The economic, asethetic and landscape case for the UK adopting a sustainable GM-free organic agricultural policy

Happy cows in Laxton Medieval Village

Sustainable landscape farming: happy cows in Laxton Medieval Village

Many scientists argue that ‘we’ should accept genetically modified (GM) foods – for a whole range of scientific and economic reasons. Though sceptical of the scientific logic I do not know enough about genetic modification to take issue with them. But on the economic issue I am convinced they are wrong in the specific case of the UK. So I was delighted to read that Professor Robert Watson, (chief scientist at the World Bank and also chief scientist of UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) said: “Are transgenics the simple answer to hunger and poverty? I would argue, no.A fortiori GM foods are not the answer for the UK. The benighted officials at the DEFFRA do not seem to appreciate the significance of the fact that England, Scotland and Wales are an island, or that our landscape is very productive and very beautiful. These geographical facts provide an amazing economic opportunity: Britain can become a niche supplier of the highest quality foods in the temperate world. If they are foolish enough, let everyone else go for low-cost, low-quality foods. It will not be possible to stop GM foods spreading across land borders. Island nations, like Britain and Australia, have the opportunity to become producers of exceptionally high quality foods. The UK should only produce organic foods. GM crops should be utterly banished. Everyone should know that buying British foods is a guarantee of quality. The benighted officials at DEFFRA should take note of the fact that in almost every market the producers who deliver the highest quality can charge the highest prices and, usually, generate the highest profits.
I love the English landscape and would be delighted to see photographs of wonderful crops and animals used, in beautiful surroundings, as marketing devices for The World’s Best Food.
PS Personally, I support the precautionary principle and have no wish to eat GM-produced Frankenstein Foods. But this is not my present argument.
Note: beyond the happy cattle in the above photograph one can see the remains of the last village in England which still uses the medieval system of land tenure. It is Laxton. I love it and the photograph was taken this week. Wouldn’t you rather your beef came from here than from a factory farm, awash with antibiotics? I was vegetarian between the ages of (about) 6 and 16. My father, who was a doctor, ridiculed me. But he went to visit a slaughterhouse about 40 years later and was revolted to see them cutting the abcesses out of factory-farmed cows and then sending the ‘good bits’ to the supermarkets. He then became a vegetarian.

6 thoughts on “The economic, asethetic and landscape case for the UK adopting a sustainable GM-free organic agricultural policy

  1. Adam Hodge

    Tom Your opening statement cracks me up !! Many scientists argue that ‘we’ should accept genitally modified (GM) foods… what.. have re-shaped todgers perhaps !

  2. Tom Turner Post author

    Thank you for pointing to my now-corrected mistake! I also forgot say that the post was prompted by listening to the current Reith lecturer, Martin Rees, as I made my way home from Laxton.

  3. Christine

    Sustainable farming has been defined as:

    * satisfying human food and fibre needs
    * enhancing environmental quality and the natural resource base upon which agricultural economies depend
    * make the most efficient use of non-renewable resources and on-farm resources and integrate where appropriate natural biological cycles and controls
    * sustain the economic viability of farm operations and
    * enhance the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole

    This seems like a fair definition, however the notion of competing and ecologically sound land-uses is not captured in the definition.

    1)How does a nation define the level at which it has achieved food security?
    2)What level and types of agricultural production for export markets are appropriate for the nation?

    For example, is agricultural uses the optimal ecological use of the land? Is the land also important habitat? If so, how compatible are the existing or contemplated agricultural uses? Is cultural heritage or urban development a competing land use? If so, to what extent might they be compatible land uses if at all?

  4. Tom Turner Post author

    There is an old medical joke that if you do x, y and z (eg to avoid heart disease) then ‘You may not actually live longer but it will certainly feel longer’. My worry about a discussion of sustainable farming, rather than a sustainable environment for humans, it opens the door to ‘satisfying human food and fibre needs’ without giving due importance to the other objectives – so that our species may not survive longer but it will ‘certainly feel longer’.

  5. Christine

    I agree – there is something wonderful to be said for looking at cows – as opposed to eating them!


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