Arable farmers ‘upbeat about GM crops’

UK arable farmers are generally supportive of GM technology, seeing it as a way of meeting the conflicting demands for cheap food produced in an environmentally friendly way, according to new research by the Open University.

The study was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and involved interviews with 30 farmers – mainly those who were involved with the Farm Scale Evaluations of GM crops, plus their near neighbours.

“Both farmers who have been involved in GM crop trials and those who have not, regard GM as a simple extension of previous plant breeding techniques,” said an ESRC statement. “They do not think that GM raises any issues of principle.”

According to the study, the farmers interviewed believed GM crops were a step forward in helping them become more competitive in world markets.

“Particular advantages of GM crops were more flexible timing, fewer herbicide applications, simpler management and time and labour savings, so improving farm efficiency and hence profitability,” it said.

Further, the use of fewer and safer chemicals was seen to provide human safety and wildlife benefits.

But the report has been derided by sustainable farming group FARM, which described the findings as “blatantly pro-GM propaganda”.

“The research claims to be representative of UK farmer opinion, but in reality represents the views of just 30 farmers, who were mainly from those who had hosted a FSE trial – hardly a representative sample,” said a spokesman.

“The survey was conducted in 2005 – so why has it been sat on for so long?” he added. “Can a survey of farmer opinion nearly three-years-old be relevant now?”

“The poor quality of this research does not reflect well on the Open University or ESRC, and FARM has to question whether this piece of research, canvassing the opinion of just 30 farmers, is really good value at £131,000?”

But the BSRC insists that the report was fully peer reviewed and was graded as “good”.

It also helped redress the balance, since most of the debate on GM technology has focussed on policies and acceptability with consumers.

“Little work has been done with respect to farmers who would be the primary users of GM crop technology,” it said.

“While farmers acknowledged the wider debate around GM crops, their experience and knowledge has led to their view that the controversy surrounding GM crops is not a significant issue.”

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