The US-UK trade deal – a Trojan horse for GMOs?

The UK is under immense pressure to sign up to US demands on the regulations applying to GMO (genetically modified organisms), as part of the US-UK trade deal writes Martin Brooks in the current edition of Yorkshire Bylines: One look at the USA’s commercial commitment to GMO tells you why.

Martin continues; ‘GMO technology, often developed by US companies, is embedded in US farming practices and hence the food chain. In 1997, 17 per cent of US soybean crops were modified to be “herbicide tolerant”. By 2014, the figure reached 94 per cent where it has stayed ever since. The two other major crops, corn and cotton, today stand at 94 per cent and 92 per cent respectively.

The yield per acre for corn grown in the US is now three and a half times greater than it was in the mid-1950s. Much of this gain is attributable to genetic modification. A 2014 analysis concluded that applied GM technology had reduced chemical pesticide use by 37 per cent, increased crop yields by 22 per cent, and increased farmer profits by 68 per cent. In isolation, the commercial case for GMO is compelling.

Most products that are modified are ‘stacked GMOs’ containing both herbicide-tolerant and insecticide-resistant modifications. Increasing numbers of other traits such as pest or drought resistance, crop height or blight resistance are being added through genetic modification to improve the yield. It is estimated that 75 per cent of US processed foods now contain ingredients produced from GMOs.

The US farming industry has wholeheartedly embraced GMO, though the US public appears to be more circumspect, with 39 per cent of them wanting GM foodstuffs to be labelled. GMO technology is so well established in US farming that the industry has left public opinion in its wake. Any industry concession on a food-labelling requirement for GMO content in the US is unlikely.

The widespread adoption of GMOs by US farmers is also a commercial problem. The scope for US sales growth reduces in the US market as GMO use approaches saturation. So while the almost monopoly position of GMO has to be protected in the US, the efforts of US lobbyists and diplomats now turns to international markets. The EU has been the recipient of such lobbying attention for a long time, in spite of, or maybe because of, its citizens’ basic resistance to GMO. In this regard, voter concerns in the UK are broadly in line with the rest of the EU.

In the EU only Spain and Portugal are significant growers of GM crops. When last invited to declare their wish to grow GM crops, 19 of the EU members states from 27 opted out. Interestingly, the UK was then a member state. England wished to have the option, but Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales opted out.

While the EU is not a grower there are 60 GM products in the EU marketplace with animal feeds being a large component of those products. GMO and pesticide use run hand in hand and in any rigorous analysis the impact of GMO and associated pesticides should not be divorced from one another’.

About Martin Brooks

Martin spent his early working life in Europe, Australia and the US as a consultant loss prevention engineer. He founded two businesses enabling organisations to cultivate their innovation expertise, focusing particularly on the creative and collaborative aspects of cultures conducive to innovation. He is alert to vested interests and politicians who claim to know what’s best for us while preventing public scrutiny of their actions. He lives in York.

With thanks to Yorkshire Bylines:

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