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for a responsible, fair & sustainable food system

Owen Paterson Wrong on GM Crops

Immediate release (10 Dec 2012)

Calls to: Pete Riley 07903 341 065; Peter Lundgren 07751 112 303

Defra Secretary of State Owen Paterson’s misguided assumption that GM has “real environmental benefits” is both factually inaccurate and ignores the UK Government’s own data from field trials that showed GM crops harm wildlife. [1]

In comments reported today Mr Paterson also stated the UK should grow and sell GM widely. [2]

The comments follow a meeting held in June by the GM industry’s Agricultural Biotechnology Council (ABC) and attended by Ministers and Government officials. [3] Documents obtained under Freedom of Information law revealed plans to:

  • Spend more taxpayer money on R&D for GM crops and on “education”.
  • Promote GM crops in developing countries.
  • Remove regulatory and political barriers.

Commenting Pete Riley of GM Freeze said:

Mr Paterson seems to be formulating policy from an evidence base provided by the agri-biotech industry and ignoring the Government’s own data showing GM harms wildlife. He needs to consult more widely with people who understand the evidence.

Billions of pounds of investment have produced plenty of problems but very few commercially viable GM crops, and these are based on two traits: herbicide tolerance and insect resistance. So far commercial GM cultivation of these crops has lead directly to the development of superweeds [4] and superbugs [5] that GM can no longer control. As a result pesticide use in the US is higher now than it was before GM crops were introduced. [6] This failure of GM was predicted long ago and is the same pattern of resistance developing in weeds and insects after chemical pesticides were introduced. Coupled with the result of the UK’s own Farm Scale Trials showing harm to farmland wildlife, the evidence stacks up against rushing to adopt a technology that is neither wanted nor needed.

Mr Riley continued:

Mr Paterson has got his facts wrong as well as fundamentally misunderstanding why GM is not grown or sold in the UK. If shops thought they could sell GM food they would be doing it. The fact is the UK does not grow GM crops because the Government’s own Farm Scale Trials showed a decade ago that GM harms wildlife already threatened by industrial farming.

GM crops were developed to fit in with energy-intensive monocultural farming systems. The evolution of superweeds and superbugs was an inevitable consequence of following a model of food production that still fails to deliver food to people who need it while causing considerable harm to the planet. Millions of people go hungry because they cannot afford to buy food while millions of others are sick and obese because they are not able to afford a healthy diet. GM crops do nothing to address these fundamental problems.

Furthermore Mr Paterson claim the UK needs GM to avoid reliance on food imports. The UK is already heavily dependent on food and feed imports – GM will not change this.

Cabinet Ministers should not be shooting from the hip after being briefed by companies who stand to make a fortune if GM crops are widely adopted.

Lincolnshire farmer Pete Lundgren said:

Mr Paterson’s comments come from the past. There is now clear evidence that the current GM crops are failing farmers, and yet we are still hearing the same pro-GM mantra from Defra that we did in the early 1990s. What we farmers need is a food production system that provides safe healthy food that our customers want to buy, provides the farmer with a decent return on time and investment and delivers genuine environmental and social benefits in the countryside. GM crops do not and will not deliver these benefits. We should be getting better leadership from Defra Ministers.




[1] Environmental Audit Committee, 2 March 2004. GM Foods—Evaluating the Farm Scale Trials: Second Report of Session 2003–04

(para 73)

In looking at GM we must not lose sight of the fact that a lot of conventional farming is too pesticide intensive and damaging to the natural environment. While we applaud the steps that Government has taken to assess biodiversity in a rational way before permitting an agricultural innovation in the form of GM, we believe that even if some GM crops with some associated herbicide regimes are eventually shown to be less harmful to biodiversity than their conventional counterparts, the Government and its advisory bodies are still guilty of setting too low the level of harm.To grow GM crops that might possibly have a marginal edge in terms of biodiversity impact over conventional crops which also do biodiversity no favours would hardly be a great step forward towards more environmentally sustainable agriculture. It would amount to a step backwards.

[2] The Telegraph, 10 December 2012. “Food Minister Owen Paterson Backs GM Crops


Mail Online, 10 December 2012. “Time to Put Genetically Modified Food in Our Shops, Says Minister in Charge of Farming


BBC, 10 December 2012. “Owen Paterson Backs UK-grown Genetically Modified Food

[3] GM Freeze and GeneWatch UK, 25 October 2012. “Monsanto meets Ministers to push return of GM crops in Britain

[4] GM Freeze, 19 October 2011. Weed resistance in GM crops – an update

[5] GM Freeze, 10 November 2011. Insect Resistance to Bt toxins in GM Insect Resistant Crops

[6] Benbrook, CM, 2012. “Impacts of genetically engineered crops on pesticide use in the US – The first sixteen years”. Environmental Sciences Europe 2012, 24:24 doi:10.1186/2190-4715-24-24