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The Debate

Much of the current debate revolves around the way in which land is cultivated and the willingness or otherwise to embrace new technology. In particular, there is a spectrum of opinion from those who believe intensive, high yield farming is a necessity to those who espouse low input, more extensive "organic" agriculture.

However, the arguments for and against a particular view are more nuanced than they seem at first sight. Most farmers today are thoughtful about how they manage their land and biodiversity, and approaches such as conservation agriculture are becoming increasingly popular. If global food security is to be improved, it is important that farmers have access to the products and benefits of all relevant and available technologies. Genetic modification enables the introduction of a range of useful traits - including pest and disease resistance or drought tolerance - into crop plants, leading to increased yields, reduced energy and chemical inputs and hence reduced environmental impacts. A stringent regulatory system has evolved to ensure that approved GM varieties are at least as safe as conventionally bred crops for health and the environment.

However, it is important that each individual GM crop is assessed objectively using sound scientific evidence to inform a risk/benefit analysis. Bringing sound science to the forefront in this way will prevent the emotive stories, so prevalent in the press, from dominating public opinion. Unlike genetic modification, which is a technique to produce new seed varieties, organic agriculture is a system of cultivation, with tightly defined rules about what inputs may be made.

Although the use of GM seed in organic agriculture is currently banned, there is no intrinsic scientific reason why this should be so. There could be very productive synergies between the two approaches in future. In the meantime, it is important that unproven assertions made about the benefits of organic agriculture and organic food are properly and scientifically evaluated. The position of the organic industry on GM is more about protecting market share by exploiting anti-GM campaigns than about rational science which permits crops to be grown with, fewer agrichemicals, less tillage and less fuel/energy.

Current Issues

To see UK electricity demand
and the contribution from
wind, see www.gridwatch.templar.co.uk

 

What's New

Letter published in The Times, 19 May 2014, A proper energy policy means tough choices