Jimmy's GM food fight
We've also heard that Jimmy Doherty may be on You and Yours which goes out on BBC Radio 4, at 12pm today (24 Nov)
talking about the Horizon programme.
We've been told by someone who's seen a preview copy that the programme is both inaccurate in a number of respects and biased towards GM, although the programme makers have done their best to make it appear reasonable and balanced. If anyone can listen and call in with comments to the You and Yours programme, the contact details are here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/youandyours/
GM crops must come out of the dark
By Jimmy Doherty
Daily Telegraph, 22 November 2008
Do you know that saying, that we're only ever four meals away from anarchy? Well, we've arrived at a point in history where we can't possibly feed the world's population. There's just too many of us for the amount of food the earth can produce to go around. That problem isn’t going to go away, and we need to start addressing it.
So, could GM crops ones that are genetically modified to be resistant to disease and pests - be the answer?
Perhaps, perhaps not. But it’s food for thought.
And that, in short, is the starting point for my Horizon documentary about the pros and cons of GM crops. In this country, there have been many debates on the subject but do these discussions get to the general public the people who matter?
To explore public opinion, I did an easy test for the documentary. I stopped shoppers in Norwich high street and offered them a choice of a sausage cooked in GM oil, or one in non-GM oil. The immediate reaction was to go for the non-GM option. Why? The most common response was: "I dunno really."
When I started investigating the issue, I thought GM food was something on the periphery, something that most of us in the UK never come in contact with. But the truth is, we could possibly be eating food containing GM ingredients every day without realising it.
In reality, there aren’t that many GM crops currently in production it’s mostly maize, soya, rice and cotton, and they're mostly grown in the United States, which has been producing GM crops for the past decade. But the first two play such a big part in our daily diets, they’re hard to avoid. Maize is used to make the corn syrup found in fizzy drinks, among many other things, and soya is a key ingredient to lots of animal feeds, so it may work its way into our diets, too.
Products that originate from the United States don’t have to specify on the label whether it contains GM or not. For me, that’s wrong. What we need is better labelling so people can have better choice. Then the consumer is king if people don’t buy it, people won’t grow it.
Some people think that, as we’re an island state, we should set ourselves up as a GM-free zone, and exploit the market for GM-free food. I can afford to farm in this way, because people are willing to pay a little bit extra for my free-range rare breed pigs. But can my farm supply the world demand for pork? No, it can’t. I can fill a niche with them, but I can’t feed the world.
You can understand why some large-scale farmers who are producing for a global market can see the potential benefits it holds for them. These are bright people, modern businessmen, and they want to stay competitive. They are the ones thinking: "Hang on a minute, I’ve got all these costs to pay for like fertiliser and fuel when my competitors in other countries like Brazil appear to have the advantage by using GM crops like BT Maize that use less pesticides."
It appears that the organic sector is completely against GM crops because it could lead to an ecological disaster, not least because GM crops could pass on their genes to non-GM crops.
Growing GM is something of a Pandora’s box, potentially the modern-day equivalent of the Romans releasing the first rabbits into the UK. The danger is not that GM crops will mutate over time and become a superbreed like some kind of science fiction nightmare; but the possibility that the genes could spread from one GM species of plant and cross pollinate with other plants that then spread into natural communities and change the natural order of things in a way that we don't know how to deal with.
Now, I’m no poster-boy for GM. I’m a farmer whose background is in science. I did a degree in zoology and studied a phD in entomology, and am as passionate about science as I am about farming.
What I want to do is to bring some ideas to the fore; I don’t want to be overly negative or positive, I just want to see what the potentials are and draw some conclusion.
Ultimately for me it’s about freedom of choice. If you want to eat GM, you should have that right. But more importantly if you don’t want to eat GM, you should also have that right, and this may already have has been taken away from us. After all, GM Crops are grown world-wide.
Prince Charles has caused controversy over GM and has come under criticism from sections of the farming community, but I think that we need people like him to get us debating the issue.
The current status quo of GM Crops may not be the answer, but we have a responsability to rigorously and openly discuss the science, as well as its consequences.