Do we need the Rothamsted GM wheat trial?
Do we need the Rothamsted GM wheat trial?
Peter Riley: No
Campaign director, GM Freeze
The disconnection between the UK's farmers and scientists has never been better illustrated than Rothamsted's decision to conduct a GM wheat trial.
Communications between working farmers and publicly funded scientists appears to be minimal. Even with such a dialogue, the means by which the results of research could be applied in the field disappeared when ADAS's free service was lost.
Taxpayers have no voice in determining the direction of agricultural R&D, including the loss of valuable research centres where basic agronomic research was carried out.
This lack of communication means that decisions about how to spend very limited public money are made by a relatively narrow mindset, more preoccupied with the technology than its application or need. The promotion of "sustainable intensification" seems to have been accepted with the same political nativity that gave us unregulated banking.
It is easy to see how a GM trial for a crop for which there is no demand from farmers and for which no market exists could happen. Previous GM wheat trials at Rothamsted included herbicide tolerance (HT). But looking at the rapid spread of glyphosate resistance weeds in the US since 2000 suggests the block on HT crops here has turned out to be a good thing.
The same fate could await the aphid-repellent GM spring wheat that is irrelevant to the needs of farmers and consumers.
Recognising this blind alley should lead to a reassessment of R&D priorities so the farmers' real needs, such as traditional plant breeding using marker assisted selection, maintaining soil fertility without having a negative impact on climate change and pollution and developing a sustainable balance of cultural, biological, mechanical and chemical techniques.
Public investment in GM research has produced very few economic benefits for British farmers in the last 20 years. It is high time we reassessed our R&D priorities and if farmers are to have the tools they require to address the twin challenge of feeding increased population from diminishing resources.
Julian Little: Yes:
Dr Julian Little
Chairman of the Agricultural Biotechnology Council
Last year, more than 16 million farmers around the world grew GM crops on 160 million ha – an area larger than France, Spain, Germany and Portugal combined – making it one of the most successful and rapidly adopted agricultural technologies ever developed.
They have chosen to use the technology because it offers the significant benefits of increased yields and reduced inputs such as pesticides and fuel.
If GM were used in Europe, the estimated economic benefits would exceed â‚¬400m per year, with permanent reductions in carbon emissions from agriculture of 11kg CO2/ha; benefits which the UK is missing out on. Research institutes like Rothamsted are now working on the next generation of GM crops, which could offer consumers products with nutritional health benefits, or crops more resilient to our changing climate.
Biotechnology is not a silver bullet, but it can complement advanced conventional breeding techniques and better agronomic practices. It is another tool which UK farmers should be able to use to cut carbon emissions, conserve precious resources like water, protect biodiversity, and increase productivity.
Many people are aware of the challenge posed to the global food supply by climate change and an increasing world population, and recent polls show that UK consumers recognise that GM can help farmers to reduce inputs and grow more food in a sustainable way.
There is also increasing recognition that previous media hysteria over the safety of GM crops was unfounded; over two trillion meals containing GM have been eaten without a single substantiated health issue reported, something confirmed by a recent report from the European Commission – not usually known for its pro-GM rhetoric.
As with all new technologies, UK consumers have questions and concerns that need to be addressed. But threats of crop vandalism hold back UK science and demonstrate quite clearly that minority groups like Take the Flour Back have no interest in addressing the very real challenges facing UK farming and global food security.