The EC wants untested GM in our food, but is it safe?
GM Wheat - What's happening?
In September 2011 the UK Government ignored public and scientific objections by approving an application from Rothamsted Research to conduct an outdoor field test of GM wheat in Hertfordshire. Planting is planned for Spring 2012 and again in 2013.
The GM wheat emits an alarm chemical that aphids give out when they are under attack. Rothamsted Research hopes the chemical will drive aphids off the crop and draw aphid predators to the area.
Research shows this may not work – aphids may get used to the alarm and ignore it. Encouraging natural aphid parasites and predators - like ladybirds - already works without the risks of GM. We just don't need it.
"Open air trials of GM wheat threaten to eliminate the right of consumers to choose non-GM wheat products. GM crops have been proved to contaminate non-GM sources time and again. Supermarkets are well aware that British consumers have rejected GM crops and that the more GM food is in circulation the harder it is to guarantee uncontaminated supplies. They need to respect the wishes of their customers, not only to keep their supply chains GM-free but to pressurise the government to halt these trials." - Ethical Consumer
Why should we worry about one test site?
Outdoor trials are a key step toward GM crops being approved for commercial cultivation. They are risky. GM wheat may cross-pollinate with nearby wheat crops, or grassy relatives like the arable weed couch grass.
The risk is real. A US trial of GM rice contaminated global supplies in 2006, destroying export markets for years.
This GM wheat also raises new ethical concerns. It uses a synthetic version of a cow gene – the first animal gene inserted into a food crop.
We won’t know if GM wheat causes a problem until it is happening, but by then it will be too late to get it back.
What else could go wrong?
In 2010 hundreds of UK farms grew over 1.9 million hectares of wheat – equivalent to 90% the area of Wales.
If GM wheat is approved and grown on just a few farms, it could cause problems:
- Aphids may be pushed onto neighbouring non-GM wheat crops.
- Any change in aphid behaviour could have big impacts on the wider ecosystem, especially on birds and insects that eat aphids.
- There will always be a chance of the GM wheat getting mixed into harvested crops during transport, storage or milling and processing of food or animal feed. In 2009 an unauthorised GM flax from Canada contaminated global supplies. No one is clear what went wrong, and it still isn’t cleaned up.
- GM-free seeds are the only way to guarantee a GM-free crop, but keeping GM out of wheat seed would be very difficult if GM wheat is grown. The wind will always blow pollen, and people will always make mistakes. In 2010 the very first planting of GM Amflora potato in Sweden had to be destroyed because another GM potato was accidentally illegally mixed into the seed tubers, but no one knows how this happened.
There is no law in the EU to hold anyone liable for any problems caused by GM food or feed, and he main insurer for UK farmers will not provide cover for growing GM crops.
What do consumers think?
Right around the world consumers remain very sceptical about GM food.
The official 2010 EU poll Eurobarometer showed 70% of EU citizens think GM food is “fundamentally unnatural”, 58% said GM food is “not safe for future generations” and only 22% said GM food is “safe for your health and your family’s health”.
GM foods get safety testing, but many independent scientists think harmful products could still be getting through. GM can be unpredictable and change the way natural genes work, but risk assessments do not fully test for things like long-term health impacts. Wheat intolerance is already a problem for many people, but we don’t know how the GM wheat will affect them. So even if the GM wheat is approved as food, we won’t know how safe it really is.
All foods using GM in the EU have to be labelled, even in restaurants. Because of this very few foods in Europe currently contain GM ingredients. Companies know they have to give us what we want to feed our families – or we’ll buy something else.
"The Real Bread Campaign works to find ways to make the whole chain from seed to sandwich better for us, better for our communities and better for the planet. Has GM technology ever done anything that supports any of these aims? If it has, could the same or better results have been achieved by non-GM means?
We need to be working with nature, not against it."
Chris Young, The Real Bread Campaign
What are other countries doing about GM wheat?
No GM wheat is approved anywhere in the world. Many countries, including Japan, Australia and Canada, are opposed to any kind of GM wheat because the market rejects it. For example the Australians won’t grow GM wheat because the Japanese won’t buy it.
The development of GM wheat in the UK flies in the face of very strong opinions in big wheat producing and buying countries saying “No”.
The fact is we already have effective, safe non-GM ways to protect crops from aphids, so we don’t need to risk our markets or our countryside.
What can we do?
We need to send a strong message to the Government and regulators that we don’t want GM wheat.
Indiviuals, community groups, millers, bakers and businesses of all kinds can help us now - see how here.