Which way is the world swimming?

September 2011

... With or against the tide?

Wir haben es satt  - 39
Anti-GM protest in Berlin
Photo by cephir on Flickr

After decades of using its huge muscles to block GM-food labelling worldwide, the US has suddenly stopped swimming against the international tide (see GM LABELLING MILESTONE IN US – September 2011).

At much the same time, BASF Plant Sciences decided to pull the plug on GM development in the EU. BASF is a major GM seed developer and has been the only company to be successful in recent years in getting EU approval for a new GM crop (see EU TO CULTIVATE HOT POTATO – GMFS News Archive, May 2010). Since GM foods are just too controversial in Europe, BASF forged ahead with GM potatoes for industrial starch supply. One such potato, 'Amflora', is in the ground and another, 'Amadea', is in the pipeline. However, the GM potatoes were immediately banned in several EU Member States. Clearly, BASF has found even non-food GMOs more trouble than they're worth.

As GM Freeze has commented, financial decisions are finally catching up with the market realities of GMOs.

The UK government is in the happy position of having inherited a country without a GM problem: GM crops were long ago rejected after government trials gave evidence of long-term harm to the environment; public rejection has made it very clear there is no market potential for GM; the effectiveness of modern, non-GM, breeding technologies has been acknowledged; and most importantly, there is overwhelming opposition from Scotland and Wales to the GM agricultural model which does not mesh with their own.

Despite all the above, the coalition government has chosen to swim against the tide.

After restating a commitment to “clear GM labelling rules”, it became evident this clarity will not extend to meeting consumers' most pressing concern: labelling which will tell them which animal produce come from livestock fed GM.

In June, it was announced that “Government is ready to facilitate the hosting of any (GM) trials at suitable sites that could provide greater security than might otherwise be the case”. As has become a habit in the UK, the problem with GM foods is not the justifiable public concern about their safety. The problem somehow becomes the members of the public so concerned that they are prepared to take action, and who must therefore be put behind a fence.

In July, the largely tax-payer funded Rothamsted Research announced its decision to close three major departments central to agro-ecology research. The axe will fall on the Departments of Plant and Invertebrate Ecology, Applied Crop Science, and Plant Pathology and Microbiology. As multiple international and European studies have concluded, these are areas of research vital to enable farmers to adopt practices which will increase food supplies, conserve raw materials and promote biodiversity for the future.

Rothamsted Research boasts an international reputation as a centre of excellence for science in support of sustainable land management and its environmental impact. In a move seemingly contradictory to these claims, it is currently devoting its resources and expertise to the development of GM wheat. This is despite the known absence of any market for such a crop, and despite the availability of non-GM alternatives (see GM WHEAT IN THE UK – July 2011). GM Freeze voiced the obvious concern that Rothamsted is dealing with its constrained financial realities by diverting it funds away from agro-ecology research and into GM.

In promoting GM, the UK Government is swimming against the tides of public opinion, public right to know what's in their food, international scientific opinion, and market forces.


Like the Americans trying to block Codex GM-labelling guidance in increasing isolation, the UK Government can't swim against the tide forever. The important thing now is for YOU to keep telling it to change direction, in whatever way you can and in whatever way is comfortable, before we all drown.

  • Government Backs High security GM Test Sites, GM Freeze Release, 15.06.11
  • Rothamsted Cuts to Agro-ecology “Swimming Against the Tide” - GM Freeze, GM Freeze press release, 15.07.11
  • BASF Pulls the Plug on New GM crop Development in the EU, GM Freeze Release, 11.07.11
  •, August 2011

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