Saturday, May 28, 2016

Matt Ridley: Genetic modification of plants is safe and good for the planet

The exhaustive and cautious new report from the American National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine leaves no room for doubt that genetically engineered crops are as safe or safer, and are certainly better for the environment, than conventionally bred crops.

The European Union was wrong to reject them 25 years ago and is wrong to continue rejecting this beneficial technology. The European Commission conceded in 2010 that GM crops are not per se more risky than, for example, conventional plant-breeding technologies, but still makes it all but impossible to grow them.

Insect-resistant “Bt” crops in particular have better yields and need fewer pesticides, resulting in “higher insect biodiversity on farms”, the academies’ report concludes.

Back in the 1990s I argued that organic farmers — who had used Bt as a spray for decades — should have embraced genetic modification from the start, instead of campaigning against it: it was going to reduce insecticide use, which was what they said they wanted.

In future genetically engineered crops will be even safer, even better for the environment and also better for human health. It is a disgrace that Greenpeace still campaigns against golden rice, a vitamin-enhanced variety that could save hundreds of thousands of lives a year.

Papayas, bananas, cotton and other tropical crops are beginning to benefit from biotechnology, and the main beneficiaries are small-scale farmers, not multinational businesses.

But opposition from rich westerners adds to the cost of bringing such crops to the market, restricting the spread of the technology and benefiting large companies that can afford the regulatory price and can face down the onslaught of the big green pressure groups.

The Greens, having begun to encounter “donor fatigue” on the topic of climate change, have recently upped their opposition to genetically engineered crops, especially in America.

The new Vermont GMO-labelling law that comes into effect in July is effectively a national law. This means that despite failing to impose state-wide initiatives in California, Oregon and Washington (three of the most liberal states you can imagine) the Greens have managed to win nationwide by turning the legislature of a tiny, and otherwise unimportant, state.

Labelling GM food but not other forms of nourishment leaves consumers with the impression that there is something wrong, and food manufacturers then pull out of using the crops: Danone has recently made this decision. The national academies report makes the obvious point that genetic engineering is a method, not a category of crop. It makes no sense to single it out for special labelling — regulation should be based on traits, not techniques. After all, we don’t regulate food safety according to whether food is boiled or roasted, but according to what’s in it.

The report points out that “emerging genetic technologies have blurred the distinction between genetic engineering and conventional plant breeding to the point where regulatory systems based on process are technically difficult to defend”. Gene editing in particular will soon allow scientists to improve crops in ways that have none of the even theoretical risks that the Greens have trumpeted. If Europe does not embrace biotech plants now, its agriculture will wilt.

Matt Ridley, a member of the British House of Lords, is an acclaimed author who blogs at www.rationaloptimist.com

7 comments:

paul scott said...

Yes, Remember Corngate in New Zealand [2002] , and all the nonsense over GE testing, when you can not accurately test anyway. Later Helen Clarke had to inform the Greens that they were luddites.
My daughter-was 15 years old about then, and she wrote an Essay for her fifth form year in praise of the science of genetic improvements in plant species.
Her teacher told her that her essay was stupid and she received her first and only D grading. Well, I was quite ready to attack the Burnside High School, but Jacqui [daughter] reminded me that the days of having teachers sacked because of emotional offences, and hurt feelings were still in the future. So we just let her go to University and continue on her usual A grade passes.

Peter Caulton said...

In response to Paul Scott, He may be happy to put his daughters health at risk with a new technology before it has been tested which it can be by feeding it to test animals and seeing what happens over a long period of time. Also Matt does not seem to know that Europe is outstripping the US by producing food non GMO.You might want to go to Youtube Paul and type " Sick Pigs from GMO Foods | Interview with Jeffery Smith" into the search engine and see the results of an Aussie study on the effects of feeding GMO crops to pigs.The same results have been found in the US.
The answer is not introducing GMO's to feed a growing world population but limiting and reversing that growth to solve a lot of environmental and pollution problems facing our planet.That should be the focus. Not saying breed all you like we will find a way to feed you if you do.

Anonymous said...

So, Peter, you oppose the use of GMO crops despite the proof of their increased production, and no doubt you would not approve of increasing wonderful CO2 in the atmosphere which is certainly increasing harvests worldwide. I suggest you mail your subscription to Greenpeace on the way to your new home in an electricity-less cave!

