The results of a three year scientific experiment on the environmental impact of genetically modified crops in the UK have been published.
The results show that wildlife was harmed in field trials of GM oilseed rape and sugar beet varieties, while GM maize fields are much less affected.
The results of the trials will be used by the UK Government, along with other information, to make a decision on whether or not to allow the engineered plants to be commercialised in the country.
The trials were criticised as being too narrowly focused, looking at the effect of GM crops on farmland creatures, but ignoring other possible effects such as damage to consumers' health.
What do you think the results contribute to the GM debate? Would you buy GM foods?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
I do not support the use or propagation of GM food! There is far too much interference with food as it is. The addition of colorants, water, and goodness only knows what else is only for financial profit. None of it, in my opinion is intended to improve any nutritional benefit. GM modification is tampering with nature on an irreversible course. This could have devastating long term effects on our food chain.
I will not buy GM foods, not because of health reasons, or even environmental reasons. The reason is one that everyone seems to be missing, which is we hand over the right to our food. No longer will farmers be able to take seeds from one year's crop and replant. They will be growing mutant food that cannot produce seeds and be forced to buy new ones every year. How quickly will our food bills increase when companies like Monsanto control the only farms which grow rice, wheat etc. We have already handed our privacy and freedoms to corporate monsters, lets not do the same to our food sources
It's a fact that all of the food we now eat in the UK has been genetically modified over the centuries. GM technology just accelerates this process. Do we complain about drugs and medicines which also accelerate naturally occurring functions?
Mark Ashwell, UK
I think some people are missing the big picture. I don't believe that GM food itself is intrinsically harmful to humans. But it does mean less "weeds", and therefore less insects, reduced biodiversity and a greater susceptibility to "super" insects and fungi, resistant to known insecticides and herbicides. We will not win an evolutionary footrace with nature; we are just storing up trouble for the future.
Gary Williams, Japan (ex UK)
Haven't we all been guinea pigs long enough? Pharmaceutical companies, food producers, big business... all have the almighty dollar as their bottom line, not the health and welfare of any of us. I'm tired (and probably sick, too) of being subjected to companies' efforts to load their own coffers.
A recent TV program showed how all carrots were originally purple. But a group of Dutch farmers selected some orange mutants to grow as a mark of respect to their royal family, the House of Orange. So we've all been eating GM carrots for the last 300 years...I still feel pretty good. GM isn't a problem, but we should be given the choice with labels on all packaging.
John R Smith, UK
Isn't GM an accelerated form of selected breeding, which agriculture and horticulture have been practising for longer than anyone can remember?
The main reason for GM (as far as I can see) is commercial. We already produce a massive surplus of foodstuffs in the EU, so why produce even more - surely we want to go the opposite way and produce less food and grow it organically!
Iain Gilbert, Scotland
I have no intention of ever buying GM modified food or food which contains GM ingredients, simply because I don't want to, and don't need to. If there is nothing wrong with GM foods why is the GM food industry against clear labelling?
The rest of Europe has been eating GM foods for ages. The good news is we're still here to "tell the tale". The bad news is we don't know the long term effects on the environment AND the chances are many "bio" crops have already been contaminated by neighbouring GM crops.
Elinor Hurst, Belgium
Most crops we use today are in a sense genetically engineered already. They bare little resemblance to the original members of their family in many cases, even. And despite our worry right now, they will continue to change in time by our hands. Perhaps we should not be so afraid of changing something we already wrought?
Tanya Red, United States
GM food and similar are simply not worth the risk.
The trials were a waste of money which could have been better spent educating people on the maxim 'you are what you eat'.
I'd be delighted to have the opportunity to buy GM foods. They are potentially cheaper, more nutritious, longer lasting, and may even be produced to include medicinal benefits. I'd imagine a lot of people in the developing world would also like that opportunity. But unfortunately we are unlikely to get the chance to do so whilst this absurd GM witch hunt continues. It's a sad story to tell, that as a society we are unable to embrace new technology that could improve the quality of life for billions of people.
