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U.K.: Organic body warns government over GM implications on ag

A U.K. organic certifier has issued a warning to the British Government about the introduction of genetic modification to agriculture.

Roger Kerr, chief executive at Organic Farmers & Growers (OF&G), said GM could make U.K. farm businesses less profitable despite the perceived advantages.

“A recent Twitter poll suggested 77% of farmers would want to use GM technology if it was available," he said. The attributes they tend to find most attractive include better resistance to pests, disease and drought.

But, he says: "A survey at Countryfile Live showed many consumers are against the introduction of GM, which puts UK agriculture at odds with a significant proportion of its own consumers."

There are also economic and scientific issues to consider, he added.

“The economic issues with GM relate to scale and market access," he said. "If UK agriculture adopts GM then farmers will find they have to bring their costs of production in line with GM producers in the USA and China."

“UK agricultural output is equivalent to just a tenth of the USA’s and only 2% of Chinese agricultural output - the differences in scale are huge. And post-Brexit, we’ll be competing in global markets with some of the largest agricultural operations in the world."

Some EU markets may also not allow the entry GM products, he said.

“With the increase of GM, the whole of UK agriculture will be seen as GM with the level of adventitious contamination of non-GM increasing and in some cases being unavoidable," he said. 

This will have implications across the whole sector whether a farmer grows GM or not, he said. It will consequently create additional costs, not least with increased testing, impacting on producer returns, he added.


'Common fallacy' we need GM to produce more
“There’s a common fallacy that we need GM to produce more food so we can feed the growing world population, which is anticipated to be 9.7bn by 2050," he said.

Governments should instead focus on creating policies to avoid food waste, he said.

“Feeding the world is not an agricultural problem, it’s a political one," he said. "People shouldn’t be misled by believing we need to produce more food. The political focus should be on significant revenues lost from discarded food that should be flowing back to farms.”

Kerr went on to say the scientific and subsequent environmental implications of GM also need some serious thought.

“Post-Second World War, farmers were sold the message of efficiency and productivity through using chemistry," he said. "But are farmers achieving better profits as a result? Farms have certainly become bigger but not because of the economics of production - remove financial support and many farms would not survive.”

Environmental impacts
Highlighting the environmental impacts of GM, he says to feed the world, we need a world to feed. The impact of chemical inputs on pollinators and the rest of the ecosystem have been "significant".

“Yet with GM, we’re considering introducing insect and fungal resistant crops where potentially harmful genes could enter wild populations," he said.

"We must ask whether we fully understand the consequences of this both environmentally and economically. What will be the cost of additional field operations needed to dispose of plant residues resistant to breakdown? Ultimately GM will neither save money, benefit the environment or make life easier.”

Kerr explained independent research in controlled environments on the impacts of GM is essential. This must come before rolling out the science without fully understanding the risks involved, he added.

The introduction of GM could increase demand for organic in the short-term, he said. But there are "long-term economic and environmental implications" for U.K. agriculture; these need full consideration and modeling ahead of the government making any decision.


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