Pro-GM lobbyist misleads parliamentary committee
The piece was supposedly about the 60% decline in UK biodiversity reported by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation & Development (OECD), but Farming Today chose to headline the suggestion that GM crops would "help Nature" given the "significant environmental benefits of the GM field trials".
This was based on no more than the pro-GM ultra-industry-friendly vice president of the NFU, Paul Temple, responding to a passing question from the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee, who were enquiring into the broader issues around the UK's biodiversity decline, "Are GMs a threat to biodiversity?"
Temple claimed there were "significant benefits".
And the NFU's Vice President justified that answer as follows:
"I took part in the Field Scale Evaluation Trials – what fascinated me was the significant environmental benefits they actually offered, because whenever I took visitors to the site and put them in the middle of a field during the winter, invariably they got the two halves mixed up, and one was a herbicide trial. They looked at the side that was oil seed rape that was full of weeds that provided over winter feed for various animals, and then they looked at the side that was immaculately clean and only had oil seed rape, and in their mind they said the clean side is the GM side, the side with weeds that's the good side. I thought that was particularly telling that that was the sort of thought process of people who had never been actually involved in it."
This is an outrageously misleading answer from someone who claims to be science led in his opinions, because the results of the very trials that Temple is referring to showed that it was the GM oilseed rape he was growing that was worse for biodiversity!!!
Of the crops tested in the farm scale evaluations only GM maize emerged as better for biodiversity than the conventional crop, and even that result was problematic as the conventional maize farmers were treating weeds with atrazine – a herbicide banned in the EU shortly afterwards because of its problematic effects.
It's also the case – since Paul Temple seems so keen on anecdotal evidence – that there were repeted reports from observers of the pro-GM farmers involved in the trials deliberately allowing weed growth in the GM part of the trial in order to try and provide the GM crop with a better biodiversity profile. If this is the case, then the potential damage to biodiversity from GM oilseed rape will be even higher than that shown by the results of the trials.
Farming Today pursued the GM question with the Environmental Audit Committee's chair, Tim Yeo. His response was:
"I don't think the evidence is conclusive yet re: claimed benefits. I remain puzzled by the keenness of farmers to grow GM crops when there doesn't appear to be a great consumer demand for food which contains GM ingredients.
There's a danger here that farmers are falling back into their old ways of thinking they are producers, but they are also in the marketing business and if you ignore what the market's looking for you'll do yourself an awful lot of harm.
"There appears to be quite a significant body of consumers, as reflected in what the supermarkets in this country are asking for, who would like food free from GM ingredients. And that given what the same witness said (Paul Temple) that most countries abroad can no longer produce such types of food that would give them (farmers) a terrific advantage if for the time being at least they continued following a GM free policy in this country."
Listen again (18 June)