In Zambia maize is the staple food. GM maize would not be suitable for the majority small scale farmers as it encourages weeds. Weeding in Zambia is done manually and is labour intensive. Allowing the maize for distribution to the richer or commercial farmers only since they can afford herbicides would not be a solution either because this GM seed will cross pollinate with the conventional ones and 'infect' them. The GM seed will also find its way on the local market legally or illegally. So, the GM Maize seed, from these crucial points of view would not be acceptable for Zambia and I am sure many developing countries that rely on Maize as a staple food.
Anthony Mpolokoso, Zambia
Put labels on food and that will solve the problem. The buyer can then decide whether to use GM or not. They can decide for themselves on the risk. Strange that the Food Standards Agency can be concerned about miniscule amounts of suspected but unlikely carcinogens, but not insist on a 'GM' label. However, they want to tell the public that GM is safe, and the view is - I know because I've heard them talk about it - that the 'moronic' public will accept GM when they've been educated. History will show that GM is safe but that the behaviour of industry is dictatorial.
I have never KNOWINGLY buy or eat GM food. What worries me is how much of this stuff I might have eaten without realising due to lax labelling rules and contamination.
Trevor Mendham, England
Regardless of health and environmental considerations, this is all about greedy big business controlling a huge slice of world food production for the profits earned by the privileged few.
Hilton Grayson, Australia
Absolutely not, for the simple reason that history shows you can not trust commercially funded scientists and, especially, the US food industry. What UK consumers should remember is that NOBODY can force you to actually buy Frankenfood. No one really knows what the long-term effects are and things like BSE and DDT have shown that it is long-term effects that come back to haunt you.
There is no real argument against the food safety of GM crops. In fact the safety tests on them are far more rigorous than for many other foods we eat on a daily basis.
There are two concerns which haven't been fully addressed, which would put me off buying GM food. Firstly, is it safe for the environment and what will its long term effects be. Secondly, what are the morals of the companies developing GM crops like (very poor if you judge how they've operated so far).
We have been "genetically modifying" crops and animals for our own benefit since farming began. Now we have the means to do it more quickly and efficiently. I don't see a problem here.
Surely even a lot of organic food has been created by man's meddling in a way. Cross breeding and selective breeding have been the norm for centuries? I am suspicious, but perhaps if I had more knowledge about why the GM foods differ from well bred food I would feel more comfortable... or not!
Put simply GM crops are not natural. Every time we mess around with the food chain - see BSE, we suffer the consequences. I do not want to see 'Mad plant syndrome'.
Andrew Trigg, England
As a software engineer, when making changes to a complex system, it must be thoroughly tested off-line before releasing, as I cannot always foresee how my changes may affect other parts of the system. Compared to an individual organism, these systems are really simple and deterministic, so if I were to make changes to a complex organism, I'd REALLY want to make sure I got it right. As for an even more complex ecosystem with multifaceted interactions, I doubt whether enough testing could ever be done, and testing off-line is almost impossible.
The cost of my getting things wrong through lack of testing can be delays and lost revenue. The cost of getting it wrong in an ecosystem are unpredictable and potentially disastrous, and it's a one-way street; no going back.
I worry that the bio-tech companies are rushing into this in pursuit of profit, I worry that their testing is not sufficiently isolated from the surrounding ecosystem, and I worry that the government will just let them get on with it unchecked.
Regardless of scientific findings, the GM debate in the UK is not one of hunger. How many starving people do we have in the UK? Not many I suspect. So yes our main concerns should be biodiversity as well as food safety. How can a food be organic if GM crops are sprayed with herbicides? They can't!
Steven Garcia, England
I am an Industrial Chemist and, NO, I will not buy genetically modified foods. No rigorous scientific investigations have been done and the potential side-effects of growing GM foods far outweigh the advantages at the moment. Imagine a world without any food - this is one of the potential long term effects of introducing genes into plants that would otherwise never be present.
Three crops is nowhere near conclusive enough proof. One different crop could have changed the whole perspective of these tests.
What it's proved is GM is not nearly as clear-cut as either lobby would have us believe.
