GM Crops: The Power in Food

By Jackson, Anthony; Mullan, Nigel | Soundings, Autumn 2006 | Go to article overview

GM Crops: The Power in Food


Jackson, Anthony, Mullan, Nigel, Soundings


In August 2001, people from Scotland's Black Isle, and the Moray Firth and Inverness areas in general, congregated in a lay-by beside a field near the village of Munlochy. The field was being sown with oilseed rape genetically modified to tolerate herbicides and was the largest field trial of its kind in the UK at the time. From day one the decision emerged to continue the demonstration against this GM trial, and to watch over what was going on--gathering and relaying information, lobbying, petitioning and staying put at the big field's edge. This became the Munlochy GM Vigil. The local planning authorities subsequently gave it leave to remain, and the Scottish Parliament eventually adopted its petition. In the spring of 2002, the Scottish Parliament's Transport and Environment Committee voted to plough in the Scottish GM trials as a result of the petition in Scotland being furthered by the Public Petitions Committee. In early 2003, the Scottish Parliament's Health and Community Care Committee published a damning report as a result of its inquiry into the health impact of GM Crops (Inquiry Into GM Crops, SP Paper 743). By March 2005 executive government intransigence had been worn away, as the present policy statement of the Scottish Executive makes clear:

  The Executive recognises that the public are uneasy about GM and that
  there is limited support for the commercial planting of GM crops in
  Scotland. The biotechnology companies have yet to persuade Scottish
  farmers and consumers that there are real benefits to be gained from
  GM crops. The Executive's role is not to persuade people to accept GM
  products.

On 22 March 2005, the Independent newspaper covered its entire front page with the banner headline, 'The end for GM crops: Final British trial confirms threat to wildlife':

  Yet another nail was hammered into the coffin of the GM food industry
  in Britain yesterday when the final trial of a four-year series of
  experiments found, once more, that genetically modified crops can be
  harmful to wildlife.

The four-year study had shown that the powerful weed killers that the crops are engineered to tolerate would bring about further damage to a countryside already devastated by intensive farming. This was a victory for a broad-ranging, hard-fighting, UK-wide campaign. The Munlochy GM Vigil is part of the worldwide movement against GM crops. Its successes in Scotland show that popular campaigning can achieve results, and this too is something that is being experienced on an international scale. This article is written by people from the Vigil, one of whose aims is to spread more information about GM crops and the multinational companies which promote and profit from them (see www.munlochygmvigil.org.uk).

GM crops--the background

Transgenic agriculture first appeared in the mid-1990s in the US, and American companies remain the world's largest growers and advocates (the European Union today barely allows any commercial plantings). The crops that are grown on a commercial scale are mainly for use in animal feed or cotton production, largely because of their potential for trade on bulk commodity markets. Four varieties - soybean, maize, cotton and canola (rapeseed)--represent 99 per cent of commercial GM plantings (an estimated 1.6 per cent of the world's total agricultural area), and are worth more than $40 billion each year. The value of the GM products themselves is estimated at $4.7 billion (the market value of global biotech crops is based on the sale of biotech seed plus any technology fees that apply), just over a tenth of the total commodity crop market for these commodities. Companies make various claims for the crops from their GM seeds--for example that they resist a particular insect pest or tolerate particular pesticides--which then boosts sales of their pesticide. The taking out of patents for these seeds is a highly questionable practice, particularly when it comes to plants the whole world has had a hand in growing and developing; the patents extend charges for intellectual property rights into contracts, and tie farmers into business systems that deny them the right to harvest seed from the crops they have grown, with prosecution threatened if company detectives discover they have done so. …

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