Oxford Farming Conference - Soil Association response to Owen Paterson / Mark Lynas talks
03 January 2013
Speaking from the Oxford Farming Conference, Tom Macmillan, innovation director at the Soil Association, responded to comments by the author Mark Lynas and Defra Secretary of State Owen Paterson.
”Mark Lynas is right that improving productivity across agriculture, including in organic farming, has an important part to play in feeding the world sustainably. Through our Duchy Originals Future Farming programme, the Soil Association is investing in research and innovation to help farmers develop and share novel approaches to help improve productivity in environmentally responsible ways.
”Lynas acknowledged that meeting this challenge globally is in large part about ensuring existing techniques are available to the poorest farmers in the world, and much also depends on directly tackling poverty and on rich countries adopting more sustainable consumption habits. Banging on about GM crops, as Lynas did today, is a red herring.
"Farmers and the public have been promised the earth on GM yet the results to date have been poor. The UK Government’s own farm scale experiment showed that overall the GM crops were worse for British wildlife. US Government figures show pesticide use has increased since GM crops have been grown there because superweeds and resistant insects have multiplied. Lynas, Paterson and other GM enthusiasts must beware of opening floodgates to real problems like this."
A recent report by Professor Charles Benbrook showing that the use of increased levels of more hazardous pesticides to fight weeds and insects in the US is due largely to heavy adoption of genetically modified crop technologies sparking a rise of ‘superweeds’ and hard-to-kill insects. This is one example of why GM crops don’t offer a real solution. Not only have these GM technologies failed to deliver on their fundamental promises, they have made the problem they were designed to solve even worse and locked farmers further into depending on costly inputs from a handful of powerful chemical companies.
Most of the British public do not want GM. The recent British Science Association survey cited by Owen Paterson shows that public concern over GM food has not lessened – it shows that attitudes have not changed significantly. The share saying they agree that GM food “should be encouraged” has actually dropped from 46% in 2002 to 27% in 2012.
The Government has kept people in the dark by opposing labeling of meat and milk from animals fed on GM. Owen Paterson can stop the public unwittingly eating this food by introducing clear labeling.
The Soil Association supports practical innovation that addresses real needs, is genuinely sustainable and puts farmers in control of their livelihoods. Where GM crops have been planted they are doing the opposite, locking farmers into buying herbicides and costly seed, while breeding resistant weeds and insects. They are the product of a narrow, top-down approach to R&D driven less by the needs of farmers, consumers or the environment, than by seed and chemical companies. Just three corporations – Monsanto, Syngenta, and Bayer – are responsible for virtually all commercially released GM crops in the world. Meeting the challenge of providing better nutrition for more people sustainably calls for joined-up research that takes an ecological approach, responds to people’s real needs and respects farmers’ know-how.
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