Every day, apart from the 4% who insist on an organic diet, the British people will eat food derived from imported GM crops usually destined for livestock feed. This will be the case if they are consuming milk and derived products, eggs and derived products, pork, beef, chicken, duck and turkey. It may be the case with cooking oil, margarine, sugar and farmed salmon.

No complaints have been substantiated that the safety, quality or taste of this food has deteriorated in the fifteen years of these GM crop imports.

Every day, British people wear underwear and sanitary products made from GM cotton. Every day, in medical institutions, GM cotton is used to dress open wounds and weeping sores. Non-GM cotton is difficult and more expensive to procure. If there was anything wrong with GM cotton, we would have heard about it by now.

In the typical household budget, the proportion spent on all the above items has dropped over the years.

Despite all of this positive news, there is uproar in the media if it is suggested that British farmers are allowed to cultivate GM crops. The journalists that make this fuss will, themselves, happily consume the products derived from GM imports. The same applies to many UKIP members who pontificate loudly that the Party must permanently ban GM cultivation whilst they sit in their GM underwear sipping GM ‘latte’ coffees.

There are eight manufactured reasons to discredit this very useful technology and they are very easy to dismiss.

1)  GM crops will cross-pollinate with other crops

The risks of cross-pollination were well understood long before the advent of GM crops. Apart from superior generations, all the certified seed that farmers sow is grown on contract by ordinary farmers who like to specialise in this task.

There are very strict rules on ‘purity’ and so it is essential that seed crops are not grown too close to other crops of the same species where they might suffer cross-pollination.

Years of experience have demonstrated that two metres is all that is required for cereals, peas and potatoes. Field beans at 100 metres need a little planning. Oilseed rape at 500 metres needs considerably more planning and consultation with neighbours.

Cultivated GM crops of the above species would only need to conform to the above distances to avoid the problem and, of course, crops that are harvested before they flower such as biennials or lettuces will not be affected anyway.

It is true that pollen can drift for miles, however, as it only remains viable for less than two seconds, it is a dead man drifting.

2)  GM crops will allow multi-national companies to dominate agriculture

This is true, but it has already happened anyway. Seven companies dominate world seed and agro-chemical trade. A further four dominate fertiliser manufacture, and another four dominate the tractor market.

3)  Farmers will be trapped into paying escalating royalties

Farmers grow GM crops through their own choice. If they are disappointed with their investment, they can purchase non-GM seed the next year (on which they will have to pay royalties). They can also opt to grow their own seed from varieties where the royalty has expired.

Whilst farmers cannot realistically manufacture their own tractors or pesticides, they can create their own seed, rendering this particular argument completely vacuous.

4)  Third World farmers will be ‘taken over’ and ‘held hostage’

It is in Third World agriculture that GM technology demonstrates its greatest advantages, as it results in a dramatic drop in pesticide use. The rapid distribution of pesticides in third world countries is difficult, meaning that they can arrive too late.

The safe storage and safe use of pesticides on Third World farms is difficult. The risk of grossly overdosing pesticides is very great using hand held applicators.

Compare this to buying seeds that will produce crops that are resistant to the problems in the first place, and it would seem a no-brainer.

5)  Rats fed on GM maize died in experiments

These experiments were conducted by a man named Gilles-Eric Seralini. He has past ‘form’ in creating the results that he requires. He is reputed to have purchased his degree for a modest sum of euros and no reputable institution has been able to replicate his findings. He used a breed of rat that is susceptible to these tumours and expressed surprise when they died after 18 months, which is when rats tend to die in any case.

6)  GM crops are akin to ‘Frankenstein Food’

This technology is the least unpredictable that is used in plant breeding. It replaces a method where seeds were irradiated to force mutations that might or might not be beneficial, that might even be highly problematic.

7)  GM crops bring no benefit to the consumer

This is quite untrue. Rice can now be bred to contain more vitamin A. This is very helpful in countries where rice dominates the diet and its shortage of this vitamin causes blindness in babies and deaths in young children.  In addition, beneficial omega oils can now be bred into oilseed rape.

8)  Organic farmers will suffer from contamination

Organic farmers need to get their own house in order first. The following problems are much more difficult to control on organic farms and can easily contaminate neighbours crops:

  • Ergot, stinking bunt, loose smut, potato blight and thistle down. These are serious practical nuisances, not merely admixtures of other grains.
  • It should not be forgotten that the bean sprouts that were responsible for the deaths of a number of people in Germany about five years ago were grown organically.

There are two pressing problems now on arable farms in the UK that could easily be solved by using GM technology. One is the fungal disease, potato blight. The other is the weed known as blackgrass.

The fashionable negative attitude to GM crops is dispiriting to our young scientists who will emigrate elsewhere to invent new GM crops for us to import.

Photo by Simon220771