Farmers Turn to GM Crops in Face of Weather Extremes
British farmers are now looking to genetically modified crops as a way to safeguard against extreme weather, following a year which saw both prolonged droughts and record breaking rainfall.
2012 was the wettest year since records began for England and the second wettest for the UK overall, despite the fact that April saw water shortages leading to hosepipe bans effecting over 20 million people across the South East. As a result of the problems caused by the cold, wet summer, many farmers are prepared to use controversial methods to assure their yields.
According to Peter Kendall, the president of the National Farmers’ Union, developing GM technologies will be vital to keep abreast with the rest of the world. He said:
If the UK sets itself outside the global market then we would become fossilised into an old-fashioned way of farming. The majority of our members are aware of the real risk of becoming globally uncompetitive because of avoiding using GM […] If you could have something that was blight-resistant [which has had a large impact on growers of potatoes and tomatoes], that would be a huge improvement.
However, despite widespread support amongst farmers for using genetic modifications to make more resistant crop varieties, various environmental groups are against the technology. Peter Melchett, policy director at the Soil Association, for instance, argues:
Our weather is becoming more unpredictable and more extreme so farming needs crops with general resilience – you can’t know when you plant whether the crop will face too much rain or severe drought […] GM delivers specific, narrow traits. Organic and agro-ecological systems deliver generally more resilient farming.
Others argue that the way forward is to encourage more sustainable diets rather than altering our foodstuffs, be it by natural means or otherwise. Clare Oxborrow of Friends of the Earth claims:
We must switch to more sustainable diets globally, including reducing meat consumption in wealthy nations and an end to food crops being used for biofuels
Regardless of the points being made on either side of the debate, it is likely to be the tastes of consumers that will ultimately determine whether or not we see a surge in the production of GM food. According to Andrew Opie, food director of the British Retail Consortium:
Consumers drive the supply chain so unless there is a change in consumer demand there are no implications apart from ensuring there is sufficient supply of non-GM commodities around the world. If retailers did ever stock GM products they would need to be labelled, allowing shoppers to make a clear choice.
Retailers themselves have given much stronger signals that GM food is not about to become more common place, with a spokesman for Waitrose saying:
Our position is straightforward: we don’t allow the use of any GM ingredients in our own-brand food and our customers aren’t asking us to stock them.
Green Steve’s Reaction
I hope this story and others like it will make people sit up and realise that climate change is already happening for us here in the UK and that GM foods on supermarket shelves may be the result.
As with many things, it will come down to money and if GM produce is cheaper then families on tight budgets might be forced into buying it. Much like the free range versus battery chicken argument, it’s not that people want to buy the latter, it’s just that they cannot afford to go free range.
The whole GM debate is huge and I’m not personally aware of all of the arguments for and against but I’d say the public will need a lot of persuading that eating GM food is safe. I’d also have to be convinced, and I suggest you should too, that the yields will be significantly better with GM crops because if this isn’t shown in repeated trials, why bother?
We also need to look once again at food waste and what we can all do to reduce it as this would help bring supply and demand into balance once again without the need for GM crops.
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