Steve B, Scotland
The results published
yesterday have nothing to do
with food safety. There is no
scientific evidence of danger
to people eating GM food so
I am still happy to eat it.
If biodiversity is our main
aim rather than feeding the
hungry, that should
determine where we grow GM
crops. I think the 'organic'
lobby has lost the plot - GM
plants are still organic.
During the 1800's doctors used to 'bathe' patients with 'stimulating radiation'- from Crookes tubes. This 'healing ray' was in fact gamma radiation! Scientists had discovered X-rays and could use them for things (x-ray photos) but did not understand the dangers. I have no problems with buying GM products - in about 50 years when scientists have a better idea what they are doing.
Richard Boesch, UK/Spain
Please, please will people stop harping on about how GM crops harm the wildlife. I didn't hear half these arguments when the land was used for roads, housing and industrial development.
The GM controversy is not about whether we may get ill and die from dangerous foods. It's about the kind of world that we want our kids to inherit and for future generations. I can't accept arguments such as "we do so many other dangerous things to our planet that GM is ok". Anything we do to protect the environment, even the slightest thing, is important in the long term. We consumers have force and we should use it.
Lia, Athens, Greece
I shall certainly, never knowingly purchase GM produce. I don't buy organic all the time - in Italy there's much less choice than in the UK and the cost is still quite high - but I believe that most people, given the choice, would pay a little extra for non GM foods each and every time. I applaud the efforts of the non profit pressure groups in trying to raise awareness of the issues surrounding GM crops and the effect they will natural environment. Imagine the effect these groups could have if they were backed by huge multinationals whose profits were directly affected by the outcome of the debate or a government decision. People would really wake up and smell the (non GM) bacon and realise what changes these irresponsible, only out for profit multinationals are trying to effect.
Let's put it this way. Would I buy DDT?
Yes! Soon after its release I would be keen to, given the assurances by "scientists" that it was safe. Would I buy DDT today? No way! I do not see that the "scientists" claims about GM crops are substantially different to their claims about DDT all those years ago. Prudence on behalf of everybody is what is needed not profit on behalf of a few.
Rod Shaw, Australia
Recent history would suggest that we aren't responsible enough to undertake such projects and that profit comes way before safety.
The disgraceful situation with GM salmon in Scotland is enough proof that those in charge aren't responsible enough to carry out such projects. Wild salmon has effectively been eliminated and the parasite ridden GM salmon farmed in giant sea cages need high levels of pesticides dumped on them to keep them alive. Some GM salmon have escaped and interbred with the wild ones wiping out the wild variety. It's also the case that the produce from farmed GM salmon isn't marked upon its sale.
We owe it to Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace to raise the questions no one else does. I'm a commercial beekeeper; no one is researching the future problems here. Pollination by insects is quite important you might say!
I would definitely never choose to buy GM foods but buy organic wherever possible. Why are we not having a referendum on this irreversible decision? Once the pollution starts it cannot be undone and I for one am furious that the decision about what I eat could be taken out of my hands.
Of course I'll buy GM foods - and so will everyone else if the price is right! At the moment the vast majority of shoppers are happy to leave expensive organic foodstuffs on the shelves in favour of food that has been grown with the benefit of herbicides, pesticides and manufactured fertilizer. Why should the response to GM foods be any different?
John M Johnson, UK
The economics of GM make no sense. We are talking about making products that are already dirt cheap even cheaper. As these crops are already in overproduction this will bankrupt more small farmers. The surpluses will continue to be dumped on third world countries destroying their indigenous agriculture via the CAP. The only sector in the shops that commands premium prices is organic. We should be looking at increasing the area of organic crops thereby reducing the cost and making it available to more consumers. These tests are pointless. The question is not one of safety (important as that is) but of consumer choice. Our current pattern of agriculture is unsustainable GM will simply accelerate that process.
Nick Matthews, UK
Let me think, GM foods harmed our indigenous wildlife and you want me to eat this stuff!
