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Princess Anne: GM already causes more than “occasional downsides”

Comment (22 Mar 2017)

Press contact: Liz O'Neill, liz[at], 07811 211 404

Princess Anne’s comments in support of GM Crops are widely reported in the media today. Taken from a Farming Today interview that has not yet been broadcast (it will air on 23 March) the Princess Royal’s comments include the idea that “we have been genetically modifying food since man started to be agrarian” and her view that GM would “maybe have an occasional downside”.

Commenting in response, Liz O’Neill, Director GM Freeze said

It is naïve and misleading to equate genetic modification with conventional breeding. The term GM refers to a set of highly invasive techniques that are far removed from the way in which plants and animals change through natural selection or selective breeding. DNA is not Lego and there is much that can go wrong when we try to behave as if it is.

The Princess Royal is right to point out that changing one aspect of a plant can affect the rest of the environment around it. GM-growing countries are already suffering what the US National Academy of Sciences identified as “major agricultural problems” caused by the cultivation of GM crops. Herbicide resistant superweeds, reduced biodiversity and the contamination of conventional and organic crops are much more than “occasional downsides”.

The harm done by GM crops is already all too real. Extending the same methods to animals raises additional ethical concerns, not least because the cloning techniques involved cause great suffering. The notion that GM offers a quick-fix to preserving genetic diversity may sound appealing but it just doesn’t work like that. You can’t solve systemic problems one gene at a time. You can’t repair the damage caused by industrial monocultures by handing over yet more control to the agrochemical companies who profit from patented GM crops. And you can’t create the perfect cow by ordering genes from a menu.

We need to farm with nature rather than trying to dominate it.”