Our Position on Genetically Modified Crops

Thursday 20th June 2013

Owen Paterson has this morning been promoting the use of Genetically Modified crops in the UK and claiming "The farmer benefits. The consumer benefits. The environment benefits." The Wildlife Trust for Birmingham and the Black Country would like to clarify their position on the issue.

As part of Wildlife and Countryside Link, we are signed up to a position on a sustainable and secure future for food production, which includes the following section on GM: 

"Agri-tech solutions to increasing food production, including genetic modification (GM ), should not be promoted at the expense of developing and implementing agro-ecological approaches.

GM technology is regularly championed as an essential tool in meeting the need to produce more to feed the growing global population. Biotechnology interests have used the food security argument to press governments to introduce less restrictive policies on the use of GM technology and streamlined approvals of GM crops. GM technology, accompanied by plant breeding techniques and intellectual property rights frameworks, tends towards selecting and developing a small number of crop varieties. This reduces the diversity in the genetic resource ‘library’ of crop traits. However, it is likely that such diversity will be essential in the future to cope with specific local conditions or future challenges, such as climate change. Additionally, there is also evidence that genes in GM crops can be transferred to wild relatives, which drives a concern that ‘superweeds’ can be formed by the hybridisation of GM herbicide resistant crops with their wild relatives.

The development of crop varieties that are able to respond to challenges such as drought or saline soils, or which confer nitrogen fixing ability to crops such as wheat, thus reducing the need for fertiliser, could help increase production by allowing production on currently unproductive land. However, such varieties are yet to reach the market. Furthermore, there are concerns that due to the cost of GM seed and associated agri-chemicals, GM technology is likely to be inappropriate for many farmers in developing countries who farm in low-cost, low input, small-scale agricultural systems. Agricultural research should address the need to increase crop yields in a sustainable way by developing innovations and technology appropriate to the scale and economic circumstances of these agricultural systems.

In conclusion, although in the future GM crops may play a role in helping meet the challenge of global food security, they are not a silver bullet and there are existing alternatives (such as changes to farming practices) which help to address this challenge whilst also providing multiple benefits at lower costs and with fewer risks."


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