Thursday, 14 February 2008

GM Scare Stories

Producers of GM seed have found a new way of sneaking out propaganda about their unpopular technology – they’re targeting business editors who aren’t normally too clued up on farming. How else can you explain a full page report in the world business section of The Times today warning of the possible collapse of Europe’s livestock industry because of delays in approving new GM varieties?[1]

We’re told that shortages of grain for animal feed – together with high prices – are “wreaking havoc” on livestock production, causing pig and poultry farmers to cut back their output. According to the report the EU imports 80 per cent of its protein feeds mostly as GM soya and “corn”. It seems the main producing countries – the USA, Argentina and Brazil – are constantly switching to new GM varieties. EU approval policies for new GM grains are apparently so slow that Europe could run out of sources of supply, leading to run-away feed prices and a big cut in pig and poultry production.

To me the article looks like a classic piece of scare-mongering on behalf of the GM companies and global commodity traders. I checked with a couple of farming friends. They agreed that soya supplies were tight but said it had “naff-all” to do with GM approvals. It’s simply that rocketing Chinese demand for protein grains is putting a strain on supplies. While this may be disruptive, it’s hardly likely to lead to the destruction of civilisation as we know it.

For decades now the EU has produced vast surpluses of feed grains. It could easily substitute home-grown protein grains for the cheap American soya the livestock industry has now become addicted to. The UK alone produces an annual grain surplus of 4 million tonnes. For decades British taxpayers have been forced to pick up the tab for dumping it all on global markets, so destroying the livelihoods of farmers in poor countries.

What’s wrong with turning over some of the land to producing our own protein feeds – traditional crops like beans and peas? These were the proteins British farmers put in their animal feeds before they acquired their US soya habit. Both are legumes – they “fix” atmospheric nitrogen, building up the fertility of the soil. They’d help counter climate change, they’d make our farm animals healthier, they’d probably make our foods healthier, too. What’s more these “home-grown “ foods would become genuinely British instead of being dependent on imported grains and energy.

Maybe business editors should talk to farmers more often and rely less heavily on briefings from the GM industry.

[1]Europe faces meat crisis as wrangle over GM animal feeds intensifies’, The Times, Thursday February 14 2008

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