Why Owen Paterson is wrong to back GM crops

It was back in 1999 that GM crops burst onto the farming scene — and into the public conscience —- with herbicide tolerant plants and insecticide producing plants and the promise of much more to come in the near future.

For example we farmers were promised the imminent commercialisation of GM crops with:

  • Disease resistance
  • Enhanced breadmaking/malting/ processing traits
  • Enhanced nutritional traits
  • Drought and Flood tolerance
  • Saline tolerance
  • Nitrogen fixing cereals

We farmers were promised a future of GM crops that would make our lives easier and make farming more profitable whilst guaranteeing food security for all.

And this vision of a GM future was endorsed by Presidents and Prime ministers; by the CEOs of agrochemical and plants breeding companies; and enthusiastically endorsed by our farming leaders.

So in 2013 where are we now?

There are no GM plants being grown on British farms. Where herbicide tolerant crops have been adopted weeds quickly gained resistance to glyphosate; where the Bt insecticide trait has been used pests have quickly developed resistance to the trait;  in both cases farmers now have an additional and costly burden to manage.

After all the time, money and expertise invested in GM  what happen to the promise of disease resistance; drought tolerance; flood tolerance; saline tolerance; nitrogen fixation; yield increase and food security for all?

You will find very few GM plants anywhere in the world exhibiting those traits —and even fewer on farms

BUT, after all the hype and empty rhetoric in support of GM crops, conventional plant breeding has been quietly delivering the advances we farmers need:

  • Conventionally bred blight tolerant potatoes
  • Conventionally bred OSR that is tolerant of a new range of herbicides
  • Conventionally bred plants with improved disease resistance
  • Conventionally bred plants with enhanced nutritional and processing traits
  • NIAB’s conventionally bred synthetic wheat project that has demonstrated a 30% yield increase

Further afield:

  • Conventionally bred Scuba rice that can tolerant 14 days under water
  • Conventionally bred maize that is drought tolerant – 30 varieties in the USA alone
  • Conventionally bred virus resistant sweet potato
  • Conventionally bred saline tolerant wheat
  • Conventionally bred vitamin A enhanced wheat and sweet potato

And the list goes on – but hopefully you are getting the message.

The uncomfortable truth is that GM is failing on its promise whilst enhanced conventional breeding is delivering for farmers and wider society.

We need our politicians, farming leaders and levy bodies to recognise that GM is failing; we need them to stop their irrational and unquestioning support for all things GM.

We need them to get behind the researchers and organisations working on conventional breeding techniques that are delivering for farmers; that are  meeting the needs of the marketplace; that are addressing the legitimate environmental and social concerns of wider society; and offer a route to genuine food security for all.

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