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.

  • G M  could offer serious benefits to general public,wildlife,farmers and the starving if for instance they could alter crops to avoid spraying to control diseases so lets keep a open mind on it and in actual fact some of the food we already eat is G M from other countries and the soya fed to European livestock almost certainly G M so maybe like lots of other things it is out of our control.

  • When the world maize crop and therefore the world food supply is crashed by a commercially driven mistake what good is it going to be that it was the duty of the GM company to 'maximise the return to its shareholders ?'

    This isn't the banking crisis, this is for real and the stakes are astronomical - would you leave it to the 'liberal' marketplace ? I wouldn't - I believe in technology, but not in uncontrolled global capitalism.

  • In a very unscientific way the concept of GM crops frightens me silly.  I hear stories of tomatoes manipulated with jellyfish genes to make them more succulent but why would I want to put that in my mouth.  I hear stories of plants made resistant to pesticide and herbicide so that they can be more readily sprayed but what happens if that gene crosses into the wild.  Yet at the same time I hear of rice altered in a way to treat blindness.

    I have a neighbour who as a scientist extols the virtue of GM but so did those who invented thalidomide.

    I think my concern is that if we get education, policing, NHS etc wrong we can change it back.  If we get GM wrong the future generation is stuck with the consequences for ever.

  • People dp talk some claptrap about GM and I'm not surprised to find the 'scientific' CD of the RSPB doing likewise

    "it is we the public who should beware that we are not allowing environmentally harmful crops to be grown in our countryside" concludes Mark.

    However - both the RSPB and Mark support "allowing environmentally harmful "wildlife" to be grown in our countryside"  Geddit?

    Come on get a grip - what utter rubbish!