Stuart Agnew MEP is the UK Independence Party MEP representing the East of England. He is a farmer and lives in Norfolk. Stuart is a member of the European Parliament’s Agriculture & Rural Development Committee, where he is often a lone voice in speaking up for British farmers and trying to make the Committee understand the practical effects of their proposals on farmers, in the real world. He also regularly attends meetings of the Parliament’s Constitutional Affairs Committee, where he is reserve Committee Member. He has also recently taken over from Nigel Farage MEP, as a member of the Fisheries Committee.
I took part in the GM trials twelve years ago, mainly as a reaction to the intimidation being experienced by other farmers who had volunteered to make land available for trials. Some of this involved threats to children. I was most impressed with the technology, witnessing not only good weed control but the added benefits of resistance to wind erosion and a better environment for wildlife.
So, what are the objections of the ‘antis’?
1) “There is a risk of cross-pollination for up to six miles”
Certified seed is multiplied up on farms and there is a substantial financial consequence if cross-pollination occurs. Through years of experience we have established that: –
For cereals, peas and potatoes only a 2 metre gap is required to stop cross-pollination.
Beans – 100 metres.
Oilseed Rape – 500 metres.
All of these distances are greatly in excess of the bare minimum.
2) “GM will allow large corporations to take over agriculture”
This has, in fact, already occurred with just four companies dominating non-GM seed, four dominating pesticides, four dominating fertiliser and four dominating tractor sales.
3) “Farmers will be imprisoned by high seed royalty payments”
Seed is the one input that farmers can reliably produce for themselves. If they use an old variety where the patent has expired, they have no financial obligations to seed breeders at all.
4) “GM crops are an excuse for multi-national companies to exploit 3rd world farmers”
The use of GM crops has made life far easier for 3rd world farmers. The difficulties of storing and applying unpleasant insecticides (purchased from multi-nationals) reliably and frequently to remove aphids that transmit disease, are now redundant. These insecticides would also kill innocent and beneficial insects. Planting a variety of maize that has it’s own inbuilt (species specific) insecticide or insect repellant is a big step forward.
5) “GM crops will contaminate neighbouring organic crops, destroying their integrity”
People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. Organic farmers have more difficulty in controlling the following problems, all of which can spread to neighbours.
Stinking Bunt (Wheat)
Loose Smut (Barley)
Creeping Thistle (General Weed)
6) “GM crops offer no benefit to the consumer”
Heavy reliance on rice in South East Asia, which is critically short of Vitamin A, results in babies being born blind. GM technology has fortified a variety of rice with Vitamin A (Golden Rice).
Omega oils can now be incorporated into edible grains, meaning that fish are no longer the only source.
7) “GM food is unhealthy”
All GM products have been tested to exactly the same standard as non-GM. At least three medicinal products are now synthesised using GM technology.
8) “I will not eat GM food even if it is available”
You already are! Eggs, bacon, sausages ,ham, beef, milk, rice, farmed salmon and chicken have varying degrees of likelihood of containing GM ingredients and varying concentrations of GM within them. Imported chicken could be described as ‘pure GM’. It is highly popular on the supermarket shelves.
The debate about this whole subject reminds me of the old ‘Horse v Tractor’ arguments. The crunch point came with the arrival of hydraulics on the Ferguson T 20. The horse fraternity had no answer to that and I believe that a ‘T 20’ moment will arrive in the GM debate; either with the control of potato blight, or control of blackgrass (annual weed).
For those who are convinced anti-GMites, the EU is your very best friend. They have done everything they can to prevent this technology being used in agriculture, for example, farmers who grew GM soya beans in Romania and Bulgaria were banned from doing so once those countries joined the EU. They reverted to non-GM, were unable to farm them successfully and they virtually abandoned the crop. Romania and Bulgaria now import GM soya beans from Brazil.
The EU has deliberately slowed its approval process of new GM varieties to the extent that it is now so slow and expensive to gain approval that, in effect, nothing is approved.
The EU had a zero-tolerance policy on GM admixture in non-GM cargoes. This went as far as condemning a 60,000 tonne cargo of GM soya beans on the strength of one GM grain of maize. This boat was therefore unable to unload its cargo anywhere in the EU and was obliged to travel back across the Atlantic, through the Panama canal and up through the north east Pacific to unload in China. The Green lobby should take note of this waste of fuel.