No further GM crops until we better understand the damage we have inadvertently already done to the biosphere. This may take years and it might still prove, in the balance, that this advance had considerable merit. We are not in a position to talk of absolutes either way. Rather like the global warming debate it would be better to be cautious and limit our contribution even if we are not the major cause. The need for GM crops is not, in the main, motivated by altruism but by profit. We can wait.
I would avoid GM food and the evidence now shows some as environmentally damage. The UK government is rather keen on it however (wonder why?) and what will be most interesting will be to see how they spin this story to their way of thinking, as they undoubtedly will.
R Scott-Watson, UK
What's all this fuss about? Whether a crop is composed of GM or conventional plant varieties, it is going to have a limited biodiversity because only one plant is being grown over a vast area! GM technology is exciting ever-improving, there are so many ways that it can be used to benefit the environment, the farmed and the consumer, if only we give the scientists a chance!
Melanie Andrews, England
Mankind has been playing with genetic engineering for centuries by merging types of plants, and animals, but under the rules and pace of nature. What worries me is that by playing at the genetic level, and merging all levels of life, we are bypassing nature's natural control systems. There is an inherent danger it playing with nature.
I would most definitely NOT buy knowingly anything containing GM ingredients or derivatives. Animals in this country are fed on GM and we are buying their meat and milk and supporting GM without knowing it.
Jane Burd, UK
I would never buy GM food. Look how many drugs have been introduced under the strictest of regulation, but are then found to be detrimental. GM hasn't even been tested to this extent, and has the potential to impact not only the consumers of GM food, but the whole environment as highlighted in your report. If GM crops are grown, there will be unforeseen consequences to us and the environment. This price is too high to pay.
I would not buy GM food. The results so far are so inconclusive as to its safety. We can not afford to get this wrong. Once out we can not put the genie back in the bottle.
The contamination damage to other crops may already be too far spread for the Government to be able to stop this now. I try to avoid buying GM foods but in many cases because of contamination this cannot be guaranteed.
As a former research scientist I know that it is impossible to say that something is 100% safe. History is riddled with examples of products that were entirely "safe" as far as science could tell at the time, which were later shown to possess all sorts of toxic effects when scientific understanding and knowledge advanced. Think of anything from CO2 from fossil fuels, asbestos, thalidomide, cigarettes, DDT, to BSE (from ill-advised cattle feed) and the controversy over the MMR vaccine. Nature is far too complex for man to evaluate all the consequences of his actions.
Paul Bailey-Smith, UK
I would prefer not to buy GM foods, and for this reason believe that, if we are going to be forced into it (money is power after all), all products should be CLEARLY marked if they are or include or MAY include GM ingredients. This would at least give one the option not to buy. The apparent reluctance to accommodate this is highly suspect. It is the unknown element that is most concerning - what modification has actually taken place? What truly is the long-term effect on man and nature? When can we know the answer to this last question - how many years? The argument that for centuries man has modified plants etc to give the results we have today is not a good one - at least it was plant with plant, not plant with animal etc. (Not to mention the ethical problems for vegetarians/vegans.)
J Perkins, England
NO! Almost without exception, mans attempts to interfere with nature have proved to be disastrous. Under no circumstances should we experiment with things we know very little about.
I hope that all GM products will be clearly labelled in LARGE lettering on the FRONT of packaging so that I can more easily avoid it.
V. Brown, England
Whilst I welcome the introduction of GM foods, my main concern is the preservation of existing and older seed varieties. GM crops are as progressive as evolution, however the preservation of seeds from both flowering and vegetation crops, is as vital as the preservation of endangered species. I do hope that there are organisations geared up to do this and I for one would be more than willing to donate to such.
UK (ex New Zealand)
I don't feel that GM crops are dangerous for animal fodder or human consumption. I won't support/buy them because of the damage it may do to the wider environment if grown large scale in the UK/Europe. I simply do not trust Monsanto et al
Adam wadding, Wales
Can't help feeling once you begin to mess with nature, she may well turn around and bite you when and where you least expect it! We can't be certain there are no long term effects of changing the genetic structure of foodstuffs and it could well be a little late by the time we do.
