It was announced this morning that there is strong political support for the UK to embrace GM foods more. Owen Paterson, who is the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said he wanted to ensure that the UK lead the world in GM crops, and that it is a “wonderful opportunity to improve human health”. – A very interesting comment from a politician with no background in human nutrition, and only a small amount of experience in agriculture.
However, the main points of his argument (which is going to be made in full later today) will focus on crop yield, which often correlates to increases in profit…
Quickly I’ll cover GM foods. There are 3 types of GM:
- Native gene duplication (increases expression of gene e.g production of lycopene in tomato).
- Native gene deletion (reduces expression or completely removes a trait e.g. reducing ripening rate of fruit).
- Foreign gene addition – Adding a gene from another organism to express a new trait. I did this at college to make bacteria glow in the dark – not really practical, but fun (and of course educational).
The first 2 on the list are not of too much concern, as there is nothing new in the plant, and the plant isn’t doing much different. The third, adding a foreign gene, is of serious concern. It gives a plant ‘super powers’, making them able to produce pesticides, resistant to herbicides and produce new nutrients. These sounds great on the surface, but think:
- It will cause a reduction in biodiversity which can have detrimental effects on the ecosystem. Food chains are very delicate and we just don’t know how serious or extensive the effects will be.
- Imagine if a pest got resistant to the pesticides which our crops produce? It would wipe out our crops worse than any flood or pest in the past – it happened with MRSA in humans, it can happen with GM crops.
- It will create a monopoly in crops. We have seen what Monsanto has done to farmers in the USA, what will stop this happening here in the UK?
- We DO NOT know the long term effects of consuming GM foods ourselves. We do know that genes are not exclusive to the organism they are found in. Bacteria are excellent at swapping genes with each other (and some plants). We have billions of bacteria on our gut, what will GM foods do to them?
There is just far too much uncertainty revolving around GM food to promote them to the public. I stand with France and Austria with this and oppose the move. Our food should be about nutrition, not politics.
Image courtesy of Treedson Tang