Monday, 25 June 2007

Genetically Modified Crops.

Shared Terrain or State Terra?

There's a lot of opposition to the use of agricultural pesticides, and the government sees this as an opportunity to promote what they claim are the benefits of genetically modified crops. There are currently two main types of genetically modified crops, those engineered to be resistant to herbicides in order to kill weeds and those engineered to produce toxins to to kill pests.

There are many concerns about introducing GM crops in the UK, and I refer here to the Soil Association for an outline of some of the issues. Coloured text below are quotes from the Soil Association website.


Unlike new drugs, there is no requirement for GM foods to be routinely tested on animals or humans so scientists don't know what the effects are on health. GM food has been available in America since 1996, but no studies have been carried out to assess whether this has led to health problems.

The only known trial on humans of GM food was carried out by the University Of Newcastle in 2002 and commissioned by the Food Standards Agency.Seven people were given a meal containing GM soya and it was found that in at least three people the GM material entered their gut bacteria. The accidental contamination of many US food products with GM maize in 2000 is believed to have caused allergic reactions in over 50 Americans, some serious.

The Environment.
A number of worrying environmental impacts are developing in countries where GM crops are grown commercially:-

Widespread contamination of crops: in America and Canada contamination has caused major problems throughout the food and farming industry in just a couple of years, including the loss of nearly the whole organic oilseed rape sector in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan. Seeds that are produced to be GM-free are difficult to buy and sometimes are later found to be contaminated.Those who are successful in sourcing non-GM seeds risk having their crops contaminated by neighbouring GM fields.

Increased use of chemical sprays: Contrary to claims from the biotechnology industry, farmers are now more reliant on herbicides(weedkillers). Certain crops have been engineered to be resistant to specific herbicides to enable farmers to spray weeds without damaging crops. However, weeds (sometimes referred to as superweeds) are developing resistance to these herbicides, and rogue GM plants that grow after a harvest(volonteers) have appeared and spread widely. In particular, GM oilseed rape volonteers- the crop most likely to be introduced into the UK- have spread quickly, and some plants have become resistant to several herbicides through cross pollination. As a result, farmers are making more frequent applications and reverting to older and more toxic chemicals.

Resistant Pests: Pests are becoming resistant to some GM cotton plant crops in Australia and China (which have Bt genes inserted). There are many laboratory studies to prove this and the biotechnology companies have acknowledged that Bt resistance will develop.

The market
There is also no market for GM food as it has been rejected by all the supermarkets in their own brand food and British Sugar has said it will not buy GM sugar.

GM technology is driven by four commercial biotechnology companies(Monsanto, Syngenta,Aventis Cropscience and Dupont) none is British.

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