GM: is the tide turning?

20.06.13 GM: is the tide turning? Discussion archive

The views from this GM discussion were very much ones of strong opinion from both sides of the fence. Either Owen Paterson was naïve and out of touch, or he was making the right decision and being brave about facing up to the realities of its uses. Public trust is inherent but they will continue to purchase on price, with GM a secondary consideration for the majority.

GM is another tool in the box, but perceptions are that it still has the fingerprints of large multinational companies all over it. Nature is not patentable and all types of technology should be evaluated before jumping into bed wholeheartedly with any such one.

Is the EU the best to lead on promoting GM? Is GM more important than securing a good deal for the CAP? It can offer solutions to food security but global trade relies on food production, which will need to be supported notwithstanding any production preference.

The discussion held on Thursday 21st June 2013 looked at the topic of “GM: is the tide turning?” and generated a total of 424 tweets on the topic from 79 participants. These included farmers, agri-food businesses, rural advisors, land agents, lawyers, journalists, academics and NFU officeholders, as well as members of the general public.

Q1a What is your reaction to Owen Paterson’s speech today at Rothamsted, or on BBC Radio 4?

  • Owen Paterson is out of touch with what the public
  • Dismay that the Minister appears to be so naive in believing what he has said! It’s not the way forward
  • It’s alright pushing GM food – but will the public want to buy this kind of produce? Umm not sure they would.
  • Positive step forward in reality. Europe is a massive importer. Vital support for important R&D
  • Also dumbfounded that NFU & CLBA have been so quick to praise/take sides as its divisive, among farmers, horn v corn etc
  • Government should determine policy via a group of specialists (with differing views), reaching transparent conclusions
  • I didn’t hear the speech but I believe he has made the right decision.
  • High time govt got involved to steer the process responsibly,multi-nationals first responsibility is themselves

Q1b Are you picking up that there is a real swing towards acceptance of GM, or is it just media hype?

  • Backs up recent opinion survey that majority of farmers in UK have a positive interest in GM
  • A slight change, but people’s perceptions are often negative – perhaps without knowing the full facts about GM
  • No swing, govt stirring up media, in 2012 GM hardly hit headlines
  • Hopefully it will allow trials to be carried forward without risk from the anti-science factions
  • It makes available another tool in the toolbox for those that wish to use it
  • My feeling is that those pro-GM (cos./researchers) are better orchestrated now, & have got even more media on their side
  • Most consumers buying GM food of one variety or another now, even if indirectly. Reality remains that vast maj buy on price

Q2a Is acceptance of GM more likely to happen if the tech comes from publicly funded institutions rather than multinationals?

  • The level of funding required to take something to mkt is beyond Government. Gov trials though vital
  • Yes I think so do people trust larger multinational companies? – think public funding is a gd idea
  • Vital R & D is being carried out but it is vital that commercial companies are encouraged to invest
  • No: the corporate fingerprints are all over GM now. Cat’s out of the bag! Govt & independent don’t fit in same sentence
  • It’s become a PR game unfortunately of claim/counter claim as to ad/disadvantages Dist from multi.nats will help perception
  • I don’t see how government funding can reverse the wheel… private interests are so powerful that they’ll still be behind it

Q2b Would the public be happier about “Green” GM, ie Rothamsted aphid resistant wheat, N fix wheat- than Roundup ready GM?

  • Yes I think so public are a lot more aware of environmental problems
  • Rothamsted wheat – its a strange choice as aphids aren’t really a major problem and can easily be controlled
  • It´s all marketing. Name the good, not the bad thinks
  • If the GM plant could be seen to have benefits that weren’t linked to the purchase of a chemical-more acceptable
  • Rothamsted wheat is interesting experiment but early days, long way from commercial crop and unclear who owns the patent

Q3a The US Supreme court this week rules that human genes cannot be patented. Should this apply to plant genes too?

  • You have to fund breeding programmes conventional or GM. So breeders rights are vital to encourage investment
  • Most definitely, both as its thin end of the wedge, & simply unwise
  • Our right to grow our own food is slowly being eroded bit by bit. We’re on slippery slope to having the seed/plant police!
  • I think messing with nature is a bad idea personally. There are other solutions like reduce waste for a start
  • Does anyone disagree with thinking that nature should NOT be patentable! *expression of incredulity*
  • Interesting question, Islamic world opposes patenting any lifeform [and they bred wheat and gave to rest of world for free].

Q3b Should society own this IP, many current traits were selected by generations of Farmers & could be argued a public good?

  • I think public opinion is still miles from accepting this. They will buy the cheapest, but demand a mystical 1930s farming world
  • Vast difference between breeding/selecting plant varieties for certain traits compared to GM!
  • Europe if bench marked for total investment in plant breeding is falling behind. Look forward not back
  • Catch 22 – GM developed to get patent to make money, no patent, no development?

Q4a What unsolved long term problems do you as farmers have that you believe GM is the only solution for?

  • I’m guessing some will say climate change?
  • Pest and disease problems – rising pesticide and fertiliser costs
  • Blackgrass springs to mind…
  • Feed the population.
  • I can’t think of one, maybe pigeon-resistant oilseed rape?
  • Or breaking through the yield plateau without the need for unsustainable fert inputs

Q4b If more was invested in conventional breeding incl MAS, could it deliver results as good as or better than claimed by GM?

