2007 - 2021

Brexit Means Genetically Modified Food

This week the Times announced the nominally Scottish Environment Minister declaring “a genetic food revolution”.  Gove told something called the Country Land and Business Association: “Even if there are individual lobby groups that express their legitimate concerns we will ensure those scientific tools are there for those who can improve productivity in a genuinely sustainable way.”

“Gene editing allows us to give mother nature a helping hand, to accelerate the process of evolution in a way which can significantly increase yield and also reduce our reliance on chemicals and other input. There is a potential there for Britain and our scientists and our farmers to lead the way.”

Aw, “lending mother nature a helping hand”. Sounds sweet.

Of course there was no mention that Scotland has a distinct policy on GM. Why would there be?

A Brexit Recipe Book

Scotland’s policy is one rooted in an anti-GM European network and in the precautionary principle. It makes good business sense. It must be defended.

We’ve heard a lot about Brexit and food, fisheries, agriculture, chicken and trade deals. Here’s a lovely list of ingredients:

A report by the Soil Association highlights 10 concerns about food safety in a post-Brexit era that ushers up the ghost of the 4.4. million cows killed as result f the BSE crisis. These foods are currently banned in the UK:

  1. Chlorine-washed chicken (banned in the EU).
  2. Hormone-treated beef (banned in the EU).
  3. Ractopamine in pork (banned in the EU).
  4. Chicken litter as animal feed (banned in the EU). Includes the birds’ faeces.
  5. Atrazine-treated crops (banned in the EU). Atrazine is a herbicide used on 90% of sugar cane, which can enter into the water supply and interfere with wildlife.
  6. Genetically modified foods (banned in the EU).
  7. Brominated vegetable oil (banned in the EU). BVO is used in citrus drinks; Coca-Cola announced it would stop using BVO in 2004.
  8. Potassium bromate (banned in the EU). A dough conditioner also banned in China, Brazil and Canada, in tests on rats it has been found to be a possible carcinogen.
  9. Azodicarbonamide. A bleaching agent for flour, it has been linked to an increase in tumours in rats.
  10. Food colourants (banned in the UK, regulated in the EU). Can lead to hyperactivity in children.

Brexit Means GM Food. This is devolved. This is the power grab. Scotland has a distinct food and farming policy, flawed and incomplete as it is, some people find this intolerable.

We need to recap how we got here.

In 2013 the Scottish Government laid out the following principles which guide their opposition:

The precautionary principle – insufficient evidence has been presented that GM crops are safe.

The preventative principle – the cultivation of GM crops could tarnish Scotland’s natural environment and damage wider aspects of the Scottish economy such as tourism and the production of high quality, natural food

The democratic principle – science-based decision making cannot replace the will of the people. There is no evidence of a demand for GM products by Scottish consumers.

The fact that the Scottish government has put together these sound, well-reasoned principles to guide their opposition gives us real hope that Scotland can be a strong voice against the pro-GM lobby in the years to come, and we can focus our attention on building a sustainable food system for the next generation.

Far from Scotland being some kind of parochial outlier, in our GM policy we have in fact joined a global resistance. India has not approved a single genetically modified food crop for human consumption. Only four African nations—South Africa, Burkina Faso, Egypt, and Sudan permit the commercial use of products that contain G.M.O.s. Other countries involved in bans and restrictions throughout the world include: Italy, Austria, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Portugal, Greece, Spain, Switzerland, Norway, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Algeria, Brazil and Paraguay.

We’re not isolated, we’ve joined a global movement. That’s what happens when you start thinking for yourself.

As Peter Melchett from the Soil Association explained: “England’s ideological support for GM started under Tony Blair – he publicly stated his belief  in GM food whatever the public opposition, because he believed it was right. England became a strongly pro-GM country and successive governments maintained that reputation. This is bizarre. There is a huge and growing global market for guaranteed non GM agricultural products.”

Melchett then goes on to detail how English farmers have just won a contract for the single largest export (25,000) tonnes of oilseed rape in more than 20 years. The company involved placed it because of assurances about lack of GM contamination. That’s the sort of business that would and will come to a European country with a GM-free stamp of approval.

Predicting the backlash that this article will inevitably produce, let’s republish our:

10 Reasons Why We Don’t Need GM.

Far from needing more GM foods, there are urgent reasons why we need to ban them altogether.

1. GM foods won’t solve the food crisis

A 2008 World Bank report concluded that increased biofuel production is the major cause of the increase in food prices.[1] GM giant Monsanto has been at the heart of the lobbying for biofuels (crops grown for fuel rather than food) — while profiting enormously from the resulting food crisis and using it as a PR opportunity to promote GM foods!

