‘An insight into GM’, the Women’s Food and Farming event in Aberystwyth, was hosted by the Welsh branches of the WFFU and chaired by its former president, Ionwen Lewis.
Government position: to restrict GM crops
The Farmers Weekly Interactive reports that a civil servant, Nic Shilton, explained that the Welsh government had taken the most restrictive stance possible on GM crops without breaching current European and UK law and that proposed legislation would allow individual regions to make this ruling.
If passed, countries like Wales, whose food and farming industry relied on a green, natural image could rule out GM production because it threatened that industry, he added.
A national register of GM growers in Wales is likely to be available for public scrutiny from next year; will it lead to the ‘trashing’ of fields growing GM crops as a pilot project, seen elsewhere in Britain?
Call for clearer labelling of imported meat
Karen Bellis, who runs 130 suckler cows and 130 sheep near Wrexham, called for clearer labelling on imported meat to help consumers who want to buy GM-free meat: “Family farms in Wales are failing because they can’t compete with imported factory farmed meat. I am not a scientist questioning the rights and wrongs of GM technology, I am a farmer who wants a level playing field.’’
Concerns over human health
The Farmers Guardian noted that the presentations raised major concerns over human health, the environment and the long-term damage to conventionally grown food crops. Dr Michael Antoniou, from the London School of Medicine at Guy’s Hospital, an internationally renowned medical researcher with 27 years’ experience of genetic engineering, a nutritionist working in the field of food security, a Euro MP and a working farmer, agreed that the risks far outweighed any possible benefits. Dr Antoniou explained:
“GM breeding is very different to normal plant breeding, having an inherent destructive effect on the structure and functions of genes which can have knock-on effects in numerous areas, including human health . . . In fact, there is an increasing body of evidence from controlled laboratory studies showing adverse effects in the functioning of the kidney and liver from the consumption of GM crops.
“The worrying aspect is that some of the studies showing high levels of toxicity relate to commercialised varieties – findings which should have been carried out before commercialisation. All of the GM crops currently out there have been engineered to either produce their own insecticide or to be tolerant to a herbicide – and any animal or human eating them is going to subject themselves to consuming residues of these chemicals.
“Disturbing the biochemistry can produce all kinds of unexpected toxic effects and there are signs of that happening,” he added. “This is something the GM regulators have not taken on board. They are still sticking to outdated flawed principles with crops that have never been fully tested and are a danger to human health. But the warning signs are there. There are far better ways of going forward with biotechnology than genetic modification.”
There is a massive industry lobby to increase the production of GM crops
A Welsh Member of the European Parliament, Jill Evans, also expressed ‘serious concerns’ over threats to public health and the environment from GM crops – a view which she said was echoed by the majority of people in Wales and across Europe:
“There is a massive lobby to increase the production of GM crops but in the interests of farmers and consumers there should be a ban on new GMOs until science can prove there is no risk at all to consumers’ health and the environment.”
Feedback from farmers in other countries growing GM crops
Another contributor, Michael Hart, a conventional livestock producer, has been farming in Cornwall for nearly 30 years and has travelled extensively in Europe, India, Canada and the USA looking in depth at GM technology. He said that consistently he was told of the ever-increasing costs of seeds and chemicals, as well as weeds becoming resistant to herbicides.
US farmers had told him that a single pass herbicide was a fallacy, with three or more passes now the norm for GM crops. As weeds had become more resistant to glyphosate there had also been a sharp increase in the use of herbicide tank mixes, most of them patented and owned by the biotech companies.
Some farmers were now even having to resort to hand weeding, costs had spiralled nearly three-fold and the ability to grow GM crops next to conventional and organic crops was unsolvable.
“In summary there is a huge weed problem, crop co-existence is a myth, farmers are trapped into the genetically modified biotech system and there have been huge price increases for seeds and sprays – well beyond the price increases farmers have received for their crops,” said Mr Hart. “In short, US farmers are urging great caution in adopting GM technology.”
Click on the link to Michael Hart’s film:
GM crops, farmer to farmer in America:
Only one representative of the industry accepted an invitation to contribute
Ionwen Lewis, former WFFU president and chairman for the day, had invited a cross-section of industry and consumer representatives to attend the event but only Dr Tina Barsby, director of the National Institute of Agricultural Botany, accepted and put the case for GM crops and the benefits they could bring in helping to solve the world’s growing food needs.
Ionwen Lewis, said the purpose of the conference had not been to extol the virtues of one side or the other, adding “It is important, however, that consumers know the full facts surrounding GM crops. They are the people farmers rely on for their livelihoods.”