21 November 2019
Agroforestry event in Melton Mowbray

A Win Win for Farm productivity and the Environment

3 December 2019
iSAGE training course and workshop

Innovations to improve sustainability in the sheep and goat sector



4 November 2019
Calling all UK Sheep farmers!

Survey on breed distribution and management

31 October 2019
Proceedings of the European Conference on Crop Diversification

Abstracts, presentations and workshop reports now online



21 March 2019
In adversity, what are farmers doing to be more resilient?

Opportunities, barriers and constraints in organic techniques helping to improve the sustainability of conventional farming

The GM threat: time to take action (Organised by GM Education)

The session aimed to outline the imminent threats to farmers, growers and consumers from the government and research establishment who are acting as the industry vanguard. The discussion aims were to focus on new initiatives for action, tackle the GMO push and highlight alternatives.

Pat Thomas (Beyond GM): Chair

Session summary


Bruce Pearce talks in the GM workshop

Bruce Pearce (ORC) provided an update on the current EU and UK policy position with regard to GM, highlighting the positive stance (towards GM) from the UK Government, with GM seen as being an essential part of the toolbox under the framework of ‘Sustainable Intensification’. Bruce highlighted that recent moves to allow member states to permit, restrict or ban GM cultivation in their territories is currently passing through the EU legislative process and this would potentially open the way for the UK to go it alone in commercial production of GM crops. Bruce also highlighted that there has been no or little discussion on the issue of co-existence measures or the associated liabilities which have caused massive issues for farmers in the United States. In addition we are continuing to import animal products and animals feeds containing GM crops to the UK, without any requirements for labeling.

Claire Robinson (Earth Open Source) then provided an update on the health risks from GM, pointing out that laboratory animal feeding studies and controlled studies of farm livestock have shown unintended toxic and allergenic effects and altered nutritional values of feed. Some of the toxic effects witnessed have included disturbed liver, pancreas and testes function, liver damage, stomach inflammation and ulcers, immune disturbances, unexplained deaths and increased botulism in the case of cattle. In addition, since the introduction of GM feed, increased rates of illness have been found in livestock, with one US scientist calling this ‘the new norm’. These observations have been backed up by GM feed trials which show increased rates of toxicity. These results have been dismissed by industry and regulators who claim that the results are ‘not biologically relevant’ or ‘not biologically significant’. However there is no definition behind these terms and scientifically they are meaningless.

Lawrence Woodward (GM Education) then presented an overview of the impacts of GM technology on farmers, citing examples of farmers from the US who have experienced growing weed resistance to herbicides, a reduction in non-GM seed availability for major crops and contamination with GM material. Lawrence also highlighted the fallacy behind claims that ‘GM is going to feed the world’ as there is no evidence that GM crops can increase yields or food security. The economic pressure to use GM crops was also highlighted with current logistic frameworks making it difficult for farmers to opt out of non-GM production for some crops. The risk of contamination of organic crops, and the resultant loss of consumer confidence, was also highlighted. Lawrence also pointed out that organic farmers and the general public are not sufficiently engaged in the discussion on the development of GM. Organisations such as GM Education and Beyond GM can help to facilitate this engagement.

Key conclusions

The discussion that followed the presentations brought out the following points:

  • GM crops do not increase yields or food security, and are not widely grown, despite claims to the contrary.
  • The most political thing we do is eat. The public are farmers friends and can help them to fight the development of GM through engagement with organisations such as GM Education and Beyond GM.
  • We need to invent a new paradigm to make the old one redundant as the spread of GM crops is being encouraged by a broken food system and a seed supply chain controlled by a small number of companies.
  • The organic sector needs to take a unified approach to lobbying Government(s)and the EC against the development of GM.

Action points

  • Join GM Education’s visual petition ‘GM Free Me’. A UK ‘national portrait gallery’ of real people who are tired of politicians, regulators, pro-industry researchers and media pushing genetic engineering technology into our farming and food system. Go to GM Free Me and show your face.

Individual speaker presentations and abstracts

Bruce Pearce (ORC): Current EU position – impacts for the UK (126kb pdf file)

The situation with GM within the EU has been quiet and off the public’s radar for the best part of a decade but things are rapidly changing. The Government is making very positive noises on GM as a strand in “sustainable intensification” while field trials have once again been undertaken in the UK. The moves within the EU this summer to allow member states to permit, restrict or ban GM cultivation in their territories is currently passing through the EU legislative process and would potentially open the way for the UK to go it alone in commercial production of GM crops. However, there is no agreement on co-existence measures or liability, which have not been discussed publicly in the UK for several years, and the devolved administrations have very different views on the commercial growing of GM crops from Defra. While all this is going on we still continue to import and feed GM animal feedstock to our animals with the resulting products (milk, meat, eggs etc.) unlabelled in our shops.

Lawrence Woodward (GM Education): How GM has adversely affected farmers on the ground (446kb pdf file)

The presentation will briefly survey the impacts of GM technology on farmers – primarily in the US – and will consider what the impacts might be should commercial GM cropping be introduced into the UK. In particular it will focus on gene flow, weed resistance, breeding techniques and the impact on seed availability.

Claire Robinson (Earth Open Source): The evidence of health risks from GM (2.46mb pdf file)

Laboratory animal feeding studies and controlled studies on farm livestock animals have found that GM foods can have unintended toxic and allergenic effects and altered nutritional value. Toxic effects found include organ damage, disturbed liver, pancreas and testes function, liver and kidney toxicity, stomach inflammation and ulcers, unexplained deaths, immune disturbances, allergic reactions, and increased proneness to botulism in the case of cattle.

Industry and regulators often dismiss findings of toxicity in animal feeding trials on GMOs by claiming they are “not biologically significant” or “not biologically relevant”. However, these terms have never been properly defined in the context of animal feeding trials with GMOs and are scientifically meaningless.

One scientist in the US calls the increased illness seen in livestock since the introduction of GM feed "the new norm". There is an opportunity for organic farmers to set a better and more humane norm by sticking to non-GM feed and in the case of cattle and grazing animals, grass and forage.