There was a period during my time as Conservation Director when a topical blog would have been dominated by the issue of genetically modified (GM) crops.  Over the last two years they have hardly had a mention - although you may be interested in this piece of historical commentary.

But, I would imagine my successor may have to devote some time to this issue.  The emphasis on increasing production, rather than reducing consumption or waste, makes any new technology seem attractive if it promises the Earth.  The RSPB does not have a philosophical problem with GM technology per se - we don't see GM crops as being evil - but nor do we think that just because they are 'new' and 'scientific' then they are necessarily good.

I would love to see a GM crop ready for commercial release that delivered real yield benefits for farmers and real environmental benefits too.  I haven't seen one yet and they don't seem to be on the horizon either.

I wonder whether the development of GM crops that deliver great benefits for humankind is likely to derive from the commercial world or perhaps more likely from government-funded international collaboration.  As I understand it, Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer et al. are there to make money rather than deliver wider public benefits.  If we believe that there is a real prospect that GM crops might significantly alleviate hunger then shouldn't their development be a suitable subject for government funding - perhaps from the international aid budget?

Any GM crops should be closely tested before commercial release to assess their environmental impacts.  I think the environmental harm of GM crops has been exagerrated in the past but that doesn't mean that they are without danger in the future.

I can't help but feel that this subject will come back strongly in the next few years, clothed in the issue of food security and world hunger.  My advice would be to treat the predictions of environmental benignity with some scepticism (although not mindless hostility) and also treat the promises of high yields with some scepticism too.  However, it is the farmer who should beware that he (or she) isn't buying a poor crop, it is we the public who should beware that we are not allowing environmentally harmful crops to be grown in our countryside.



A love of the natural world demonstrates that a person is a cultured inhabitant of planet Earth.

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