View from the fence

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


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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

Genetically modified maize crop USA agriculture


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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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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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Genetically modified maize crop USA agriculture


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The final say from my UKIP MEP

Quick recap: I wrote to my MEPs asking them to make an evidence-based decision about the regulation of New Breeding Techniques, and a UKIP MEP’s political advisor replied that he has “no mandate to support legislative proposals from the unelected European Commission”.

I emailed him back to clarify the situation, to which I got more info about why Britain should leave the EU (and a link to Nigel Farage’s book – let me know if you’re aching to read it…). I wanted to be sure I’d understood him correctly in relation to my original query, so I posed the question:

“For the McIntyre Report, am I right in thinking that there was indeed a vote, but that Mr Agnew decided not to participate because he does not wish to further the aims of the EU?”

The response: Continue reading


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It all comes back to Brexit – a letter from my UKIP MEP

A few days ago I blogged about the impending EU decision about whether to regulate New Breeding Techniques as GMOs, partly to distract myself from Brexit. It failed.

Writing the post caused me to stumble across a call by GM Freeze to write to your MEPs to ask them to vote to regulate New Breeding Techniques as GMOs. I promptly wrote to my MEPs asking them to make a decision based on science.  Continue reading


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The EU decisions I’m eagerly awaiting

The Brexit debate has reached fever pitch, so I am trying to ignore it and focus my attention on another impending EU decision: will New Breeding Techniques be regulated as GM?

These techniques include using enzymes to make small and precise changes in a genome, or using current GM techniques to transfer genes from different varieties of the same crop.

There are a few major issues if the EU does regulate NBTs in the same way as GMOs: Continue reading