Boris Johnson’s latest scheme could sound the death knell for traditional UK farming

English countryside
Tom Coburg

On the day that Boris Johnson took up the office of prime minister, he made it clear that he wants the UK to become a world leader of genetically modified (GM) food technologies. The problem is that would mean many UK farms would find it difficult, if not impossible, to export products to most EU countries, given EU policies on GM products. And post-Brexit, that could sound the death knell for traditional UK farming, with many farms forced to close down.

Liberation?

Johnson made it clear on day one of his premiership that one of his priorities is to “liberate” UK bioscience, adding:

Let’s liberate the UK’s extraordinary bioscience sector from anti-genetic modification rules. Let’s develop the blight-resistant crops that will feed the world.

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It’s very likely that a push from the US for the UK to adopt GM technologies is behind this move.

It may even be the case that the much-promised (by Donald Trump) US/UK trade deal will require the UK to abandon its restrictions on GM crop production. Indeed, Zippy Duvall, head of the American Farm Bureau, told the BBC that fears about chlorinated chicken and the use of GM crops were not “science-based”. (Note: they generally are.)

EU policy/practice

In 2015, the EU passed legislation allowing member states to decide whether or not to grow GM crops for commercial purposes.

France, Germany, Austria, Greece, Hungary, the Netherlands, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Bulgaria, Poland, Denmark, Malta, Slovenia, Italy and Croatia all agreed to ban GM crops (and their imports). Scotland has a GM-free policy, as do Wales and Northern Ireland.

But in England, there have been a number of GM trials – of “potatoes, wheat and Camila sativa (“false flax”) [in] recent years”, though no GM crops have yet been grown commercially.

Collateral damage

While the Republic of Ireland has not banned GM organisms (GMOs), it too does not cultivate GMOs commercially. Nevertheless, cross contamination will clearly be an issue if Northern Ireland opts to follow England’s lead on GM.

Indeed, extensive farming of GM crops could mean the death knell for traditional (and particularly organic) farming everywhere.

According to GeneWatch, cross-contamination can occur via:

  • “Cross-pollination of neighbouring crops.”
  • “Seed spilt at harvest that germinates and contaminates later crops grown in the field.”
  • “Seed split around fields and on verges during transport after harvest.”
  • “Mixing of GM and non-GM crops in storage or during distribution.”
Opinion matters

In 2017, a survey reported in the Grocer magazine showed that 60% of consumers said “they would be worried about hormone-treated beef, chlorine-washed chicken, and meat treated routinely with antibiotics”. 45%, meanwhile, said they were concerned about GM grain.

But as with ‘no-deal’ Brexit, Johnson clearly has little regard for public opinion on this matter.

Now, one lobby group is demanding the EU ban all GMOs. And if that were to happen in a post-Brexit environment, UK farmers could see their exports to the EU severely curtailed, if not doomed.

Featured image via Herry Lawford/Flickr

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    1. The reported remarks are wholly in accord with the Johnson persona revealed recently in its full horror.

      Biotechnology may indeed by a British skill set to be encouraged.

      Genetically modified food and/or US type intensive agriculture do not sit happily with many British people. This in part natural conservatism, which has saved us from some other, but not all, US cultural idiocy. Also, a sound reason for rejecting a rush into US farming practice is that neither genetically modified plants and animals, nor fields doused in herbicides and pesticides, are necessary for efficient and sustainable farming according to a large body of knowledgeable and reputable opinion. The point being there is no urgency for British farming practice to be turned on its head and thus plenty of time to consider options for the future.

      As for genetic modification, there is no reason to believe it beneficial in context of the UK. Moreover, living on a geographically compact island it is foolish to take risks with ‘cutting edge’ developments of unquantifiable impact on the local ecosystem. We can’t all afford to take refuge in the Caribbean when Triffids emerge.

      Genetic modification of plants, animals, and humans, may be a sensible option when considering mankind’s foray into the solar system with life in space and colonisation of Mars. British R&D may be strongly placed to profit from this. However, that should be within secure laboratories, preferably located outside the UK, and not in our fields and pastures.

      No doubt, the loathsome Johnson believes immense profits will accrue to his friends from gene patented plants and animals. After all, so-called ‘intellectual property’ is a major component of the US economy. Yet, Johnson lacks wit to perceive the concept of ‘intellectual property’ in respect of patents and copyright coming under such attack that, for ultimate benefit of humanity, they will be abandoned through disobedience. Regarding, genetically modified crops there is already resistance to Monsanto/Bayer attempts to stifle unauthorised use of their products’ offspring. A recent incident in India forced Monsanto to back down. Similar is anticipated with respect to price gouging monopoly dependent pharmaceuticals. Thus, Johnson is surfing on the wrong side of the breaker.

      Johnson’s modus operandi is clear: push through ‘no-deal’ Brexit despite parliamentary objection and take the opportunity offered by uncertain future trading prospects (possible shortages too) for imposing practices demanded by a ‘benevolent’ trading partner, the USA.

      Johnson is wholly unprincipled. If his putsch succeeds he will have equalled Blair’s capacity for evil.

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