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GM crops in the UK: dissension among the royals

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There is much disagreement in Britain about the benefits and disadvantages of genetic engineering in agriculture. Advocates of GM seem prepared to 'see what happens'. Opponents regard it as a failed experiment. They prefer to rely on sustainable agriculture and reducing food waste. 

BBC interview

Organic Farmers and Growers Ltd (OF&G) reported that in a recent interview on BBC Radio's Farming Today Princess Anne added to the controversy about GM crops in the UK by saying the country had to accept that GM technology could bring real benefits to food production. She conceded that genetic engineering might occasionally have a downside but said she would be happy to have GM animals and crops on her land. To say we must not embrace GM 'just in case' is for her 'probably not a practical argument'. Princess Anne went on to say that if the country was going to be better at producing food of the right value, then we have to accept genetic technology.

A different view

Applying the precautionary principle, her brother, the Prince of Wales, disagrees profoundly with her. In his opinion GM crops could be an unmitigated  environmental disaster. The successful opposition to GM that he represents could, however, be short-lived: the government has said it is open to re-examining its position on GM crops after Brexit.

The idea of GM to secure food supplies is anathema to OF&G, one of the UK's leading organic certifiers. In their view, farming has to be resilient to climatic and economic shocks, and producing high yields of globally-traded commodities doesn’t address either of those issues. The answer for OF&G is obvious: sustainably grow good quality food that enhances the environment, reduces reliance on external inputs and addresses the challenges of food waste and human health.

For OF&G much can be done at farm level to build more resilient and sustainable food production systems. The company will be talking about these challenges and opportunities at their 10th annual National Organic Combinable Crops event in Hampshire later this year (6 July) to which organic and non-organic growers are invited.

The evidence against GM

What underlies the way many people judge GM is the misconception that GM results in bigger and better yields. The evidence that proves this is not the case lies in the UN’s data on crop yields: the United States and Canada, where genetic modification has been widely adopted, have “gained no discernible advantages” from their use of GM in terms of food per acre when compared with Europe. GM technology is shown to have fallen short of its promise. Concurrently, the US has seen a 21% rise in the use of herbicides whereas in France, for example, a decrease of 36%  was recorded.

Around 800 million people are chronically hungry, a huge number of people are overweight and obese and yet between 30% and 50% of the food we currently produce gets wasted as it goes through the stages of production, processing, packing, distribution and at the supermarket or at home. The UK is the worst offender in Europe.


Great Britain

Genetic Engineering

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