Let the GMO circus pass us by

9 January, 2014

So here we go again…

In the UK the Environment Secretary Owen Paterson has once more demonstrated his breathtaking lack of understanding and sensitivity to the environment by suggesting that if we don’t start planting GM crops in the EU, and soon, the world of agricultural innovation will pass us by.

In his thinly-veiled shilling for Big Biotech, Paterson suggests that such decisions should be scientific not political, but don’t be fooled. Paterson’s love for GMOs is wholly political. It’s motivated by a capitulation to big business that has become the hallmark of governments throughout the world.

Indeed official acquiescence to the idea of GMOs is all about money and business and nothing to do with food or health or even valuing our farmers – though Paterson cleverly conflates the idea of a GMO-infested agricultural sector with the promise that this will lead to greater self-sufficiency in the UK food system.


If, instead of being political, Mr Paterson were to focus on food and health and farming what might the science tell him?

It might lead him, for example, to a recent study looking at the differences between GM and non-GM soya.

Much of the ‘safety’ of GM crops is assumed – and these assumptions are politically expedient rather than scientifically proven.

For the purposes of human consumption, GM crops are considered ‘substantially equivalent’ to non-GM crops. We have long known that, on multiple levels, this is not true. However, new peer reviewed evidence shows illustrates the point elegantly.

Using 35 different nutritional and elemental variables to characterise each soya sample, the scientists were accurately able to tell the difference between GM, conventional and organic soybeans in the lab, demonstrating what they called “substantial non-equivalence” between GM and non-GM types.

Herbicide-tolerant GM soybeans, they found, contained high residues of glyphosate and its breakdown product AMPA, while conventional and organic soybeans contain none of these toxic compounds. The study also found that organic soybeans showed the healthiest nutritional profile containing contained more sugars, protein and zinc, but less fibre and omega-6.

That this study has received almost no coverage shows just how little GM advocates really care about science.

We highlighted this problem of ‘pesticide plants’ last year. Herbicide tolerant GM plants are only able to be ‘herbicide tolerant’ because they bred to absorb more of toxic substances like glyphosate. As a result, humans who consume those plants, also consume more of these toxic pesticides.

When humans eat pesticide-laden foods they get a double whammy: they are eating poison but they are also eating plants whose nutritional profiles have been substantially altered by those poisons.

Many herbicides (including glyphosate) inhibit photosynthesis producing effects similar to low light conditions. Under these conditions the carbohydrate, alpha-tocopherol and beta-carotene content of a plant is reduced, and protein, free amino acid and nitrate levels are increased. Other types of herbicides, for instance those with a bleaching action, can also reduce beta-carotene levels because they inhibit carotenoid production. Still others, like sulfonylurea herbicides, are known to inhibit the synthesis of branched-chain amino acids (which humans need to maintain muscle tissue).

The science has been showing for decades that the nutrient content of our food is declining. But political kow-towing to the big businesses that produce pesticides and GM crops means that every single politician (and regulator) has refused to join the dots linking the consumption of pesticide plants with poor human health.

That hasn’t stopped them from complaining about the rise in chronic disease and the corresponding rise in healthcare costs though – and using the emotional resonance of these issues to manipulate public sympathies.

Let’s not waste any more time or money on GM crops. Instead, let’s turn our attention to healthy, innovative agro-ecological farming systems – organic, biodynamic, permaculture and plant breeding using marker assisted selection – that are working to feed the world right now.

If we really want a healthy population fed by a secure and productive food system then, Mr Paterson, the best thing we can do is let the GMO circus, with its accumulated decades of failure and broken promises, pass us by.

Pat Thomas, Editor