Soil Association response to Owen Paterson GM crop comments

10 December 2012

Commenting on Defra Secretary of State, Owen Paterson’s recent interview with the Daily Telegraph regarding GM crops, the Soil Association said;

"Owen Patterson is wrong to claim that GM crops are good for the environment.  The UK Government’s own farm scale experiment showed that overall the GM crops were worse for British wildlife. US Government figures show that overall pesticide use has increased since GM crops have been grown there, because as scientists opposed to GM predicted, superweeds and resistant insects have multiplied. 

"The recent British Science Association survey showed that public concern has not changed, and the number of people saying that GM food "should be encouraged" dropped from 46% in 2002 to 27% in 2012. Owen Patterson says that people are eating meat from animals fed of GM feed without realising it. That is because the British Government has consistently opposed moves to label to give consumers accurate information, and he should put that right by immediately introducing compulsory labelling of meat and milk from animals fed on GM feed."  Peter Melchett, Policy Director, Soil Association

Further comment:

Owen Paterson is wrong to state that: "There are real benefits, and what you’ve got to do is sell the real environmental benefits. Those benefits include a reduction in the use of pesticides because some GM crops are pest-resistant, he said. That in turn reduces farmers' fuel use".

The UK Government’s own farm scale evaluation of GM crops showed that overall they were worse for wildlife. A number of  studies have highlighted other problems associated with growing GM crops, including 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 Environment Secretary also said that "consumers were already unwittingly eating GM food on a regular basis, so concerns about human health are misplaced". In fact only one brand of catering scale cooking oil and very occasional soya products containing GM are sold in the UK. The significant issue is that British consumers are eating some meat and milk produced using GM animal feed (organically reared animals are never fed GM crops). The fact is that the Government has deliberately kept people in the dark by opposing labeling of meat and milk 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.


For press enquiries contact the Soil Association press office:
Natasha Collins-Daniel, Press Office Manager – 0117 914 2448 / 07827 925380


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