Anonymous said...

Seriously, anybody who genuinely believes that GM crops and GMO foods will ever benefit mankind is dwelling in cloud cuckoo land. Matt Ridley, Paul Scott and all others who are pro GM should carefully study ALL of the information available on the subject, not just allow themselves to be influenced by the views of the pro GM lobby, which is under the sway of those with vested interests, who principally represent Big Business and Big Pharma.

PGTips91 said...

This is definitely a one-sided view of the GM controversy and the US study was a white-wash.

We are only beginning to realise the importance of microbes to the health of plants and animals but already it is clear that the use of chemical fertiliser, pesticides and herbicides is killing both the soil biome and our gut biome. And so far the only benefits of GM crops has been either their production of the BT pesticide, which ends up being produced in our gut with huge reduction in general health of whole populations, or making the plants 'Roundup Ready', which results in killing nearly all biodiversity above and below ground, leaving residues of toxic chemicals in both food and water and adding a huge burden of toxicity to whole populations.

Then there is the loss of biodiversity in seeds as small farmers change from keeping their own, locally adapted seeds, and buying in every year in perpetuity the one strain that is available from multinational suppliers. Thousands of Indian farmers have committed suicide as a result of the financial losses that GE crops have brought them. It won't be long before India outlaws all GM seeds as their experiment with BT cotton, their only GE crop, has been a huge failure.

If anyone wants to know more about the down-side of GE crops then start with Jeffrey Smith and the Institute for Responsible Technology. Google it.

A recent blog on that site tells this story of how GMs got onto the market without testing : --

'According to extensive FDA memos made public through a lawsuit,[1] the overwhelming consensus of the agency’s own scientists was that genetically engineered foods pose abnormal and unique risks including new toxins, allergens and nutritional problems. The scientists called for rigorous safety tests to protect our health. Tragically, a political appointee at the FDA covered up the warnings and allowed genetically modified organisms (GMOs) on the market without requiring any testing.[2] That official in charge of GMO policy was formerly an attorney representing the GMO giant, Monsanto. He later became Monsanto’s Vice President and is now back at the FDA as the “US Food Czar.”'

paul scott said...


I watched the video @ Sick Pigs from GMO Foods @, mentioned above by Peter Coulton It was an interview with one Jeffery Smith, who looks like
Nikki Hager on a good day, and even wrote a book with a similar title @ Seeds of despair@ or destruction or something like that.
He spent a lot of his time in interview talking about that dreaded GMO contamination and the 'March against Monsanto' The video was unrelated to Science.
It was about the socio political green movement against GMO.
It referred to Pigs in an experiment which apparently acquired gastritis, possibly eating a new type of corn their bodies were not familiar with.
PGTips91 above, writes about microorganisms. He seems to refer to the fact that one of the quickest ways to make any animal sick is to change its diet suddenly.
But who knows, there is nothing to learn from this video

Charles Russell said...

I have just watched a Canadian film about a 70 year old farmer who discovered Monsanto GE plants on his farm and the disgusting treatment he received from this evil company and the' justice' ministry in Canada. It took 4 years off his life to fight their ruthless attempts to drive him off his farm. The whole point of this modified crap is to take control of the world's food supply. The American and Canadian medical overseers accepted the corrupted and erroneous assurances of Monsanto that their frankenstein GE modified cereals were 'similar' in intent to the natural plants. No independent tests were carried out. The Japanese to their credit did the tests that should have been done. They maintained after, that the materials were fundamentally different from the norm and not safe. As others have recorded here, dependance on this stuff is proving to be a massive headache. Declining crops,more lethal and genetically damaging pesticides are needed- not less- and even worse, cross pollination with healthy GE free plants cannot be reversed. Monsanto claims ownership of the entire plant,not just their corrupted genetically altered part of the plant and sues farmers who have had their pure crops corrupted by cross pollination from wind blown pollen and insects. While not a fan of extremism in environmental activities I am compelled to applaud the greens on this. If human beings were intelligent and logical ,we would not need these dangerous activities and companies like Monsanto eager to destroy the planet pursuing profit above all else. We would limit our population to manageable levels and exist in harmony with our environment. Incidentally, I noted some time ago that the military expenditure around the globe if directed to house the world's population would be sufficient to house everybody in their own 2 story brick house complete with swimming pool! what does this say to us about our mental health?