High up on the compelling list of reasons we grow, rear and cook organic food, is the guarantee it’s free from Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). Our independent certifiers, the Soil Association, go to great lengths to ensure this is the case and as we repeatedly say, you can trust the organic label.
In April, Tesco’s, Sainsbury’s and M&S announced they could no longer guarantee their chickens haven’t been fed GM crops (or pork, dairy and beef, incidentally). And now our Government’s Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson, is pushing for GMOs in our food. So why does Daylesford bother to be GMO free? Is opposition to GM crops founded on valid science or anti-science?
HERE’S A REMINDER OF HOW GMOs WORK IN AGRICULTURE: The DNA of a crop species has a section of DNA from another species (e.g. a bacteria) artificially inserted into it. The resulting crop has the desired traits of the inserted species which, in theory, help it yield a better crop.
For example, a variety of GM maize has a Bt gene (derived from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis) inserted so the plant produces its own insecticide. This prevents attack from insect pests. Unfortunately, insects have started to develop resistance to the Bt toxins and increasingly more potent insecticides are now sprayed on the crop to kill the resistant pests and maintain yields. Worst still, pollen from these types of GM crops is thought to be affecting non-pest insects, like butterflies, and some which we depend upon for natural pollination and pest control.
Another family of GM crops boast resistance to herbicides. These crops can be sprayed with Roundup (a herbicide) with no ill-effects to the crop vegetation, whilst the surrounding weeds whither away. However, unfortunately a number of weeds have now developed resistance to Roundup, resulting in super-weeds that cannot be controlled by the herbicide.
The main driver for GMOs in agriculture is to allow thousands of acres of the same crop to be grown with no break in a monotonous landscape, from year to year, which increases efficiencies and simplicity of processes. That’s great in theory (except the obvious destruction of our countryside and wildlife) but unfortunately for farms fixed in this routine the pests adapt to overcome the GMO defences. An arms race then emerges between the GM crop developments and rapidly evolving pests; an arms race that farmers will inevitably lose.
Other issues surrounding GMOs continue to go unanswered. GMO-derived toxins in the food chain (and our diets) cause concern, the threat to environmental health is questioned, and the control of intellectual property is controversial. Increasing evidence from around the world concludes that GMOs are a set back to finding sustainable solutions for world hunger.
At Daylesford we know that science and technology in modern farming is essential; we use highly sophisticated machinery and laboratory work, for example animal welfare monitored at the cellular level using microscopes. But our overriding strength is in diversity. Integrating different crops and livestock on the farm improves their natural prevention of pests and disease. But it also helps spread the risks of poor yields and price fluctuations, it allows fertility to build naturally in the soil, and maintains our attractive patchwork-quilt landscape. The essential resources of healthy soil, water and wildlife are kept intact and it poses no health risk to those who enjoy our food.
In my last blog I reflected on recent statistics that we throw away 50% of the world’s food. A billion people are clinically obese in the world. And the current pattern of monoculture is becoming increasingly linked to desertification, biodiversity decline, water scarcity issues and poor nutrition. We don’t need to worsen the situation by continuing down this route of intensive farming. The solution is in integrated, mixed cropping leading to diverse diets for healthy soils, livestock and people.
Buying organic is the simplest guarantee you’ll be GMO free and contributing to a sustainable food system, and that’s why we are so passionate about it.