Policy position: Genetically modified crops

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  • Our Position Paper on:

    GENETICALLY

    MODIFIED CROPS

  • IN A NUTSHELL

    Some people continue to push for us to grow genetically modified (GM) crops in England, claiming they are critical to future food production. But they ignore evidence that GM crops do not increase food yields and utilise the same intensive farming methods that decimate wildlife, degrade soils, and thereby threaten future crops yields. Friends of the Earth opposes intensive agriculture and GM crops that promote its use. We support a farming approach that works with nature, rather than against it.

    THE FACTS

    1 GM crops are typically designed for monoculture use, where industrial-scale farms grow a single crop over a large area. The GM crops that the industry and some politicians want to use in the UK are engineered to be tolerant to a specific herbicide, which will only affect competing weeds and in theory lead to increased crop yields. But in the USA, such crops have led to greater use of weed-killing herbicides, and herbicide-resistant weeds have emerged while crop yields have not increased. In other words, theoretical yield increases havent materialised.

    2 The active ingredient in Monsantos Roundup weed killer, used on all its herbicide-tolerant GM crops, is glyphosate. The World Health Organisations cancer agency IARC has

    identified glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen. Communities in South America are already experiencing health problems linked to the use of glyphosate.

    3 The GM industry has promised new GM crop traits such as drought tolerance and nitrogen fixation. Politicians often cite these as reasons to support GM crop use, but these developments are still poorly understood and any crop is likely to be decades away from commercial use. Meanwhile, improved conventional plant breeding technologies are increasingly making GM approaches redundant.

    4 Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have banned the cultivation of current GM crops, as have many other European countries, including Germany, France and Poland.

    THE PROBLEM

    Researchers can genetically modify plants in ways that were unimaginable even a few years ago. But some politicians are over-hyping the technology, saying GM crops are an essential tool in the toolbox of solutions to our food security challenges. This distracts from the urgent need to make wider changes to our farming methods to protect ecosystems and soil for future generations. It also distracts from our

    responsibility to take back control of the food chain from a small number of incredibly powerful and well-connected global corporations.

    We should welcome advances in genetic knowledge and their potential for positive, beneficial change, for example in healthcare. Our understanding of genetics has helped us to make rapid progress in conventional plant breeding

  • WHAT WE THINK

    Friends of the Earth champions the use of ecological approaches to farming, which can be at least as productive as industrial farming. We also champion a shift to more sustainable and healthy diets. The Government should make these priorities for funding and research.

    Our approach to dealing with GM crops is a precautionary one. We must make sure our knowledge of genetics is used to bring social and environmental benefits to communities and farmers and does not cause harm. Environmental damage from GM crops and the growing domination of our food chain by a few, big corporations must be prevented.

    We will continue to oppose a GM crop, unless it:

    n Poses no risk to the environment from the deliberate or accidental release of modified plants. We must make sure crossbreeding with existing species will not disrupt local ecosystems and that GM crop cultivation, including the use of herbicides, does not harm biodiversity.

    n Is proven to be safe for human health. This requires full disclosure of all testing, including the negative data that companies often keep secret.

    n Does not harm livelihoods or undermine food control. We must protect communities who may lose local employment or have their non-GM or organic crops contaminated. GM crop use should not trap farmers into unfair agreements, and they should retain the freedom to save and use seeds.

    n Does not increase the market dominance of giant corporations. A handful of companies such as Monsanto and Cargill dominate the food chain and wield excessive political power. We must reduce their control and promote competition.

    n Has been approved through democratic processes after proper debate. Friends of the Earth has worked with Forum for the Future and the Governments research council, BBSRC, to identify 14 questions that need public discussion before we make decisions to use synthetic biology techniques. These questions are equally applicable to GM crops and foods.

    n Is properly regulated. The BBSRC has reported that genetic modification and other techniques are progressing faster than the regulations needed to ensure they are used safely. Rules should be in place to prevent contamination of non-GM crops and to ensure that the biotech industry is liable if their products cause damage.

    n Cannot be developed through safer non-GM approaches. Conventional crop breeding techniques such as marker-assisted breeding may offer viable, lower-risk alternatives.

    n Is designed for sustainable farming. We must champion approaches that use no or very limited amounts of artificial fertilisers, that primarily use natural pest control and that preserve soil health.

    THE PROBLEM continued

    methods. However, we need to use our new knowledge cautiously the more we learn, the more we realise how much we still do not know.

    Feeding a predicted 9 billion people by 2050 requires a revolution in how we farm and how

    we eat, moving away from intensive farming towards more ecological approaches. We must resist the use of GM crops that come hand in hand with more chemicals, reduced wildlife and the continued degradation of our soils.

  • KEY REFERENCES

    Friends of the Earth Policy Position (2015), Feeding the world: www.foe.co.uk/sites/default/files/downloads/policy-position-feeding-world-76595.pdf

    Friends of the Earth Policy Position (2015), Sustainable diets: www.foe.co.uk/sites/default/files/downloads/policy-position-sustainable-diets-76594.pdf

    International Agency for Research on Cancer findings on glyphosate (2015): monographs.iarc.fr/ENG/Monographs/vol112/index.php

    Forum for the Future, BBSRC, Friends of the Earth (2015), Synthetic Biology Decision Aid: www.forumforthefuture.org/project/making-deliberate-decisions-synthetic-biology/overview

    Centre for Food Safety (2012), Monsanto v. U.S. Farmers: www.centerforfoodsafety.org/files/monsanto-v-us-farmer-2012-update-final_98931.pdf

    Greenpeace (2011), Herbicide tolerance and GM crops: www.greenpeace.org/international/en/publications/reports/Herbicide-tolerance-and-GM-crops/

    Union of Concerned Scientists (2009), Failure to Yield Evaluating the Performance of Genetically Engineered Crops: www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/legacy/assets/documents/food_and_agriculture/failure-to-yield.pdf

    European Commission list of GM crop restrictions across Europe: ec.europa.eu/food/plant/gmo/authorisation/cultivation/geographical_scope_en.htm

    FOLLOW

    @ClareyOx Senior Campaigner, Friends of the Earth

    To give us feedback please visit: www.foe.co.uk/feedbackcomment.html

    Friends of the Earth Trust, a registered charity. www.foe.co.uk February 2016, 2241

    www.foe.co.uk/sites/default/files/downloads/policy-position-feeding-world-76595.pdfwww.foe.co.uk/sites/default/files/downloads/policy-position-sustainable-diets-76594.pdfmonographs.iarc.fr/ENG/Monographs/vol112/index.phpwww.forumforthefuture.org/project/making-deliberate-decisions-synthetic-biology/overviewwww.centerforfoodsafety.org/files/monsanto-v-us-farmer-2012-update-final_98931.pdfwww.greenpeace.org/international/en/publications/reports/Herbicide-tolerance-and-GM-crops/www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/legacy/assets/documents/food_and_agriculture/failure-to-yield.pdfwww.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/legacy/assets/documents/food_and_agriculture/failure-to-yield.pdfec.europa.eu/food/plant/gmo/authorisation/cultivation/geographical_scope_en.htmec.europa.eu/food/plant/gmo/authorisation/cultivation/geographical_scope_en.htmwww.foe.co.uk/feedbackcomment.htmlwww.foe.co.uk