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My War Against GM Crops

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In the late 1990s while on a visit to the USA I saw my first GM crop - herbicide tolerant soybeans. As a farmer it was of great interest to see the latest agricultural technology being made available to US farmers.

I have been a regular visitor to the USA since then and have seen how GM crops have developed over the years, I have also visited other countries who are growing GM crops among them India and South Africa.

On that first visit farmers were keen to try out these new crops. The herbicide tolerant crops were going to make weed control so easy with the crops ability to withstand the total herbicide 'Roundup' (Glyphosate) one sprayer pass at the right time with Roundup would mean job done. Much easier than the old system of walking the fields seeing which weeds were growing then deciding which herbicide to use - and often it meant more than one herbicide to kill all the different weeds.

All that was needed now was the one herbicide and job done, what was not to like about this new technology?

But on my visit in 2002 I started to hear farmers say that it was now taking several passes with Roundup to kill the weeds and that they were using it at higher concentrations in order to kill the weeds. On visits over the next few years I started to hear about weeds which had become resistant to the Round Up which meant that farmers had to add other herbicides to the sprayer tank in order to kill those weeds.

By 2010, I went to the USA to make a film about GM crops as a farmer talking to farmers.

Many were critical of the technology and they were using the same number and types of herbicides that you would use on a conventional no GM crop, such as residual herbicides, which remain active in the soil over a period of time. They were adding to tank mixes other herbicides in order to kill the weeds no longer being killed by Roundup and, over the years, the number of weeds not killed by Roundup has grown.

Here's http://research.sustainablefoodtrust.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Final-Paper.pdf paper written on the dangers of Roundup. In addition, here's a link to research based on the chemical used on our food systems. All the details can also be found here.

When herbicide-tolerant crops were first introduced the promise was that they would mean less herbicide use and so have less environmental impact and lower cost to the farmer for weed control.

But herbicide use is back to where it had been before GM crops were introduced, making them, in my opinion, "not fit for purpose" as the saying goes, so much so that in 2011 on a visit to South Africa I was surprised to find herbicide tolerant crops being marketed to farmers in the Farmers Weekly as what I can only call a "weed control system", in which the use of other herbicides in conjunction with Roundup was being promoted. Far removed from the USA marketing in the 90s as a simple 'one herbicide does all'.

Which begs the question: Why make a crop herbicide tolerant to one particular herbicide if you are going to advise the use of other herbicides on the crop as well?

The claim is that it will help prevent weeds becoming resistant to Round Up. But again why do we need a genetically engineered crop if we are going to treat it like a conventional non GM crop and use a number of herbicides for weed control?

Unless of course it is not about feeding the world but about control of the food chain and the profits of a few large global corporations.

Why do US farmers continue to grow GM crops if they are not fit for purpose? Two reasons. Unavailability of non GM seed, as most seed breeding is controlled by the GM companies. The second is fear, because the GM traits are patented so if a farmer has not paid the "tech fee" for the right to grow GM crops and the crop is found to contain GM traits, it is deemed that the grower has stolen the technology and is using it illegally and they will be taken to court.

It does not matter how the traits got there - mixed up seed sacks, wind blown pollen, seed growing which dropped from a previous crop. So even if you are growing what you think is a GM-free crop and it is found to have GM traits you are in trouble, it is far easier to continue to grow GM crops even if they are not fit for purpose any more.

As a farmer I do not want to see GM crops grown in the UK or Europe because it will put farmers and the food chain in the hands of a few companies, intensifies farming and having seen them in a number of countries around the world they are not going to feed the world or make farmers more profit or give environmental benefits.

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