“The climate crisis was used to boost biofuels, helping to create the food crisis; and now the food crisis is being used to revive the fortunes of the GM industry.” – Daniel Howden, Africa correspondent of The Independent[ 2]

“The cynic in me thinks that they’re just using the current food crisis and the fuel crisis as a springboard to push GM crops back on to the public agenda. I understand why they’re doing it, but the danger is that if they’re making these claims about GM crops solving the problem of drought or feeding the world, that’s bullshit.” – Prof Denis Murphy, head of biotechnology at the University of Glamorgan in Wales[3]

2. GM crops do not increase yield potential

Despite the promises, GM has not increased the yield potential of any commercialised crops.[4] In fact, studies show that the most widely grown GM crop, GM soya, has suffered reduced yields.[5]

A report that analyzed nearly two decades worth of peer reviewed research on the yield of the primary GM food/feed crops, soybeans and corn (maize), reveals that despite 20 years of research and 13 years of commercialization, genetic engineering has failed to significantly increase US crop yields. The author, former US EPA and US FDA biotech specialist Dr Gurian-Sherman, concludes that when it comes to yield, “Traditional breeding outperforms genetic engineering hands down.”[6]

“Let’s be clear. As of this year [2008], there are no commercialized GM crops that inherently increase yield. Similarly, there are no GM crops on the market that were engineered to resist drought, reduce fertilizer pollution or save soil. Not one.” – Dr Doug Gurian-Sherman[ 7]

3. GM crops increase pesticide use

US government data shows that in the US, GM crops have produced an overall increase, not decrease, in pesticide use compared to conventional crops.[8]

“The promise was that you could use less chemicals and produce a greater yield. But let me tell you none of this is true.” – Bill Christison, President of the US National Family Farm Coalition[9]

4. There are better ways to feed the world

A major UN/World Bank-sponsored report compiled by 400 scientists and endorsed by 58 countries concluded that GM crops have little to offer global agriculture and the challenges of poverty, hunger, and climate change, because better alternatives are available. In particular, the report championed “agroecological” farming as the sustainable way forward for developing countries.[10]

5. Other farm technologies are more successful

Integrated Pest Management and other innovative low-input or organic methods of controlling pests and boosting yields have proven highly effective, particularly in the developing world.[11] Other plant breeding technologies, such as Marker Assisted Selection (non-GM genetic mapping), are widely expected to boost global agricultural productivity more effectively and safely than GM.[12] [13]

“The quiet revolution is happening in gene mapping, helping us understand crops better. That is up and running and could have a far greater impact on agriculture [than GM].” – Prof John Snape, head of the department of crop genetics, John Innes Centre[14]

6. GM foods have not been shown to be safe to eat

Genetic modification is a crude and imprecise way of incorporating foreign genetic material (e.g. from viruses, bacteria) into crops, with unpredictable consequences. The resulting GM foods have undergone little rigorous and no long-term safety testing, but animal feeding tests have shown worrying health effects.[15] Only one study has been published on the direct effects on humans of eating a GM food.[16] It found unexpected effects on gut bacteria, but was never followed up.

It is claimed that Americans have eaten GM foods for years with no ill effects. But these foods are unlabeled in the US and no one has monitored the consequences. With other novel foods like trans fats, it has taken decades to realize that they have caused millions of premature deaths.[17]

“We are confronted with the most powerful technology the world has ever known, and it is being rapidly deployed with almost no thought whatsoever to its consequences. ” — Dr Suzanne Wuerthele, US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) toxicologist

7. Stealth GMOs in animal feed – without consumers’ consent

Meat, eggs and dairy products from animals raised on the millions of tons of GM feed imported into Europe do not have to be labelled. Some studies show that contrary to GM and food industry claims, animals raised on GM feed ARE different from those raised on non-GM feed.[18] Other studies show that if GM crops are fed to animals, GM material can appear in the resulting products[19] and that the animals’ health can be affected.[20] So eating “stealth GMOs” may affect the health of consumers.

