GM can benefit UK farming says study

John Collen from Whitehouse farm, Gisleham, pictured during a drought in 2011.

John Collen from Whitehouse farm, Gisleham, pictured during a drought in 2011. - Credit: Archant © 2011

A farmers’ leader says the UK should be looking at genetically modified (GM) technology following a report which says it could benefit farmers, consumers and the animal feed supply chain here.

The independent study, commissioned by HGCA, the cereals and oilseeds division of the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) and published this week, looked at key areas relating to the domestic adoption or non-adoption of the controversial technology.

It found the adoption of GM cereals and oilseeds crops could benefit farmers, consumers and the animal feed supply chain, while supporting UK competitiveness in the global marketplace.

Farmer John Collen, who sits on the regional National Farmers’ Union combinable crops board and farms at Gisleham, near Lowestoft, said: “Of course we should be looking for a solution to every problem, and this is just one solution and one problem.”

Decision-making should be based on scientific fact, he said.

“If it’s deemed safe through scientific research then we should embrace scientific change and not be scared of it.”

The study also found GM crop production carries no negative environmental impacts compared to conventional cropping and may offer environmental advantages.

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The report, entitled “An evidence-based review on the likely economic and environmental impact of genetically modified (GM) cereals and oilseeds for UK agriculture”, examined the best available evidence on overseas experience of GM adoption, pulling together data from more than 170 publications, reports and studies to explore possible scenarios for the UK.

HGCA’s Dr Vicky Foster said: “We felt it was important to develop an independent evidence base, free from distortion and speculation, to better prepare the industry for the implications of GM crop production, should the technology become available in the UK.

“We recognise that GM is an emotive subject but this report is specifically focused on the science, rather than consumer acceptability of GM products.

“However, we live in a market economy and farmers and processors are reliant on consumer demand for their products. Although this study demonstrates there would be tangible benefits to farmers and the environment in certain GM crop production scenarios, ultimately the decision rests in the hands of the consumer.”

Researchers at the University of Reading used a dynamic economic model to predict the impact on UK farm gross margins of growing Insecticide Resistant (IR) maize and Herbicide Tolerant (HT) oilseed rape (OSR).

It found that only under continued pest and weed pressures was there an economic benefit to GM crops over conventional crops, as the technology premium for GM seed and the cost of co-existence measures depressed gross margins in the absence of these pressures.

However, in very severe pest and weed pressure situations, gross margins could increase by up to 15.2% for continuous Insecticide Resistant (IR) maize, 16.6% for continuous Herbicide Tolerant (HT) OSR and 10.2% for HT OSR in a four crop rotation.

Mr Collen said that, due to strict European Union rules concerning the use of chemicals such as pesticides and herbicides, the UK was currently operating in severe pest and weed conditions.

“These figures clearly highlight that UK farmers are disadvantaged,” he said. “I think we should be open to the technology when it’s proven as it has been to be safe to do so.”

Other benefits included a cleaner crop following a GM crop, better soil condition and reduced weed burden returned to the land, the report found.

Analysis of environmental impacts was based on evidence from countries where GM crops are already being produced.

The report is available at www.hgca.com/genetics