  • Not if the trait you’re after isn’t in the gene pool!
  • No. The EU cannot even sort out royalties on farm saved. Look at what the rest of the world is doing
  • MAS absolutely, already MAS-produced crops being grown & delivering higher yield, salt & flood tolerance, biofortification
  • Difference is GM can move genes between species. Breeding moves genes within same species&makes use of heritage breeds
  • Why not? NIAB said “UK wheat yields could be boosted by up to 30%” via non-GM breeding
  • GM might get there quicker but not always better – potato blight prob overcomes GM inserted resistance than Sarpo varieties
  • GM just one of many technologies that could deliver public good in plant and animal breeding. All should be fully evaluated

Q5a Is GM all about plants, or are there opportunities for the livestock sector?

  • GM Livestock is a million times more emotive. People automatically think of Dolly the sheep, using the term ‘Frankenfood’
  • Why would we want GM in livestock so we can have skinner cows that produce even more milk
  • We already do AI and embryo transfer, which brought the dairy industry forward in leaps & bounds. GM could be equally useful
  • If the public feels uneasy about GM in crops, it will feel even more so about GM livestock. We are LONG way off that I feel
  • You can’t patent the gene but you can patent the use of the gene
  • When GM first possible, scientists were like children in sweet shop-damaged image before benefits promoted

Q5b What other animal GM work are you aware of?

  • Researchers trying GM on chickens – so they are resistant to bird flu
  • Envripig, excretes less phosphate. Close to commercial production

Q6a Are we to believe the biotech lobby when they say weed resistance is a minor localised problem?

  • No, listen to the farmers who have gone back to hand weeding.
  • I suppose the counter to this that Blackgass and Wild Oats resistance is widespread, so resistance is not just a GM thing
  • Unsure. There must be res weeds, is there peer reviewed papers on roundup resistant weeds about anywhere?
  • Resistance builds up naturally anyway

Q6b Do we want to allow 1 or 2 corporations to control our inputs in the way other countries are now experiencing?

  • Does the EU want retain commercial R & D, because up to now it pushing it out
  • Every farmer relies on global multi nationals because of product development costs already
  • No we certainly don’t. This is why ignoring GM for so long has been folly.
  • Perish the thought. Diversity in the field and diversity of people supplying those in the field is critical.
  • EU brain drain as a result of stance on GM
  • Not a business expert at all but that doesn’t seem healthy- better innovation thru more competition?
  • You’ll get to a uncomfortable place, in Monopoly there is only one winner if you have control of the board
  • No! no!, no! – & it doesn’t stop @ inputs. Landscape, biodiversity, & rural livelihoods all @ stake

Q7a What are ALL of the issues that need to be considered for a ROUNDED debate about GM? What is not considered enough?

  • As with all technologies, it should be about how it’s implemented and what the benefits are case by case.
  • GM should be considered alongside other technologies and methods and it’s key not to remove choice
  • The longer term, the laws of unintended consequences, genes escaping labs/trials & the many better options already on offer
  • Human & environmental health, inc gene flow, benefit of GM product- does it add traits that benefit the enviro?
  • Perhaps how GM could be used as an environmental benefit?- less reliance on pesticides and fertilisers – but at what cost?
  • What is not considered enough? The cost of segregation for farmers and the wider UK ag industry if GM is allowed
  • Our reliance on global trade as food importers. A need to have world class genetics and plant breeding
  • Farming always progressed thro’ innovation: If GM may deliver public good in plant breeding we should explore full potential
  • Transparency on GM approvals, and clarity on labeling vital for consumer choice and confidence

Q7b IF the consensus of scientific opinion is that GM crops are safe, why not grow them?

  • The lunatic barriers of EU politics have to be overcome
  • Why not indeed? We rely on a lot of imports in the UK wouldn’t this big IF help with our food security issues?
  • If consumers are against it, despite what the scientists say, I’d be very worried that they’d stop buying UK produce
  • Because the safety aspect isn’t the only issue. Everything needs to be considered, particularly IP implications
  • OK if they can be grown without irreversibly affecting neighboring farms and wider environment.
  • Consumer & environmental safety vital in appraisal of all technologies, inc GM. Very rigorous processes exist 2 deliver this
  • a) that is a huge “IF”, b) consumer resistance c) “safe”: long way from being accepted by many re. vested interests, etc

Q8 If farming needs to produce more from less, will GM help or hinder tackling this?

  • In the short term more. In the long term not my problem. Cynic’s short-sighted view
  • Help- particularly for future agriculturists, more r&d needed though in a lot of areas
  • GM part but not all of the solution. NB if crop eaten/diseased, less produced not more, therefore protect the crop
  • Probably neither – but if we have Minister who thinks UK farming needs GM more than a fair deal on CAP we have a problem!
  • Without doubt it is a vital area that can offer real solutions in many areas
  • The “more” graph cannot continue upwards infinitely even with GM. Need to address other food security constraints as well

Simon Haley, Reading Agricultural Consultants, and Alan Spedding, 21 June 2013

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