Yesterday I walked for about a mile through grassy fields, about half of them overgrown with grasses, nettles and other vagrant species. This was not in the middle of nowhere, but in prime Buckinghamshire farmland: some of the most fertile and longest farmed in England. These fields were completely vacant – no livestock, and certainly no crops.

Were these fields to be left alone, apart from mowing, for long enough, they could become meadows, rich in wildflowers, with nesting places for skylarks and other birds, and a refuge for hares. That is unlikely – it’s not the culture around here, but if we are so much in need of food that we want to plant GM crops, why are the in this state?

Much of the actively farmed land in this area has livestock on it – beef cattle mostly, some sheep and a little dairy. Cattle are notoriously inefficient in terms of food per acre, eating and drinking many times the weight of meat produced during their lives, let alone the methane they blow out of their rears.

Then there is all the land throughout the South East that is used for rearing horses, which are a hobby. There is an industry around them which provides work and pleasure for many of course, and they are lovely animals. But again, this is land that is supposedly so scarce that we need to plant GM crops.

Again the same question is begged – if we can afford to put so much land to livestock, can there really be a food crisis so severe that industrially produced GM crops are needed?

It may well be that the prices paid to farmers for crops make them less attractive, or even unaffordable to grow, but that raises questions about the ‘free and efficient market’ that is supposed to apply. The market for food is a bit of a free-for-all, certainly, meaning that it is the interests of the rich and powerful that are best served, rather than the good of the land. The fact that farmers are sometimes paid less than the food costs to grow creates great inefficiencies and waste, and also that the problem is not short supply.

It is a fact that the UK has a growing population. They need to be fed, and some very knowledgable people say that this will become a problem. But why are GM crops necessary? We seem to have plenty of land available for growing crops that could feed any number of people, but we just don’t use it. Of course, as long as supermarkets can import food cheaper than our farmers can produce it the problem is even less urgent. If we foresee a problem down the road, which is quite likely,we should plan for that both in terms of quantity of food grown and population size.

GM crops use lots of aggro-chemicals, including pesticides. Pesticides are intended to kill things – the bees, butterflies and other vital insects that unintentionally ingest them included. Even without GM crops this is a problem: One of our local villages had an open gardens day on Sunday and in 4 large gardens I didn’t see ONE honey bee (quite a few bumble bees) and few butterflies. The advent of GM crops in the UK is only likely to make this situation worse, owing to the quantities of chemicals needed for them.

Then there are the ‘unintended consequences’ of planting GM crops. By their nature, we don’t know what these will be, but these are alien plant types that require a lot of technology to make them successful, and their wide distribution could be catastrophic. You can forget about organic farms nearby as their crops are likely to become infected.

Then there is the fact that GM seed takes a lot of research and development – they cost millions and millions of pounds. So the companies that produce them own the genetic material, and will want to sell it as widely as possible once they are allowed to. They are very powerful and will offer big incentives to get farmers roped in. As the market grows, the company becomes more powerful, and eventually, the trap shuts, and the farmers and consumers are in it – you can’t re-use the seed, nor cross it with other varieties yourself. You have to buy the seed, AND the ghastly pesticides from The Company PLC (probably American or Chinese owned).

We have enough land to grow food for ourselves and more: it is a matter of how we choose to use it….  and whether we allow the global human population to continue to explode (

1 Comment
  1. Dear doug,
    Important points, all well put. I particularly liked your “aggro-chemicals” – very subtle.

    What makes good sense to any sensitive, remotely aware human being, rarely translates into action however, for as you well know, good environmental practice and national economics hardly ever coincide. Until there is a financial or “comfort” reason for land use to change, the landowners and farmers will be unlikely to put it into effect.

    What can we do? Become beekeepers, that would be a small contribution. Plant wildflowers in our gardens, mow the lawn less often.

    The key issue is as you point out, overpopulation.