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2-Plants: UK Small Farms Association says "no" to GE crops

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SOURCE: The Western Morning News, UK, by
DATE:   Jan 29, 2003

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Chairman of the Small Farms Association Philip Hosking, who farms near
Modbury, reports on the detailed research his organisation has carried
out on genetically-modified crops - and its opposition to GMOs

LIKE many farming, environmental and consumer groups, the Small Farms
Association is engaged in the current, ongoing debate on genetically
modified crops and is concerned about their introduction into the UK.

To date we have been less vocal than some organisations because we wanted
to consider the facts surrounding the key issues before taking a public
stance. However, the time has now come to declare our position.

As many readers are aware, the SFA was formed to support the traditional
farmer, that is, those who farm in a less intensive way that is sensitive
to the environment and its wildlife.

Considering our aims, we have a particular interest in the impact of GM
crops. The SFA exists to promote sustainable farming. For this reason we
have to oppose the introduction of the current generation of GM crops in
any part of the UK, and on the basis of the lack of information and good
evidence-based science of the long-term effects on animal and human
populations and the environment.

Over the last 50 years science has had a tremendously beneficial
influence over the way we farm. Advances in cattle breeding, animal
nutrition, veterinary medicine and agronomy have led to higher production
per unit.

But conversely, science has developed organophosphates that effectively
control ecto-parasites in sheep but have led to serious health problems
in the farming community due to their high toxicity even at low levels
and, of course, the disastrous BSE epidemic.

Because of such mistakes in the past, we need to apply the precautionary
principle and advance with extreme caution.

In fact, the existing scientific evidence from countries that have been
growing GM crops for the last decade or more, particularly the USA and
Canada, supports the view that their presence has had a detrimental
effect on the environment, its wildlife and possibly human health.

Consequently, the SFA urges the Government to apply the precautionary
principle and conduct research over the medium to long-term to get a more
detailed understanding of the effect of GM crops before seriously
considering their introduction.

In the meanwhile, we call upon local authorities throughout the country
to uphold the GM-free status of the UK.

Perhaps cynically we at the SFA have to ask who is fuelling the debate in
favour of the introduction of GM crops?

Having listened to media reports, talked to farmers and consumers and
read the comments on the Government's GM Website I am at odds to discover
who supports the growing of GM crops in the UK. It would appear that only
those with a vested interest are positively in favour of their introduction.

Most people have grave reservations about GM crops based, in the main, on
the lack of knowledge of their potential long-term effects. The
introduction of GM crops without good evidence of their beneficial effect
would be bad science.

Interestingly, all of the major UK food retailers have GM-free policies
for their own-brand products and have issued statements confirming this
position. The consumer is king, we are told, and is demanding GM-free
products. Recent opinion polls support this view, so why the agonising
when the consumer is opposing GM products? It would appear that there is
little or no demand for GM food.

And what about the results of a two-year crop trial in Suffolk that were
recently published in the Royal Society's Journal Proceedings, which
alleged that GM herbicide-tolerant sugar beet allowed weeds to grow
between the crop and actually attracted wildlife and protected the soil
from erosion with no reduction in crop yield or sugar quality?

The trial was funded, though not steered, by Monsanto and is
contradictory in our opinion - since the crop was blanket sprayed with
glyphosate halfway through the growing period.

I acknowledge that the issues surrounding GM crops are complex. One of
the potential knock-on effects of the growing of GM crops that has not
been discussed is the erosion of choice and the undermining of
communities. Through the review of the EU Common Agricultural Policy and
the Curry Report, the UK Government's report into the future of
agriculture, farmers are being encouraged to produce less and
simultaneously increase their stewardship of the countryside.

In both these reviews, farmers are given choices and much consultation is
being conducted to ensure the successful realignment of the farming
sector. The Government may be in contravention of its own farming policy
if it sanctions the introduction of GM crops and would certainly be in
contravention of 1991 and 1998 EU legislation banning the importation and
use of GM crops in the European Union.

Now is the time for farmers to regain control over their livelihoods and
not jeopardise such a prospect through signing patents and licensing
agreements with companies such as Monsanto and their associates.

There is a great deal of evidence from the USA and Canada that states
that GM crops have failed to deliver the promises made by the
biotechnology companies. Farmers have experienced lower crop yields, soil
erosion, irrevocable soil bacteria adaptation, loss of market share,
increased pesticide straying and new and increased weed growth. Our
sister organisation in Washington, the National Family Farms Coalition,
has ample evidence to support such statements, which were also quoted in
the recent Radio 4 programme "Seeds of Trouble".

The success of the large, multinational supermarkets has eliminated the
services that many rural and small urban communities used to enjoy;
whether it is the disappearance of the village shop, the post office or
the pharmacy.

Will GM crops be the final nail in the coffin of consumer choice?

There is another way forward, however: sustainable and safe farming,
producing food for local markets, together with the employment
opportunities, robust local economies and vibrant communities that are
the consequence of such policies.

The Small Farms Association says "no" to GM - for the time being at least.