8. GM crops are a long-term economic disaster for farmers

A 2009 report showed that GM seed prices in America have increased dramatically, compared to non-GM and organic seeds, cutting average farm incomes for US farmers growing GM crops. The report concluded, “At the present time there is a massive disconnect between the sometimes lofty rhetoric from those championing biotechnology as the proven path toward global food security and what is actually happening on farms in the US that have grown dependent on GM seeds and are now dealing with the consequences. “[21]

9. GM and non-GM cannot co-exist

GM contamination of conventional and organic food is increasing. An unapproved GM rice that was grown for only one year in field trials was found to have extensively contaminated the US rice supply and seed stocks.[22] In Canada, the organic oilseed rape industry has been destroyed by contamination from GM rape.[23] In Spain, a study found that GM maize “has caused a drastic reduction in organic cultivations of this grain and is making their coexistence practically impossible”. [24]

The time has come to choose between a GM-based, or a non-GM-based, world food supply.

“If some people are allowed to choose to grow, sell and consume GM foods, soon nobody will be able to choose food, or a biosphere, free of GM. It’s a one way choice, like the introduction of rabbits or cane toads to Australia; once it’s made, it can’t be reversed.” – Roger Levett, specialist in sustainable development[ 25]

10. We can’t trust GM companies

The big biotech firms pushing their GM foods have a terrible history of toxic contamination and public deception.[26] GM is attractive to them because it gives them patents that allow monopoly control over the world’s food supply. They have taken to harassing and intimidating farmers for the “crime” of saving patented seed or “stealing” patented genes — even if those genes got into the farmer’s fields through accidental contamination by wind or insects.[27]

“Farmers are being sued for having GMOs on their property that they did not buy, do not want, will not use and cannot sell.” – Tom Wiley, North Dakota farmer[28]


