Today the Scottish Government has taken the confident and well informed decision to ban commercial growing of GM crops in Scotland. Nourish and a consortium of partner organisations representing civil society, such as Friends of the Earth Scotland, Common Good Food, and Global Justice Now, support this ban and are sending a letter to government to demonstrate this support.
Watch Pete Ritchie, Nourish Scotland Director, in a panel discussion about the issue on BBC Scotland 2015 tonight at 10.30pm on BBC2. You can also listen again to Pete putting across support for the ban on Good Morning Scotland this morning, at 1 hour 36mins into the programme.
Why is GM agriculture a problem globally?:
GM production concentrates power and control in the pursuit of corporate profit rather than feeding people well, because large companies own the patent on the genes in GM seeds. Monsanto (no 1 for seeds) and Syngenta no 1 for agrichemicals) are looking to merge to create a biotech giant. However, things are beginning to short as Monsanto sales were down in first half of 2015. What’s needed instead is a diversity of seeds and genes, locally adapted and enhanced with non GM publicly owned plant breeding. For example NIAB (National Institute for Agricultural Botany) have bred a new wheat which may produce 30% more.
GM production also raises input costs for farmers: seeds cost 5x more, farmers need more fertiliser and water and herbicides to get the higher yield, but are then dependent upon prices dictated by the global commodity market (for example, cotton prices are falling because polyester prices go down when oil price goes down) – so small farmers have to run faster to stand still. The question is why are Indian farmers growing cotton rather than food?
The main GM crops – roundup ready soy and maize – are designed to rely on glyphosate, which is now being used at 4 times the rate of 20 years ago. Glyphosate compounds are now ubiquitous un human urine, breastmilk and everyday foods like bread. It has been classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (part of WHO) as ‘probably carcinogenic’.
Reasons why GM is problematic for Scotland:
Scotland’s reputation does matter: the people who buy Scottish whisky, seafood in our main export markets want to avoid risk of contamination in their food. We also export Scottish seed potatoes worldwide. Our seed potato industry is highly successful globally, so not having any GM in Scotland minimises any possible risk of contamination. China does not permit GM crops for humans to be grown, and the acreage of GM in China has been static or declining for last 10 years. There are strong movements in many US states to make GM labelling mandatory. Germany, France and Italy all likely to opt out of growing GM crops.
Regarding potatoes again: late blight is a problem (though not the main cause of the Irish potato famine) and the blight pathogens evolve quickly making control difficult. There have been efforts to grow GM potatoes for years – but at the same time there are dozens of blight resistant varieties from conventional breeding (“Athlete” grown for M&S is one good example). Do we really want just one GM potato on the shelves? It’s also clear that if we did grow a GM potato, no-one would buy it to eat, so it would only be used for industrial production. Other control methods – long rotations, agroforestry – also help. Again the real problem with potatoes is not producing more: consumption is declining and prices dropping (potatoes were down to 4p per kg at the farmgate last year). It’s about producing potatoes that are working with not against people, communities, local economies and with nature.
To read the Scottish Government’s press release click here.