NFU admits farmers must grow what consumers want

January 2017
Photo: Creative Commons
The Vice President of the National Farmers Union (NFU), who "thinks GM is the way forward" and that science, not "popular appeal", should be directing what farmers can and can't grow, has finally admitted he has to be "mindful of markets". He's noticed that he has to "grow what consumers want to eat" or what he grows won't sell.

Attendees at a meeting of United Oilseeds (co-operative specialist oilseeds merchant) were warned:
"If the UK takes a pro-GM attitude, where are our exports going to go? If we start to develop a different policy to the rest of the EU, those issues (product marketability) will raise their heads and we need to be very, very careful".
Add to this that there is a need for regulators "to recognise that agriculture is not just like any other industry" and that "some level of self sufficiency, some level of food security, is a political objective. Our home agriculture needs to thrive".

Twenty years ago, Europe largely rejected GM crops at the same time as Canada and America were embracing them. One French farmer with a long family history of tilling the land commented "Seen from Europe, when you speak with American farmers or Canadian farmers, we've got the feeling that it's easier". He wants access to GM technology to save time and money.

Indeed, all the first generation of biotech crops are genetically transformed to deliver these very things: 'Roundup Ready' crops can be soaked indiscriminately in a single broad-spectrum glyphosate-based herbicide, and 'Bt' crops don't need spraying because they infuse themselves with insecticide. This means less time and money spent, fewer pesticide applications, less work, and according their manufacturer, Monsanto, "Biotech tools have clearly driven yield increases enormously".

The Amalgamated Sugar Company (ASC), a co-operative of more than 750 sugar-beet farmers in the North West USA considers GM Roundup Ready sugar-beet saved the co-operative.

In reality, things might not be so rosy for GM in the market and in the field.

The US citizens apparently 'happy' to eat unlabelled GM in processed food and (second-hand) in animal products, are shying away from that same GM sugar-beet which 'saved' the ASC.

Use of insecticides and fungicides (needed due to insect damage) has, as promised, fallen by a third due to the introduction of Bt crops. However, in France, where good crop husbandry aimed at reducing the use of agri-toxins has become policy, insecticide and fungicide use has reduced by two- thirds. If you factor in the intrinsic Bt-insecticide present in Bt crops, that one-third pesticide 'reduction' in GM crops disappears, while the pesticide reduction achieved by the French reduces even further.

Since indiscriminate or excessive use of insecticides breeds resistant pests, the difference in efficacy of GM control vs. good agri-practice will become wider over time.

In the case of glyphosate-based herbicides, use on GM crops has spiralled out of control due partly to the ability to spray so much without harming the crop exacerbated by the need to control escalating glyphosate-resistant weeds.

Just as public awareness and concern about the agri-toxins in their food is expanding into demands for 'clean' food, next generation 'Bt' crops come stacked with multiple toxin-producing genes which load multiple pesticides into every plant whether they're needed or not. New herbicide-tolerant crops are stacked with resistance to up to five weedkillers, all of which could be present in the final product. And the latest GM crops come stacked with both.

The promised GM yield increases are looking very shaky. United Nations data, plus a report from the US National Academy of Sciences (NAS), have pointed to an absence of any yield trend differences between comparable crops in America, where most are GM, and Europe, which is GM-free [1].

In terms of product marketability, pesticide reduction, and even yield, that holy grail of saving time and money by adopting GM isn't a reality.

And, in the long-term, no one's factoring in what all the multiple herbicides enabled by stacked herbicide-tolerant genes, plus all the multiple Bt toxins stacked in insect-resistant GM crops will do to our soil.


Indeed, agriculture isn't like any other industry: the product is fundamental to our health, our environment, our culture and our future. To trivialise these as 'popular appeal' which somehow modern commercially-driven science can trump is dangerous to present and future generations, including farmers.

UK Agricultural Minister, George Eustice, has already stated that after Brexit he wants to see GM crops grown across England. Scotland, of course, has a non-GM policy and has opted out of the GM crops being considered for EU cultivation. There is, however, a cause for concern given the potential for cross-contamination across our land border with England.con

The NFU claims "British farmers are passionate about providing a huge variety of quality British food for us all to enjoy". Make sure they know you won't enjoy any variety of GM food at all. Encourage the National Farmers Union, which 'champions' farmers in England and Wales, to keep a hold of its budding grasp of GM reality, because what happens across the border will inevitably impact on Scotland.

  • Danny Hakimoct, Doubts About the Promised Bounty of Genetically Modified Crops, New York
  • Times, 29.10.16
  • Suzie Horne, GM warning shot over future trade deals, Farmers Weekly, 17.11.16
  • New GM maize threat on the horizon, Thin Ice, Issue 42, December 2016

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