GIVEN THE chance most of our regional representatives would grow GM crops – eventually. But consumer reaction, logical or otherwise, looms large in their thinking on how the technology could or should be progressed.
Several, principally Paul Temple, recently back from the 8th annual International Oilseeds Producers Dialogue meeting in Paraguay and last week”s International Food and Drink Exhibition in London, fear the UK is lagging in the agricultural technology race.
“Over a billion acres of GM crops have now been grown worldwide,” he says.
“It was fascinating to see in South America how they are now a strategic part of environmental management, maximising the benefits of no-till cultivations to return organic matter to the soil.”
For Argentinean soya growers, facing a 22% output tax, they are the only way to strip out costs and stay in business, he adds. “It was a real eye-opener.”
Most countries view agriculture as important and support progress and change, notes Ben Atkinson. “For some reason our population is different. Yes! We are being left behind and it”s a shame.”
He highlights the anomaly of GM in medicine being encouraged and seen as progress.
“Apply it to agriculture and all the lobby groups and the press have a field day. Frankenstein science? What a load of rubbish.” But lobbying and a press campaign against his proposed wind farm make him wary. “No. I won”t be rushing to grow any GMs yet.”
“I believe too many other people try to control our futures,” says Clive Weir. Why should we not have crops that need fewer sprays, help the environment and give us more time to farm?
“We”re already being left behind,” says Giles Blatchford.
“From an environmental and pesticide reduction point of view I”m strongly in favour of GM crops.”
Herbicide resistance spread, to hedgerow species for example, causes him little concern. “So what? We don”t spray our hedges.
“What Frankenstein monsters are we expected to find?”
Resistance to the technology is led not by scientific argument, but by consumers persuaded that large chemical companies should not make profits, he adds. “Profit is a dirty word to some people.”
Troy Stuart is also a GM crops advocate, believing them vital for UK commodity farmers to be able to compete globally.
“If we”re not able to use them we are going to be at a disadvantage in world markets.”
The Stevenson brothers, however, are cautious on several counts.
“It wouldn”t be the first time that science has promised us something and let us down, for example with thalidomide,” says Allan. “But it”s also quite clear that the market isn”t ready for GM.”
“My brother-in-law in Canada grows GM and it”s not without its problems,” adds Robert.
Andrew Goodman cannot foresee embracing the technology unless there is a radical change of attitude among supermarkets and consumers.
But John Hutcheson is “comfortable” with the science.
“I”m sure it is safe and would make life easier from the farming point of view. On this estate we”re doing plenty to offset any environmental effects which I think would be reasonably minimal.”
But the clincher is that none of his customers want to buy GM crops. “Quaker Oats just wouldn”t entertain it.”