GM crops have been grown and consumed in the US for over 20 years, with no evidence of significant problems. There is an anti-science bias in the UK fuelled by newspapers that exploit people's emotions using such verbiage as 'Frankenfoods'. Wildlife are harmed by all farming, almost by definition. And after the BSE, listeria, salmonella in eggs, and foot-and-mouth debacles, certainly the UK is in no position to dictate the 'safest' way to produce food. In Scotland, there is a verdict of 'Not proven', which I believe sums things up nicely.
I can't see how it could be any worse for us than what we already eat: food smothered in potentially carcinogenic pesticides. Plus of course all the processed salty, fatty, sugary, artificial junk most of us eat by the bucket load. How can GM be any worse?
As far as I can see, the whole point of GM crops is to improve yield and resistance to pests, which are benefits that only the grower will profit from. Why should food containing genetically engineered products be forced onto the consumer when it doesn't benefit us in any way, shape or form? Is it solely so that someone else further up the food production chain can make bigger profits?
There is precious little evidence that GM crops are beneficial to anything but the shareholders of Biotech companies, so I would say no. Why do we spend so much time and money on recycling, reducing pollution, holding world conferences on the shrinking ozone layer etc when at the next possible chance we are finding new ways to pollute our planet. I am not a raving loony - just someone who has some common sense. It's a shame our Government does not have some.
I'm quite sure that the dangers of GM foods are exaggerated by misguided environmentalists and misinformed journalists. However, if possible I always prefer to buy organic as opposed to any intensively farmed produce, I think it just tastes better and am 100% sure that its good for me and good for the environment.
We already have no choice about eating GM foods - it's already in a lot of the food we buy at supermarkets in the form of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs): Frozen gateaux's, cheese, bread, to name a few. Producers do not have to label GMOs as in their food and the Food Standards Agency do not have the funding to test for it.
Chris McLean, UK
I am quite happy to eat GM food. Why should we trust the multi-national "environmental" groups like Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace. They have a vested interest in spinning scare stories - without them their membership and donations dry up!
I have a choice and I want organic food if possible. I don't want GM and I want producers to label GM foods accordingly - which they not always do - so that I know what to buy or what not to buy. I don't mind paying a few more pennies if that means supporting organic farmers. The government should do more to encourage organic farming. After all, if you care whether an apple is round or pear shaped you should get out more!
Of course I would eat it. There is no reason not to, unless you were: sentimental for some past that never was, or conservative and fear change, or living in a cave because you distrust all science, or you were somebody who follows every trendy cause.
The only problem with GM is that it is mostly in the hands of greedy scheming multinationals. If their legal claim could be removed from it, GM would be faultless
Whatever you say they are playing with nature and don't know what will happen as a result in the future until it does. Then it will be too late.
I choose to eat organic food but cannot see how my food can be guaranteed to be organic once GM crops are unleashed. Furthermore, if the majority of the British public are opposed to GM, why are the government attempting to force it on us? The answer must be that they are under pressure from the US to follow US biased WTO regulations. If we get GM against the public wishes it just goes to show that the WTO should be scrapped and a fairer, more democratic system be set up instead system
With the introduction of chemical fertilizers and pesticides way back in the 1920's, we now look forward to long and healthy lives. This move to GM crops is purely a natural progression that will benefit countless millions. It's unfortunate that the term 'genetically modified' conjures images of mutant grain strains. Perhaps with he right global marketing, the re-packaged GM crop will prevail.
GM is a backward step. Organic and natural is the answer as recent food scares illustrate. Price too is a red herring. We would not fill our cars with low-grade petrol, so why are we not prepared to pay a little bit more for top-grade body fuel?
The only benefit from GM is to the manufacturer. Studies following up GM farmers in the US show that in the long term yields are lower and costs are higher, but once they've started down the GM road they can't go back.
