Michael McCarthy: Hello green concrete, goodbye wildlife

Share
Related Topics

The argument against allowing genetically modified crops to be grown commercially in Britain can be summed up in two words: green concrete.

It means a landscape in which fields have a crop growing in them but nothing else. No wild plants or flowers of any sort, no butterflies or moths, no smaller insects on which birds and their chicks can feed, and so no birds. Green concrete means a countryside that still may be called the countryside, and may still appear green, but apart from the crop, it will be entirely sterile and lifeless.

That is what would happen if the GM crops previously proposed, including maize, beet and oilseed rape, were allowed to be grown on a commercial scale. For they were all genetically engineered to be able to survive the application of increasingly powerful weedkillers, known as "broad spectrum" herbicides, which would kill everything else in the field.

The best known of these chemicals is glyphosate, made by Monsanto under the trade name Roundup. Why is it called Roundup? Because nothing escapes.

In some countries, losing farmland wildlife might not matter so much. In the US, for example, people do not go to the grain prairies of Kansas to see flowers and birds; American agricultural areas are for agriculture. If you want to see wildlife you go to a wilderness area. The US is so big that there are plenty of these, some of them the size of Wales.

But Britain is different. It is a relatively small nation with an intimate, patchwork countryside and, if we want our wildlife to survive, much of it must survive on farms. Yet our farmland wildlife, especially birds and wild flowers, has already been given a catastrophic battering by the intensification of agriculture that has taken place in recent decades.

Who sees a cornfield dotted with red poppies now? How many people hear skylarks? Declines in farmland birds are incredible. Since the 1970s, tree sparrows have declined by 93 per cent, corn buntings by 89 per cent, grey partridges by 88 per cent, turtle doves by 83 per cent and so the list runs on.

This has happened just with conventional weedkillers and pesticides, which do allow some fauna to survive. The introduction of broad-spectrum chemicals, which GM technology would allow, would be a further and fatal ratcheting-up of the intensification process for farming. Nothing would be left. The Government demonstrated this with its farm-scale evaluations of GM crops from 1998 to 2003. They proved wildlife was damaged far more by the GM process than by conventional methods.

Of course, there are many other crop modifications possible besides herbicide tolerance. In years to come, as climate change takes hold, we may need crops engineered to be drought-tolerant or salt-tolerant. They could be real life-savers – but they are not on offer yet.

Click here to have your say

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Agile Tester

£28000 - £30000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: An ambitious...

Senior SAP MM Consultant, £50,000 - £60,000, Birmingham

£50000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Senior SAP MM C...

SAP BW BO

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP BW BO - 6 MONTHS - LONDON London (Gr...

HSE Manger - Solar

£40000 - £45000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: HSE Mana...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Let's make Eid a bank holiday

Grace Dent
Tulisa Contostavlos arrives to face drug charges at Southwark Crown Court on July 14, 2014  

Tulisa might have been attacked for being working class, but she still has to take some responsibility

Chloe Hamilton
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried