DEFRA secretary Owen Paterson lost no time in throwing his full weight behind GM foods at the recent Oxford Farming conference. I wouldn’t be so confident that the commercial growing of GM is right for the UK at present.
To be clear, I have no problem with the safety or the science of GM technology, but there is a world full of people out there who do have concerns. And, until such times as those fears are quashed, then GM technology will be bad for British business.
I think Mr Paterson should contemplate another of the pledges he made during his speech. He said: “I would like decisions on which food to produce to be left to the market, so farmers alone decide which crops to grow and which animals to raise according to demand in the food sector.”
Well, there is no consumer-led demand for GM food products. A few food processors wishing to purchase cheaper ingredients should not be confused with consumer demand.
Mr Paterson’s notion that the public will be clamouring for the stuff once they are made aware of the “potential benefits” beyond the food chain in terms of helping the environment is pure fantasy.
I suspect the type of person who takes the time to understand the concept of GM cropping will then demand that products containing GM ingredients are clearly labelled and then avoid consuming them.
Conversely, there is most definitely a huge market demand for food and drink products that can claim to have a pure, healthy and natural provenance. That type of food is easily sold to discerning consumers anywhere in the world, not just here in the UK.
Mr Paterson makes much of the success of the UK’s food and drinks industry’s success with export markets. Adopting the widespread growing of GM crops can surely only limit or even erode that great success. Whether he likes it or not, GM cropping will hang about the UK’s food and drinks industry like a bad smell if it is ever allowed to take root here. So why should we be in such a big rush to throw away our image of producing high-quality natural food in an unspoilt environment?
We’re uniquely placed on the edge of mainland Europe with a natural barrier around us. We are the one country in the EU that can’t go wrong by sitting and waiting to see how things pan out with GM technology. And, even if the UK as a whole doesn’t have a particularly good image in the eyes of the world, then its constituent parts most definitely do.
I bet any of those 16 million GM farmers can only look on enviously at Scotland’s success
Wales has always done a fantastic job at promoting itself to the wider world as a producer of high-quality foodstuffs. Wales the True Taste and the Visit Wales branding just reeks of a clean environment and high-quality food.
Then there’s Scotland, whose food and drink exports last year bagged about a third of the UK’s £18bn food and drink export market. If you consider that three-quarters of the country is good only for looking at, then we’re not doing too badly with oor wee bit o’ hill and glen.
Mr Paterson, when he was making the case in favour of GM foods, said 16 million farmers grew GM products on 160 million hectares in 2011. I bet any of those 16 million can only look on enviously at Scotland’s success.
So, now’s the time to be holding on to our green and pleasant virtue; there’s a whole lot to lose and not much to be gained by blowing it on one big night out with the likes of Monsanto.
Neale McQuistin is an upland beef and sheep farmer in South West Scotland. He farms 365 hectares in partnership with his wife, Janet, much of which is under stewardship for wildlife.
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