Chris Short from CCRI took part in the Greener Gloucestershire festival held over the weekend at the University of Gloucestershire’s Park campus. Chris was engaged in a debate concerning GM food production, and here are his thoughts on the issue and the event…
As part of the excellent Greener Gloucestershire Festival on 20th September I took part in a debate about GMOs. Opposing them and their use in the UK and elsewhere was Liz O’Neill of GM Freeze and I was given the task of supporting them. I hadn’t engaged in this debate for the past few years but had noted some rather passionate support for them from the current Government, none more so than Owen Paterson when he was leader of Defra.
Once my research was done and I was ready for the debate, I was both surprised and refreshed. The refreshing element was that those opposed seem to have grown up – no talk of ‘Frankenstein foods’ and a much more reasoned and well-argued position for the need of stronger and more independent scientific research and more accountability in the whole system, especially for consumers. GM Freeze it seems is an excellent example of this new approach.
The surprise is that I found myself able to develop a plausible argument to support GMOs, and one that I didn’t feel a fraud in presenting – so long as the ‘babies and bathwater’ stood up to examination. The discussion from the small but committed audience was sharp, well-made and showed that a number of people do care about this issue and are seeking balanced information that is robust and not tainted by connections to one side or the other. Where we get our information from really does make a difference
So what swayed me towards support GMOs? I have always been put off that the polarized nature of the arguments has restricted the discussion and ultimately the wider progress of GMOs. However, the challenges that the worlds faces in this century are immense. Population is due to reach 9 billion by 2050 and possibly 11 billion by 2100 and the impacts of climate change are likely to mean an increase of 4 degrees with energy use almost doubling. So the pressure on natural resources will increase significantly this century and that will have an impact on all of our lives.
Therefore, the global community needs numerous tools at their disposal because none of them alone will be a magical solution. The benefits of GMOs hinge around their ability to produce more food but with a lighter environmental footprint by:
• Getting more from less by increasing yields and reducing waste
• Reducing the use of chemicals
• Aiding medical advancements and nutrition.
OK so that is the baby, but the bathwater is murky and much deserves to be discarded. Chemical use in the US, and even on GMO crops is increasing. The fate of the Monarch butterfly is an often quoted case. My point would be this, it is not the GMO that is causing this but the approach to farming – if the crop was not GMO would the Monarch butter fly be any better off? Some areas of industrial agriculture seems addicted to the use of inputs, GMO or otherwise. A much better example of GMO is found in China (yes China!), where evidence over 20 years shows a reduced use of chemical and increased numbers of natural predators tackling the pests not targeted by the GMO crop. If it works there, why can’t it work elsewhere? This would seem to be a good example of sustainable intensification. Just because it is a GMO does not mean to say that good agricultural practices should be changed. The same should be true of GMOs within the food chain.
In the end Liz O’Niell and I agreed that there was both a baby and bathwater, but disagreed on the size of the baby and the murkiness of the bathwater. Perhaps this debate is happening elsewhere but reaching agreement on anything around GMOs seemed like a good outcome to me.