The risks of genetically modified crops still outweigh the benefits

Share

The technology of genetically-modified crops as it has been developed so far fails to provide sufficient benefits to outweigh the risks; unless other evidence is forthcoming that is very different, the Government must not license these crops.

The results of the farm trials of genetically-modified crops are surprisingly definite. On the evidence of the findings so far, there is simply no case for the Government to endorse the widespread commercial growing of such crops.

In two of the three cases, the effect of using the different weedkillers suitable to the genetically-modified crop adversely affected wildlife. That may not seem surprising: one of the purposes of this kind of biotechnology is to allow more effective herbicides and pesticides to be used to control weeds and pests without harming the crop itself. Fewer weeds means fewer - and fewer varieties of - insects, and that in turns means fewer corn buntings, skylarks and yellowhammers.

In fact, the proponents of genetic modification claimed this would not be so. They said that their new crops would allow more effective, targeted herbicides to be used instead of the present cocktail of different chemicals, and would therefore be kinder to wildlife. That claim has now been refuted.

In the case of sugar beet and spring-sown oilseed rape, the cultivation of genetically-modified varieties reduced the biodiversity of the immediate environment. In the third case, that of maize, it improved it, but this might only have been because the conventional maize was treated with a harsh weedkiller that is being phased out before being banned.

Of course, these were limited trials of a narrow issue, that of the effect on biodiversity. There are three other issues. One is whether it is dangerous to eat food from genetically-modified crops. On that, no one has suggested a plausible reason why it should be. The second is whether such crops could cross-pollinate with other plants, including weeds, with "unpredictable" results that have in fact already been predicted, including the creation of herbicide-resistant super-weeds. On that, the jury is still out.

The last issue is whether biotechnology can significantly raise yields. So far, it has only been able to do that by allowing more effective control of weeds and pests - which has the effect on biodiversity that was assessed in the trials reported yesterday.

To simplify, therefore, the choice comes down to enhanced yields versus reduced biodiversity. Broadly, that is the same choice that has been offered by intensive farming since the Industrial Revolution. And there has been a growing recognition in recent decades that farming policy should be tending in the opposite direction to that offered by today's genetically-modified crops. The movement should be away from intensive farming and towards the preservation of biodiversity. You do not have to be a fully-subscribed 100 per cent organic enthusiast to appreciate that the environmental costs of modern farming methods are too high.

The priority should not be the further intensification of single-crop and single-livestock farms. Instead, it should be the ending of subsidies and tariffs, the protection and restoration of ancient habitats and the promotion of animal welfare.

That does not mean, as Greenpeace urged yesterday, that the Government should "shut the door" on genetic technology. Science is part of the solution to the problems of global sustainability, not an obstacle.

It may yet be that genetic engineering could produce huge benefits to humankind, helping to feed the multitudes and cure them of all manner of diseases. Those were the promises that lured a technocratic Prime Minister into uncritical support for Britain's biotechnology industry. And it must be suspected that there is a political imperative driving this Government towards a favourable verdict on the farm trials of crops.

But yesterday's findings strongly suggest that the technology as it has been developed so far fails to provide sufficient benefits to outweigh the risks. Unless other evidence is forthcoming that is very different, the Government must not license these crops.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an excellent, large partially ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Primary Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Ashdown Group: Lead Web Developer (ASP.NET, C#) - City of London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Lead Web Develo...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Kylie has helped to boost viewing figures for the talent show  

When an Aussie calls you a ‘bastard’, you know you’ve arrived

Howard Jacobson
The number of schools converting to academies in the primary sector has now overtaken those in the secondary sector – 2,299 to 1,884 (Getty)  

In its headlong rush to make a profit, our education system is in danger of ignoring its main purpose

Janet Street-Porter
Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee