NGOs file objections to UK field trials of GM crops

March 21, 2016 by Pat Thomas

A coalition of farmers, scientists, campaigners and charities has come together to urge the Government to stop the planting of genetically modified (GM) potatoes and plants that produce fish oil in the UK this spring.

Objecting to open air GM trial applications from the Sainsbury’s Laboratory in Norwich (blight resistant potatoes) and Rothamsted Research in Hertfordshire (omega-3 fatty-acid camelina) he coalition has submitted evidence to Defra demonstrating that the risks of the trials are not justified by any potential gains. Their concerns include:

  • Antibiotic resistance. Some of the potatoes in the proposed trial include an antibiotic resistance “marker” gene that could transfer to disease-causing bacteria.
  • Contamination and cross-breeding with wild relatives. Pollen and seed can escape from trials and, as any gardener can tell you, viable GM potatoes could survive in the ground for many years after harvest.
  • Unexpected effects of the genetic engineering process. DNA alterations can impact on how other genes are expressed and neither applicant has tested the potential environmental or food safety harms their GM plants could cause.

Liz O’Neill, Director of umbrella group GM Freeze, which coordinated the objections, also questions the claimed benefits of the crops that the trials aim to create.

“You know the chips are really down for GM when the best they can offer is a potato with a far more basic level of protection against blight than can be found in existing non-GM varieties. What’s more, those conventional varieties have already reached the market without the tax-payer-funded subsidies that have gone into these projects.

“Evidence on the health impacts of omega-3s is very mixed and the idea that growing them on prime agricultural land will make the fish farming industry sustainable is more than a little fishy.

“GM is one of the top three food safety concerns in the UK.The public don’t want it and it is time that public funding went into projects that will solve real problems like food waste and poor understanding of how to choose a balanced diet.”

Pat Thomas, Director of Beyond GM, comments: “These trials are promoted to the public as ultimately being about ‘public good’. But this narrative only serves as misdirection, taking our attention away from the fact that, at best, genetically engineered crops like the GM potato are unnecessary, since there are already naturally bred varieties that are more resilient and resistant to blight. At worst, as in the case of the GM camelina, which is being produced to feed farmed fish, they are being used to support and perpetuate some of the filthiest, most unsustainable farming practices around. After more than 20 years we know there is no magic to GMOs. In fact, they are the worst kind of abracadabra, distracting us from more important action on sustainable, agorecological farming and food.”

The coalition of NGOs that submitted the two comprehensive objections was made up of GM Freeze, Beyond GM, GM Watch, GeneWatch UK, GM Free Cymru, Soil Association, Organic Research Center, Organic Growers Alliance, EcoNexus, Mums Say No to GMOs, GM Free Dorset, Unicorn Grocery Ltd, Action Against Allergy, Sevenoaks Friends of the Earth, Find Your Feet, the Springhead Trust, White Home Farm, Whole Organic Plus, ACE Energy, Shepton Farms Ltd and South Gloucester Friends of the Earth.