  1. A Note on Rising Food Prices. Donald Mitchell, World Bank report, 2008. http://image. guardian. co.uk/sys- files/Environmen t/documents/ 2008/07/10/ Biofuels. PDF
  2. Hope for Africa lies in political reforms. Daniel Howden, The Independent, 8 September 2008, http://www.independ ent.co.uk: 80/opinion/ commentators/ daniel-howden- hope-for- africa-lies- in-political- reforms-922487. html
  3. GM: it’s safe, but it’s not a saviour. Rob Lyons, Spiked Online, 7 July 2008, http://www.spiked- online.com/ index.php? /site/article/ 5438/
  4. The adoption of bioengineered crops. Jorge Fernandez-Cornejo and William D. McBride, US Department of Agriculture Report, May 2002, http://www.ers. usda.gov/ publications/ aer810/aer810. pdf
  5. Glyphosate-resistan t soyabean cultivar yields compared with sister lines. Elmore, R.W. et al., Agronomy Journal, Vol. 93, No. 2, 2001, pp. 408–412
  6. Failure to Yield: Evaluating the Performance of Genetically Engineered Crops. Doug Gurian-Sherman, Union of Concerned Scientists, 2009, http://tiny. cc/eqZST
  7. Genetic engineering — a crop of hyperbole. Doug Gurian-Sherman, The San Diego Union Tribune, 18 June 2008, http://www.signonsa ndiego.com/ uniontrib/ 20080618/ news_lz1e18guria n.html
  8. Impacts of Genetically Engineered Crops on Pesticide Use: The First Thirteen Years. Charles Benbrook, Ph.D., The Organic Center, November 2009, http://www.organic- center.org/ science.pest. php?action= view&report_id=159
  9. Family Farmers Warn of Dangers of Genetically Engineered Crops. Bill Christison, In Motion magazine, 29 July 1998, http://www.inmotion magazine. com/genet1. html
  10. International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development: Global Summary for Decision Makers (IAASTD). Beintema, N. et al., 2008, http://www.agassess ment.org/ index.cfm? Page=IAASTD% 20Reports&ItemID=2713
  11. International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development: Global Summary for Decision Makers (IAASTD). Beintema, N. et al., 2008, http://www.agassess ment.org/ index.cfm? Page=IAASTD% 20Reports&ItemID=2713
  12. Marker-assisted selection: an approach for precision plant breeding in the twenty-first century. Collard, B.C.Y. and D.J. Mackill, Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B, Vol. 363, 2008, pp. 557-572, 2008
  13. Breeding for abiotic stresses for sustainable agriculture. Witcombe J.R. et al., Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B, 2008, Vol. 363, pp. 703-716
  14. Gene mapping the friendly face of GM technology. Professor John Snape, Farmers Weekly, 1 March 2002, p. 54
  15. Here is a small selection of such papers: Fine structural analysis of pancreatic acinar cell nuclei from mice fed on GM soybean. Malatesta, M. et al., Eur. J. Histochem., Vol. 47, 2003, pp. 385–388; Ultrastructural morphometrical and immunocytochemical analyses of hepatocyte nuclei from mice fed on genetically modified soybean. Malatesta, M. et al., Cell Struct Funct., Vol. 27, 2002, pp. 173-180; Ultrastructural analysis of testes from mice fed on genetically modified soybean. Vecchio L. et al., Eur. J. Histochem., Vol. 48, pp. 448-454, 2004; A long-term study on female mice fed on a genetically modified soybean: effects on liver ageing. Malatesta M. et al., Histochem Cell Biol., Vol. 130, 2008, pp. 967-977; Effects of diets containing genetically modified potatoes expressing Galanthus nivalis lectin on rat small intestine. Ewen S.W. and A. Pusztai, The Lancet, Vol. 354, 1999, pp. 1353–1354; New Analysis of a Rat Feeding Study with a Genetically Modified Maize Reveals Signs
    Hepatorenal Toxicity. Séralini, G.-E. et al., Arch. Environ. Contam. Toxicol., Vol. 52, 2007, pp. 596-602.
  16. Assessing the survival of transgenic plant DNA in the human gastrointestinal tract. Netherwood T. et al., Nature Biotechnology, Vol. 22, 2004, pp. 204–209.
  17. Trans Fats: The story behind the label. Paula Hartman Cohen, Harvard Public Health Review, 2006, http://www.hsph. harvard.edu/ review/rvw_ spring06/ rvwspr06_ transfats. html
  18. Report on animals exposed to GM ingredients in animal feed. Professor Jack A. Heinemann, PhD. Prepared for the Commerce Commission of New Zealand, 24 July 2009, http://bit.ly/ 4HcJuJ
  19. Detection of Transgenic and Endogenous Plant DNA in Digesta and Tissues of Sheep and Pigs Fed Roundup Ready Canola Meal. Sharma, R. et al., J. Agric. Food Chem., Vol. 54, No. 5, 2006, pp. 1699–1709; Assessing the transfer of genetically modified DNA from feed to animal tissues. Mazza, R. et al., Transgenic Res., Vol. 14, No. 5, 2005, pp. 775–784; Detection of genetically modified DNA sequences in milk from the Italian market. Agodi, A., et al., Int. J. Hyg. Environ. Health, Vol. 209, 2006, pp. 81–88
  20. Report on animals exposed to GM ingredients in animal feed. Professor Jack A. Heinemann, PhD. Prepared for the Commerce Commission of New Zealand, 24 July 2009, http://bit.ly/ 4HcJuJ
  21. The Magnitude and Impacts of the Biotech and Organic Seed Price Premium. Dr Charles Benbrook, The Organic Center, December 2009, http://www.organic- center.org/ reportfiles/ Seeds_Final_ 11-30-09. pdf
  22. Risky business: Economic and regulatory impacts from the unintended release of genetically engineered rice varieties into the rice merchandising system of the US. Blue, Dr E. Neal, report for Greenpeace, 2007, http://www.greenpea ce.org/raw/ content/internat ional/press/ reports/risky- business. pdf
  23. Seeds of doubt: North American farmers’ experience of GM crops. Soil Association, 2002, http://www.soilasso ciation.org/ seedsofdoubt
  24. Coexistence of plants and coexistence of farmers: Is an individual choice possible? Binimelis, R., Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics, Vol. 21, No. 2, April 2008
  25. Choice: Less can be more. Roger Levett, Food Ethics magazine, Vol. 3, No. 3, Autumn 2008, p. 11, http://www.foodethi cscouncil. org/node/ 384
  26. See, for example, Marie-Monique Robin’s documentary film, Le Monde Selon Monsanto (The World According to Monsanto), ARTE, 2008; and the website of the NGO, Coalition Against Bayer-Dangers, www.cbgnetwork. org
  27. GM company Monsanto has launched many such lawsuits against farmers. A famous example is the case of the Canadian farmer Percy Schmeiser. Just one article on this case is “GM firm sues Canadian farmer”, BBC News Online, 6 June 2000, http://news. bbc.co.uk/ 2/hi/americas/ 779265.stm
  28. Monsanto “Seed Police” Scrutinize Farmers. Stephen Leahy, InterPress Service, 15 January 2004, http://www.commondr eams.org/ headlines05/ 0115-04.htm

Comments (11)

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  1. henry mcintosh says:

    Excellent article Mike and truly quite frightening to think this could come about despite our sustained opposition.
    Most people I know care greatly about the food we eat and give to our children, I think this could ultimately be a mighty stick to beat the unionist herd with, we must shout out load and clear about this appalling danger they will force upon us.

