Whether we like it or not, the Government says that we must accept the necessity of genetically modified crops to fuel, feed and heal the world. Leading academics, researchers and campaigners in the GM arena address the science and the spin of the GM ’solution’, as well as looking at alternatives that are already contributing to a sustainable farming future.
In 1997, genetically modified (GM) oilseed rape was a pen’s stroke away from being approved for commercial cultivation in the UK. The following years saw massive public protest across the country, large-scale publicly-funded environmental trials and an official Government debate.
By the end of 2005, the Government seemed to have given up on GM crops and the industry had stopped pushing for commercialisation, but in recent months proponents of GM have become more vocal in arguing for GM crops, particularly associating them with an ability to solve the global food crisis. To understand this apparent turnaround, it is worth revisiting some of the key events of those years.
Back in 1996, the first GM soya shipments arrived from the US. Within months, as much as 60 per cent of processed food on sale in the UK was thought to contain some GM soya. There was little publicity and no consultation. Since 1989, a growing number of field trials for GM crops had been taking place, many involving herbicide-tolerant crops.
GM-herbicide tolerant crops have had a gene inserted that enables the plants to withstand the application of a ‘broad-spectrum’ herbicide, such as Monsanto’s Roundup. These herbicides kill off every plant in the field except the GM crop engineered to resist them. Over-reliance on Roundup with regard to GM crops in America and Argentina has, over the years, resulted in resistant weeds emerging, with the knock on effect that farmers have had to use more, and more damaging, weedkillers.
By the late 1990s, varieties of GM herbicide-tolerant oilseed rape were completing National Seed List trials to determine whether they would be suitable for UK farmers. On 19 March 1997, the Government’s advisory committee for GMOs (genetically modified organisms) stated that the cultivation of GM herbicide-tolerant oilseed rape line MS8xRF3 did ‘not pose a risk in terms of human health and environmental safety for the UK,’ and it had no objection to the product being placed on the market. The UK looked set to have its first commercial GM crops for the 1998 planting season.
To read the rest of the article take a look at the November issue of the Ecologist magazine