GM in Britain: NIMBY or red tape?

Here in Britain, farmers aren’t growing GM crops. Those are genetically modified crops, also called genetically engineered (GE) crops or biotech crops. One GM crop, a Bt (insecticidal) maize (corn, Zea mays) called MON810 sold by Monsanto, is grown commercially in other parts of Europe. And farmers in many other countries grow plenty of GM crops.

Britain and other European countries import the products of GM crops including maize (corn, Zea mays) and soya (soybean, Glycine max) to feed animals. Also to use in producing some of our own goods, including some foods. Does that mean we’re crying ‘NIMBY’ – Not In My Back Yard – while getting benefits from GM? Maybe it does mean that.

Now our British Government wants to tidy up. It wants to sweep away ‘red tape’ – unnecessary paperwork. We’re invited to have our say in the Red Tape Challenge. If you’re in Britain, now’s your chance to speak out about several issues. One of those issues is GM in feed and food. NIMBY or red tape?

A couple of weeks ago I said that we Europeans might be crying NIMBY about GM. Judge if you want to. To do that, you’ll need to look at the red tape.

Our national Government wants ‘[to make] the food and farming industry more competitive while protecting the environment.’ Here’s its policy about GM organisms (GMOs). ‘Applications for approval to market a product (including crop seeds for cultivation, foods or feeds) are assessed and decided upon at EU [European Union] level, while applications to release a [GMO] for research and development purposes are considered at national level.’

Here’s what the UK Government says about applications and consents to ‘release’ GMOs. Getting consent involves paperwork! So it should. This is the kind of important, but not very enjoyable, work that academics and industrial scientists have to do before getting on with the science. ‘The assessment process for GM release or marketing applications considers potential safety factors such as toxicity, allergenicity, and the fate of any possible transfer of novel genes to other organisms. Applicants have to provide a dossier of relevant information to cover these points, and this is scrutinised by our committee of independent experts.’

Just now, there are several consents to ‘release’ GMOs for research at named sites. GMOs can be grown for crop research in Hertfordshire, Norfolk and Leeds. GMOs can be made for vaccine trials in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Meanwhile our Food Standards Agency (FSA) is all about safety in our own food. But that connects to animal feed, of course, since most of us eat animal products. So FSA concerns itself with GM material in animal feed. This is where it becomes a European discussion.

FSA says, ‘Before a [GMO] can be marketed or grown in the… EU… it must be authorised under… the ‘GM Food and Feed Regulation’. This requirement applies both to living GMOs, such as maize and soya, and to feed and food ingredients derived from the processing of GM crops. The authorisation procedure includes an assessment by the Panel on [GMOs] of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). The Panel assess the safety of the GMO and the food or feed derived from it. The Panel’s scientific advice is then taken into account by the [European] Commission [EC] and member states when deciding whether to authorise the GMO for use in the EU.

‘On the basis of these assessments, there is no reason to suppose that GM feed presents any more risk to farmed livestock than conventional feed. GM feed, which is very unlikely to contain viable GMOs, is digested by animals in the same way as conventional feed. Food from animals fed on authorised GM crops is considered to be as safe as food from animals fed on non-GM crops.’

That’s FSA’s opinion. Not everybody agrees about whether or not GM feed is safe for livestock. Not everybody trusts the peer review system, in which scientists judge each other’s work. A few days ago I said, ‘Don’t believe everything you read.’ But FSA accepts the peer-reviewed scientific consensus. Therefore, FSA believes that GM feed is safe for livestock and for the consumers of animal products. FSA urges us to contribute to the Red Tape Challenge: Animal Feed legislation. That link shows a list of the relevant laws.

This is the Food *Safety* Authority, so it’s all about food safety. The Red Tape Challenge is all about how we’re governed. Neither of those sets out to consider seed saving, biodiversity, ecosystems or business. As I’ve said before, GM is larger than food safety and it shouldn’t be at the beck and call of multinational companies.

What do you think and feel? You can speak out in the Red Tape Challenge about Agriculture, Animal Health and Welfare, Plant Health and Forestry. Here’s a live feed to the comments coming in.

This is crowdsourcing for ideas. I don’t know how much influence this particular batch of crowdsourcing will have. But if you like it, do it.

[Edit] This is relevant to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) which is being negotiated.

About argylesock

I wrote a PhD about veterinary parasitology so that's the starting point for this blog. But I'm now branching out into other areas of biology and into popular science writing. I'll write here about science that happens in landscapes, particularly farmland, and about science involving interspecific interactions. Datasets and statistics get my attention. Exactly where this blog will lead? That's a journey that I'm on and I hope you'll come with me.
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1 Response to GM in Britain: NIMBY or red tape?

  1. Pingback: Trading across the Pond | Science on the Land

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