UK could 'go it alone' on GM crops

March 2013

Owen Paterson. Photo
from Creative Commons
The next stage of Westminster's grand plan to push GM crops into British fields and down British throats has unfolded (see Part 1 in A FAIRY TALE FOR CHRISTMAS - December 2012, and Part 2 in WESTMINSTER'S PRO- GM PUSH - January 2013).

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson has now begun talks with the EU health and consumer policy Commissioner to pave the way for the UK to “go it alone” on GM technology. His aim is to convince the EU that the route out of the current GM-approvals gridlock is to allow individual Member States to make their own decisions on whether to adopt GM crops. Not surprisingly, the coalition cabinet is overwhelmingly supportive of his move.

The reason, in Owen Paterson's own words, is “We can't hang around for two years before the election. Every year we delay, Argentina, Brazil and Canada are getting further ahead of us. We are mad not to seriously look at this technology.”


Is there anything inherently sane about the UK going into competition with these three countries? The vital statistics for 2010 look something like this:

(millions km2) (millions per km2)
Argentina   2.7  14.9
Brazil   8.5  22.7
Canada 10.0    3.4
UK   0.2 311.5

We don't have much spare land to experiment with. Especially if something went uncontrollably wrong in our limited environment, such as a novel pathogen created by horizontal artificial-gene transfer, or a novel pest evolving due to GM pest control measures?

Interestingly, our Environment Secretary doesn't mention winning any races against the homeland of GM crops, America. Could that be because he doesn't want to notice what's happening there?

US farmers are beginning to realise they are 
“paying extra for the technology but have seen yields which are no better than 10 years ago. They're starting to wonder why they're spending extra money on the technology” (AgResource). 
 It seems some farmers are considering returning to conventional seed and old-fashioned cultivation because GM crops are killing their yields and their bottom lines, but not their pests.

Also, the spread of Roundup-tolerant weeds in America’s sea of Roundup-tolerant crops continues to increase exponentially: nearly a half of all US farmers now have these herbicide-resistant weeds on their land (in the southern state of Georgia, 92% of farmers are affected).

Owen Paterson doesn't seem to be taking a lesson from the biotech industry either. In January 2013, biotech giant, BASF, announced it is abandoning efforts to gain EU authorisation for three GM potatoes after over a decade of investment and research. The company is also dropping research into GM “nutritionally enhanced corn” in the US to concentrate on fungal resistance. Regarding the GM potatoes, the company's face-saving excuses were “uncertainty in the regulatory environment” and “threats of field destructions”. The alleged activist interference has, in fact, been very rare, and a more plausible reason is the clear market rejection of the GM products, which BASF failed to take seriously ten year ago. Abandonment of a 'second generation' GM crop aimed at feeding American people in favour of yet another trait type aimed solely at farmers speaks for itself.

On one GM issue, however, the UK seems already to be successfully going it alone: controlling bad GM press.

As the US Organic Consumers' Association reported in February: the New York Times has published an in-depth exposé “revealing decades of science experiments conducted by junk food companies that have spent millions to make us all, including and especially our kids, junk food addicts.” The day before, “a report called 'The Organic Movement' appeared. it will soon run as a 12-page feature in the Washington Post. And of course, every major newspaper in the country is following the story of the farmer in Indiana who's fighting Monsanto over its patents on GE seeds - largely because the hard-fought battle over Prop 37, California's Right to Know about GMOs initiative, pushed the issue of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) into the realm of public consciousness.”

So, mainstream America has awakened to industry’s control of science, the threat to organic food supplies, how much people are being kept in the dark on GM, and to Monsanto's crippling monopoly of US food and farming using patents on life.

Just as America is opening its eyes and not liking what it's seeing, the British public is being anaesthetised by PR dressed up as science and spoon-fed to the media. Just so you know what's going on in your back yard, check out what GM Watch and other concerned groups have to say about the Science Media Centre at and

  • Suzie Horne, Exclusive: UK could go it alone on GM - Paterson, Farmers Weekly Interactive, 8.02.13
  • Robyn Vinter, US farmers may stop planting GMOs after poor global yields, Farmers Weekly 6.02.13
  • Kent Fraser, Glyphosate Resistant Weeds - Intensifying in US, Stratus Agri-Marketing Inc. 25.01.13
  • BASF Drops Key GM Projects, GM Freeze Press Release, 31.01.13
  • Out of the 'Fringe' and into the Fire, Organic Consumers' Association, OCA Bytes 28.02.13

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