Can GM save the world? No – not the car company.

I’ve spent the last six months travelling around the world to investigate GM crops. I wanted to find out if they had a role to play in our agricultural systems or whether the environmental and health concerns make it too risky.

The first thing I found was that much of the rest of the world does not share Europe’s concerns about GM technology.

GM crops were planted on over 100 million hectares last year – that’s about 10% of the world’s crops which are now genetically modified. And it really seems to be working for the farmers.

I visited Argentina where they’ve adopted GM technology in a big way. Every year they plant an area larger than Britain with GM soya beans.

The beans are much more profitable to grow than conventional beans and they have become the country’s biggest export. They almost single-handedly rescued Argentina from economic meltdown when they were introduced in the late 1990s.

But there have been downsides. The GM production system works best when grown on a large scale and many smaller farmers have been squeezed off their land by the expansion of the mega-farms and huge areas of natural forest are being cleared to make way for more soya.

Which, of course, doesn’t have a damned thing to do with crops being GM or not. Agri-business lurches ahead with monopolization no matter what the crop.

In the US, GM technology has become even more widespread.

In Pennsylvania I met Amish farmers whose lifestyle hasn’t changed for decades. But even though they still use horse-drawn machinery to tend their fields, they also grow GM crops.

They grow a variety of corn that produces its own insecticide. It means their crops suffer from much lower levels of insect damage and they have to spray much less pesticide. And that has got to be a good thing for the farmers and for the environment…

It is still a young technology and I think it’s real use may lie in the future.

Imagine if GM could be used to create crops that produced higher yields, or were resistant to drought or could even fix their own nitrogen and produce their own fertiliser.

Doherty covers his buns with the Vegetarian Left by concluding GM crops aren’t really needed, yet. He reiterates fears common to pro and con-GM advocates. But, they aren’t a measured reality.

Should science-based political movements advocate serious watchdogs? You bet. Are negative possibilities severe enough to put a halt to GM R&D – and production? I don’t see a rational case for that decision.

He omits observation of the strong growth in R&D for non-food crops, bio-fuel crops, no consideration of GM fuel crops aimed at land otherwise left fallow.

2 thoughts on “Can GM save the world? No – not the car company.

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