  2. Richard Easson says:

    I can see the Glenmorangie Distillery across the Dornoch Firth from my house. Can you imagine the damage that could be done to Whisky Exports worldwide and the contamination of the reputation , which would surely ring the death knell of the natural production involved. Why would we want to poison our own wells?

    1. Willie says:

      And post Brexit, do we think fracking, will become more or less likely in Scotland.

      If so, and aside of the genetically modified malts alluded to in your Whisky comment Richard, could same whiskies not also be made be made with water gently carbonated with the gasses that can be released during fracking.

      A heady prospect indeed.

  3. Mark says:

    If brexit means GM then bring on brexit. This article is absolutely ridiculous and completely scientifically illiterate. So much incorrect information I don’t know where to start. This whole article reads like it was written by food babe.
    GM is not banned in the EU. Spend some time in Poland and other european countries and you’ll see that for yourself.
    It doesn’t increase pesticide use. I suppose you think organic food doesnt use pesticides?
    Thousands of studies and decades of testing show they’re safe. Whereas non GM foods can be thrown on the market with no testing at all. If I cross 2 apples together i can sell them tomorrow with no problem at all. Do you expect as much safety testing from organic foods?

  4. Willie says:

    A most informative article and particularly so as an example of how Brexit may impact on our food production.

    And an example too of how the Westminster power grab would at a stroke undermine the decisions and functioning of the Scottish Parliament. But aside of all of that, an example of how Scottish produce at a stroke could become incompatible with the EU market.

    Yes, an informative article Ed.

  5. Jo says:

    “Giving Mother Nature a helping hand…”

    Words to surely make the blood run cold.

  6. Crubag says:

    I’m certainly aware of GM maize being approved and grown in the EU though individual countries have some flexibility in whether they can be grown.

    Wikipedia reports 48 EU approvals for GMOs, including a potato variety in Germany for industrial purposes.

    The question of GM food is more nuanced – would that include animals fed on GM crops, or food made using imported GM ingredients? Again, Wikipedia has 30 million tonnes of GM crops being imported annually to the EU.

    Globally 80% of maize and soy are now GM apparently, and we don’t grow much soy. These varities can be directly imported.

    The life sciences sector in Scotland/UK/EU is active in the modification of animals and and crops and we can expect the economic pressure for introduction to continue. I can certainly recall what might be termed the scientific community in Scotland being critical of the Scottish Government’ position, though I think they read the public mood correctly.

  7. SleepingDog says:

    There is a corporate grab towards making food crops their own intellectual property, although they don’t like to credit the original discoverers and breeders, and global science, that made currently-grown crops successful. Privately held IP suits an exploitative ideology that is antagonistic to communal approaches like shared seed banks and agricultural resilience practices.

    Intervention in the billion-year-war between plants and animals by exponentially speeding up their arms race is something you should only do if you want to wipe out many existing species.

    Most of the GM crop ‘solutions’ I have read seem irrational. Low water table? Longer roots! Yeah… that will drain water resources further.

    Genetic modification at the level of current scientific understanding is basically tinkering, with a lot of trial and error in the lab. Even if we had real genetic engineering, we should understand from software engineering that all code has bugs. Only if you release your replicating organism into the wild, you won’t be able to release a patch to fix any problems. And there will be problems, on scales up to global catastrophe, given enough releases.

    Even if some countries have effective regulation (or think they do, remember Volkswagen), others won’t. You need to consider what will happen in the worst cases, and national borders mean nothing to living organisms.

    GM is not safe. You could easily weaponise genetic modifications, perhaps creating invasive crops, maybe ones that supplant an official enemy’s main food crop. It doesn’t have to bear poisonous fruit to be extremely harmful. Weapons could be created accidentally as well, and perhaps be stolen from labs by nefarious types. Think about it: how might you create a food crop weapon? An unknown GMO is like the kind of zero-day exploits that could potentially destabilize our software-based world. We may see similar approaches trying to firefight them.

    Agribusiness has a bad record of doing extensive even global harm, so they’re hardly reliable or responsible. Breaking the law and paying fines if necessary are the cost of doing business. But the likely costs are going to be far too high even for the richest corporation to pay reparations for, even if money or prison sentences would do any good (they won’t; you can’t put all these genies back into the bottle).

    Ideologically, who does GM appeal to? There will be some who just love messing with nature, they’ll not be swayed by the above arguments. But they may well use dishonest arguments as described in this article. It’s not all about money and scientific prestige. There are people who see humans at the top of a natural hierarchy, and are essentially waging a kind of war against it.

  8. Dulce Khounthavong says:

    It’s hard to say

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