"It is now time to embrace GM technology"
"Consider," he tells us, "the issue of animal feeds. These are based on crops such as maize and soya, whose costs are now rising dramatically. Crucially, though, the prices of GM soya and maize are set to rise more slowly than those of traditionally grown varieties. Failure to use GM maize and soya will therefore have a straightforward impact on meat and poultry costs: their prices will rise unnecessarily."
But in a special report on GM and the food crisis for Newsnight (BBC2, 19 June 2008), Susan Watts, the Science Editor of the BBC's flagship current affairs programme, rubbished the claim that GM crops are vital to the attempt to cut spiralling food prices and specifically that the EU speeding up GM approvals could reduce the cost of importing animal feed.
Watts noted that in the price-inflationary 12 months from May 07 to May 08 prices rose as follows on the world market:
Feed barley (100% non-GM) - 43%
Maize gluten (about 25% GM) - 72%
Argentinian soya meal (100% GM) - 110%
Argentinian soya meal has full approval for import to the EU. See also the analysis in the important briefing on GM animal feeds from GM Freeze.
Of course, McKie doesn't base himself on the past, which can be measured, but on a future prediction:
"...the prices of GM soya and maize are set to rise more slowly than those of traditionally grown varieties".
But there are reports from both Brazil and the United States of farmers turning their backs on GM soya because it is *more* expensive to grow thanks to higher input prices. Dr David Wright, Director of Research for the North Central Soybean Research Program (NCSRP) reports, "We've been hearing about farmers returning to conventional soybean varieties in 2009 to lower input costs and take advantage of overseas demand for non-GMO beans."
And GM maize seed prices have been going through the roof. At a July 2008 meeting, Monsanto officials announced plans to raise the average price of some of the company's GM maize varieties by as much as 35 percent!
Fred Stokes of the U.S.-based Organization for Competitive Markets (OCM) described the impact on U.S. farmers: "A $100 price increase is a tremendous drain on rural America. Let's say a farmer in Iowa who farms 1,000 acres plants one of these expensive corn varieties next year. The gross increased cost is more than $40,000."
Monsanto, of course, was able to increase its prices so much because of the "biofuel" boom. It is, of course, the massively subsidised demand for "biofuels" that sent feed prices soaring in the last two years as fuel began competing with food for cropland, as the World Bank among others have noted.
If McKie really wanted to help farmers facing rising animal feed prices, he'd call for an end to these agrofuels, which are environmentally highly damaging as well as massively price inflationary. Instead he wants us to embrace the world of Monsanto who's increasing monopoly control of the seed industry assists it in getting away with its massive price hikes.
It is now time to embrace GM technology
Robin McKie, science editor
The Observer, 1 February 2009
For more than a decade, Britain has turned its back on the cultivation of genetically modified crops. A climate of farmyard fear, established by eco-warriors who have trashed crop trials and campaigned to have GM products banned from stores, has ensured that a valuable technology - used widely in many other countries, including the US - has been blocked.
Now we are facing the consequences. Food production costs are set to soar in Britain, largely because techniques that could curb those rises are being shunned thanks to the behaviour of activists who claim, without proof, that GM crops will damage the environment.
We need to be clear about this vitally important issue. Britain must rethink its attitude to GM crops and prepare for their introduction as a matter of urgency. They are not a panacea for our impending food crisis, but they do have a significant role to play in alleviating many of the problems that lie ahead for us.
Consider the issue of animal feeds. These are based on crops such as maize and soya, whose costs are now rising dramatically. Crucially, though, the prices of GM soya and maize are set to rise more slowly than those of traditionally grown varieties. Failure to use GM maize and soya will therefore have a straightforward impact on meat and poultry costs: their prices will rise unnecessarily.
At present, most GM technologies are limited to those that help plants resist powerful herbicides. The chemicals can then be used with relative impunity because they will kill weeds but not affect modified crops. However, new types of GM crops are already being developed that promise to bring even greater benefits. Plants that can resist attacks from pests and viruses fall into this category and are likely to be ready for commercial growing in a few years. Again, these offer the prospect of cutting food production costs by reducing crop waste.
Finally, there are those GM crops, still in relatively early stages of research and development, that will introduce specific health benefits for consumers. An example is provided by scientists at the John Innes Centre in Norwich, who have created purple tomatoes - by modifying them with genes from snapdragon flowers - that are rich in antioxidants and which, in tests on mice, were shown to give protection against cancer.
Less than a decade ago, Sir Robert May - then the government's chief scientific adviser - remarked that people who opposed the growing of GM crops display "the attitude of a privileged elite who think there will be no problem feeding tomorrow's growing population". The wisdom of those words has become apparent in a frighteningly short time.