmers and consumers need to be clearly identified and weighed against the possible risks.  Risk management is paramount to the decisions being made and as the jury is still out; LEAF will continue to monitor developments.  However, there are several areas that cannot be neglected.

One of these is the need for more research into GM technology.  We need to be able to establish the development of plants that have greater resistance to pests and diseases, more resilience to adverse environments and develop the nutrition value of crops.

Added to this is the importance of beneficial husbandry practices and Integrated Farm Management.  Rotations, safe use of inputs, cultivation choice, variety choice, good record keeping and management systems such as those advocated by LEAF are essential.  GM will never be an alternative to these practices, it has the potential to be one of the tools in the box.

There is a need for rational debate on GM, bringing together researchers, farmers and consumers. At our annual President’s Event in 2011, we brought together Prof Sir David Baulcombe, FRS and Andrew Burgess, Agricultural Director of Produce World, to openly discuss plant genetics and opportunities in agriculture. You can see this discussion in the video below.

Our full position on GMO’s can be found on our website here.

What are your thoughts on GM technology? What are the big questions yet to be answered? Please give us your views in the comments section below.

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4 responses to “GM is not an alternative to good husbandry practices

  1. Dear Tom and LEAF,

    While your response to the Environment Secretary can be read as commendably cautious and in defense of sustainable food production, I’m afraid that’s not how a politician will read the words, and others may be left uncertain or even worried by them. By not in any way discouraging the headlong rush towards the American model of biodiversity-destroying monocultures and extreme centralization through the patenting of life, your response may I believe be unwittingly helping to bring about a future which you probably do not support. Your position statement on GMOs is clearer, but it still does not convey the magnitude of the risk to our future. Biodiversity is not even mentioned.

    The dangerous situation we face merits stronger, less ambiguous words which all readers can clearly see are not supportive of measures that are incompatible with DEFRA’s legal duty to enhance the environment and biodiversity. Ref. p.30 PDF at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/government-ministers-and-responsibilities dated 20 Nov 2012.

    Biodiversity correlates directly with our health and survival, and once lost it is lost forever. Unless we protect it explicitly right now, the future will be grim at best.

  2. Thank you for your comment Morgaine and your considered views.

    We promote Integrated Farm Management and see GM as no alternative to it and good husbandry practices. To be clearer about what we mean by this, GM cannot replace the need to farm sustainably. There is potential for GM to be one of the ‘tools in the box’ for sustainable agriculture, but more research is required.

    I hope this clarifies our position. We haven’t mentioned biodiversity specifically, however, biodiversity is of great importance to sustainable agriculture and as mentioned above, GM cannot replace the need to farm sustainably.

  3. Thank you for your reply, Tom.

    “GM cannot replace the need to farm sustainably” … but that is EXACTLY what it has done and continues to do in practice in the American model, through massive use of its accompanying broad-spectrum herbicides, through its near total focus on monocultures, and through the unavoidable soil erosion and pollution of water resources by fertilizer and pesticides that is part and parcel of that agricultural practice.

    I suspect that I did not make myself clear in yesterday’s comment. I’ll try to be more explicit.

    “Cannot replace” is ambiguous. It can mean “Must not be allowed to replace”, and it can mean “Offers no danger of replacing”. This is a dangerous ambiguity, because the first is a counter while the second is an endorsement, and people will naturally pick the interpretation they prefer. What’s more, your very strong GM-supporting statements like “we recognise the importance of innovation and technology, including modern biotechnology and developments such as GMOs” may even encourage the second interpretation. (Note that I too strongly support innovation and technology, but not where it causes widespread destruction of the biosphere.)

    Even if it had no ambiguity, “cannot replace” is too weak a message to be sending given the severity of what has already happened to almost a whole continent. It has already replaced and eradicated sustainability there, and it will do so here as well unless clearly blocked. Diplomacy is fine when there is not much at stake, but here our entire future is being placed in jeopardy, and a weak message will not in any way discourage the plans that are in motion.

    Lastly, I recommend that you give strong prominence to biodiversity, because it is an effective proxy for the health of the environment, and because its enhancement is a legal duty on DEFRA and hence it is not easy to dismiss. It can be measured, and any plans that involve massive use of broad-spectrum pesticides or GM crops that reduce diversity can be immediately identified as being in conflict with the goals. That makes biodiversity a strong weapon in your armory, more than being just one component of sustainability.

    I hope you understand what I’ve tried to convey. A clear, unambiguous and strong message is, I believe, warranted and important. There is room for improvement for the message to be effective.

    • Hello again, Morgaine.

      Thank you for putting your thoughts to us, we very much appreciate it. We will be updating our policy on GM in the coming months so I will pass on your comments to our policy group.

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