View from the fence

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


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What agricultural regulation can learn from pharma

Medicine has moved from old wives’ tales to a discipline founded on evidence, but agriculture and conservation haven’t completely caught up. A new paper by Defra’s chief scientific advisor and a collaborator argues that insights from pharmaceutical science can inform pesticide regulation and monitoring.

During the early stages of discovery and testing, pharmaceuticals and pesticides are regulated in a similar way. However, this changes in the later stages of testing and after approval, when pesticide monitoring lags far behind. Continue reading

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Genetically modified maize crop USA agriculture


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Can multi-national businesses make farming more sustainable?

To what extent are multi-national businesses trying to increase their sustainability? And how much power do they have to be successful? Based on a recent study, the answer to the first question seems to be ‘more than I thought’ while the second question has the opposite answer.

Opponents of genetically-modified foods often cite corporate control of the food system as a reason for their rejection. They are generally referring to Monsanto, but when researching for my book I discovered a far more complex picture. 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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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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GM is a distraction

This week I went to a debate at the British Library about ‘Biotech on the Farm’. A geneticist, an economist and a Friends of the Earth campaigner talked genetic modification, taxes and eating meat as part of the regular TalkScience series. There was far more which the panel agreed on than might have been anticipated, driven by the common understanding that we need to increase food production while protecting the environment.

The geneticist and Friends of the Earth campaigner found plenty of common ground, and plenty to disagree on. They both believe genetic modification is a distraction. Professor Sang believes the method of production is just a distraction – it’s the product that counts. She was keen to see regulations changed from process-based to product-based: if you produce a herbicide-resistant crop it should be assessed for safety in the same way regardless of how you produce it.

Vicki Hird from Friends of the Earth believed that GM is distracting us from the political issues preventing the distribution of the food we already produce. Continue reading


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Enlightening discussions between an organic farmer and Monsanto

In doing some research for December’s news-roundup, I was very struck by a blog post from a Canadian organic farmer, Rob Wallbridge. He was given a guided tour of Monsanto which he approached with trepidation but with an open mind.

He said: “visiting Monsanto dispelled much of my trepidation about the technology of genetic engineering.”

I say: an organic farmer and Monsanto having an open discussion, that sounds like progress. Continue reading


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Genetic modification is solely responsible for our biodiversity crisis and global warming

We currently only refer to a limited number of techniques as genetic modification. Humans, however, have been practicing agriculture for around 12,000 years and in that time have bred plants and animals so they bare very little resemblance to their wild ancestors.

This has led us to convert large areas of biodiverse woodland and grassland into fields. To ensure that arable fields have the maximum quantity of crop we have plenty of ways (both organic and not so organic) of removing excess biodiversity. Continue reading