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for a responsible, fair & sustainable food system

Top-Down Foresight Report: Techno-fix “Solutions” Over Farmers’ Skills

Immediate release (24 Jan 2011)

Calls to Pete Riley 07903 341 065

GM Freeze says the today’s Foresight Report [1] should pay more attention to the skills and knowledge of farmers around the world, their ability to build soil fertility and to increase crop yield using locally available natural resources. GM Freeze says the report is too timid in its approach and is calling for a big investment in developing the agroecological approaches to food production already practiced by millions of farmers around the world to feed their local populations while protecting the environment.

In contrast high-tech approaches, such as GM crops, are not dealing with the long-term problems the Foresight Report process was designed to address – namely how to feed the world’s population within in the limits of the natural resources available without causing irreparable harm to the planet and biodiversity.

The Foresight Report acknowledges that objections to GM and other new technologies raise a range health, environmental, socio-economic and ethical issues which need to be addressed:

Achieving a strong evidence base in controversial areas is not enough to obtain public acceptance and approval – genuine public engagement and discussion needs to play a critical role. (Page 13 Executive Summary)

Currently GM occupies only 2.5% of the world’s farmland and predominantly produce animal feed for wasteful and inefficient intensive production systems for beef, dairy and poultry or to produce biofuels for vehicles. Most current GM crops are tolerant to weed killers, and farmers now face major problems with weeds that have become resistant to the herbicides with which they are sprayed. This has reached the point where hand pulling is the only weed control option in some crops in the USA. Herbicide usage in the USA has risen since GM crops were introduced. [2]

GM Freeze welcomes the report’s acknowledgement that sustainable food production also requires majors policy shifts in trade, aid, gender and financial markets. This is vital to ensure that a balanced diet is locally accessible and affordable for all people. The group also welcome the attention paid to wastage along the food chain.

GM Freeze wants to see more support to farmers to build healthy and resilient soils. These would be better able to withstand extremes of climate and to increase diversity of crops, seeds and approaches to food production, such as agro-forestry. Such approaches are vital alternatives to planting monocultures of crops like soybeans year after year. GM Freeze is also calling for the world’s plant genetic resources to be available to all plant breeders, instead of limiting access to them though the use of patents and seed protection laws.

Commenting Pete Riley of GM Freeze said:

The Foresight Report is far too timid in its approach and concentrates too heavily on systems which have failed in the past. GM technology has so far not brought any lasting benefits to consumers, the environment or farmers. Instead, what we are seeing are growing problems of weed resistance and escalating herbicide use, with serious impacts on human and animal health and biodiversity. This does not fit into the model we need for food production that feeds people without trashing the planet.

Governments around the world need to make sure the immense knowledge of farming, food and ecosystems held by farmers is used to the full to develop food production systems based on agroecology that can protect natural systems with resilience in the face of climate change. Science and plant breeding will play an important part in the transition, but it is vital that they are directed from the bottom up, rather than the top down, so that the people who need food are the beneficiaries rather than seed and chemical companies and the already wealthy elite around the world. A major priority must be to ensure that the small food providers who still feed the majority of the world’s people are not driven from the land, but are supported and respected for their work.

ENDs

Notes

[1] The Foresight Report www.bis.gov.uk/foresight/our-work/projects/current-projects/global-food-and-farming-futures/reports-and-publications.

[2] See GM Freeze briefing on the growth of weed resistance in GM crops in North and South America available here.