View from the fence

Social, environmental and economic issues surrounding GM foods, and the latest news


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What if we don’t grow more food?

The figures vary, but predictions about how much food we will need to produce in the future show an increase. This is largely due to population growth and changing diets. We won’t just have more people to feed, we will have more middle class people to feed. People tend to eat more meat and dairy products when they have more money at their disposal. If we feed crops to cows not people, we need to grow more crops.

But what happens if food production doesn’t increase? Do wealthy people have to go without meat, or do poorer people have to go without food?  Continue reading


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Challenging assumptions about smallholder farmers

Recently I was lucky enough to spend time on Jeju island, South Korea. Last time I visited, oranges were being harvested in the snow. This time it was a heatwave, and groups of women were crouched in the fields planting seedlings together.

jeju-farming

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‘Rewilding’ – new GM potential for organic agriculture?

Many wild relatives of crops have genes which protect them from drought, disease and other stresses. These are exactly the characteristics we want in our crops, so these genes have great potential for agriculture.

Organic agriculture is in particular need of new genetic resources because modern crop varieties are normally bred with conventional agriculture in mind. Without inputs which are banned in organic agriculture, these varieties often don’t thrive. Currently average yields are lower on organic farms, and new genetic resources could help reduce this difference. Continue reading


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New GM potatoes resistant to blight

Headline news for GM this week was a new study on resistance to potato blight, the results of 3 yrs of field trials at the John Innes Centre in Norwich.

The paper in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B compared non-transgenic Desiree potato plants with GM plants. When blight conditions were severe in 2012, it dramatically reduced yields in the non-GM varieties. Tubers from each block of 16 GM plants weighed 6-13 kg while the non-GM tubers weighed 1.6-5 kg per block.

The GM variety was Desiree with a gene added from a wild South American relative.

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Drought resistance – has GM achieved what has been claimed?

Drought resistant crops would have huge benefits, particularly in the many areas of the world where lack of water limits yield. Selective breeding is yet to produce fully drought-resistant plants, so it is no surprise that people have looked to GM to speed up the process of developing drought-resistant plants.

Earlier this year, David Lawlor from Rothamsted Research published a review paper about drought resistance, having studied books on GM crops and peer-reviewed literature. Based on this evidence, he concluded that GM plants may currently not be better able to cope with drought than other varieties.  Genetic modification for drought resistance has been very promising in laboratory conditions, but Lawlor writes that GM varieties have not yet produced ‘clear evidence of substantial improvements in crops under drought in the field’. Continue reading