View from the fence

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

GM maize - Rebecca Nesbit


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The nitrogen fix

We rely on high yields to feed a population of 7 billion, and these are made possible by our ability to create an ideal environment for the crop. Ironically, the methods used to do this can create conditions which are increasingly unsuitable for growing crops in.

To combat drought we add water, causing problems such as water shortages and soil salinisation. To ensure that a crop’s nutritional needs are met we add fertilisers containing nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus. Continue reading


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The ‘productionist’ outlook

I had an amazing time in Stockholm at the 2016 Nobel Week Dialogue, and it has left me with many things to ponder about food production and consumption.

Food waste campaigner Tristram Stuart spoke out against the ‘productionist’ outlook, questioning whether producing more food will solve our problems. We already produce enough food to feed the world’s population, yet still people go hungry.  Continue reading


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New Scientist vs Soil Association – this week’s organic spat

New Scientist’s recent article ‘Stop buying organic food if you really want to save the planet‘ inevitably caused a stir, and the Soil Association fought back with the accusation of ‘unscientific’. As the title suggests, there were some sweeping statements from New Scientist. The Soil Association’s response also had some bold claims, so I’m taking the opportunity to comment on a few of the claims from both sides and point out some logical flaws. Continue reading


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A brief intro to genome editing

For decades we have been slowly improving techniques for genetic modification, and now disruptive technologies could be changing the entire biotech landscape. Genome editing technologies have the power to make much smaller, more precise changes to genomes, and so theoretically can avoid some of the arguments against GM foods.

The changes don’t need to be the introduction of a new gene, and may be so small that it will be impossible to tell whether a crop has been developed using genome editing or conventional breeding. Continue reading


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Bad news in business and in Bangalore

I had two pieces of bad news when I turned my phone on yesterday morning  (not counting Trump bad news – I’ve become immune to that or mornings would be too depressing). A Whatsapp chat with my school friends explained that the violence in Bangalore had environmental causes, and a chat with my PhD friends informed me that Bayer had bought Monsanto. Continue reading


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State of Nature report

Today saw the release of the 2016 State of Nature report, once again reporting declines in British wildlife, and threats of extinction. The RSPB summary and the PTES infographic give some interesting facts on the declines, and one worth highlighting is the Biodiversity Intactness Index. It shows Britain doing badly, coming 189th out of 218 countries assessed.

Intensive management of agricultural land is top of the list of causes, perhaps unsurprising given that around 75% of UK land is used for agriculture.

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