Peter Douglas, United Kingdom
The benefit of GM foods is not one of feeding the starving, but one of maximising profits. The world already produces ample food to feed everyone in it. GM foods are designed to require very little skill and attention to bring them to maturity, thereby reducing the number and skills of staff needed to tend them. They are designed to give higher crop yields and to be resistant to the pest/weed control chemical fertiliser combinations that the seed manufacturer recommends. As a result, conventional farmers will not be able to compete and over a period of time traditional skills will disappear and all farming will rely on the use of GM methods. We have already been eating GM food for years. The USA is a major importer of soya and has been producing a GM version for years, which gets blended with other non-GM imports and used in many ready-meals and processed foods already available in the UK (and legally not marked as GM).
Chris Hollett, UK
The nation speaks BUT money shouts.
Let's all follow the pied pipers. What do we know anyway?
Current foods are frequently contaminated with pesticides. Are we really mad enough to load the next generation of foods with weed-killers as well? This is a Pandora's box that should be kept firmly closed.
GM Crops are for the benefit of Bio-Tech Corporations and no one else. They are playing Russian roulette with our health - and all the chambers are loaded.
Steve Quinn, UK
I wouldn't buy GM foods, we don't know the long term effects of GM crops and do we really need more food, aren't we fat enough. Coincidently, the one thing that many of us have noticed over the past few years is that we seem to suffer from strange illnesses that the doctors can only put down to as a "virus". Why can't we invest in organic crops - quality not quantity, that's what the public want and after what happened with BSE we should be very cautious indeed of GM foods.
I am probably already buying it without realising it. I don't believe we know what we are eating these days. It is difficult to find food that hasn't been tampered with. I think the GM crops will damage the environment. Cheap will cost us all dearly in the long run. The government does what it wants and cares not about our health.
Karen Matthews, USA/UK
I would prefer GM to pesticide riddled food. Organic is best but too expensive for most.
Under no circumstances will I ever buy GM foods. The potential effects upon the environment are unknown and there is some evidence that entire eco-systems could be devastated. The world already produces more than enough food to feed everyone. Famines are the results of wars, extreme poverty and poor infrastructure, not of global food production. GM crops are a wholly unnecessary risk.
No. Even if these results proved good for biotech I would still not buy them. For the government to push this in such public distrust and rejection astonishes me.
Paul Grimshaw, UK
I have already eaten GM food and you simply can't tell the difference.
The only way you can tell if its GM is if it's labelled as such.
I don't want to eat any GM foods at all. But if the GM proponents have their way then all crops will become contaminated with GM genes so I won't have any choice! All new technologies bring dangers that are not fully realised for many years. When GM proponents claim that GM food is safe my response is that no one is yet in a position to make that statement.
Adam Hamilton, Scotland
I would definitely not buy GM food, but the question is really how easy it will be to tell GM from non-GM food?
As long as the Government puts the onus on the food companies to give us clear statements of what is and what isn't GM, then we can vote for or against GM with our wallets.
Never! Monsanto's withdrawal if GREAT news for Europe, but let's keep vigilant!
Of course. You only live once, so there's no point pussy-footing around developments such as GM foods. They are produced to enable resistance to pests, adverse weather conditions and to produce bigger and fuller crops. How is this a bad thing? We're not playing Mother Nature, we're using our knowledge to help her. There's always controversy regarding new "discovery's", most people are scaremongered into avoiding products like this.
Demand in this country for GM is practically non-existent, while demand for organic food is rising. What does the "listening" government do? Bend over backwards to accommodate the bullying US mega-corporations, and try to foist GM onto us. The best way to feed the world is to invest in improving agricultural practices and facilities, not splicing the genes from jellyfish into cotton and other untested technologies.
This argument is like the smoking/non-smoking argument. I don't wish to eat GM, and I don't wish to breathe other people's smoke. But I can choose to go to non-smoking venues, whereas if GM is allowed it will pollute the gene pool irrevocably. This is denying my basic right to eat what I choose.
An ecosystem is a finely balanced thing. We've seen the evidence of that from the knock on effects caused by the reduction of some species due to hunting or habitat loss. Whether you are talking about GM or fertilizer/herbicide/insecticide technology you are playing a dangerous game with the ecosystem. The difference with GM is that it is irreversible, once the modified gene is out there you can't reign it in again. For that reason alone I believe we should have nothing to do with it.
Phillip Holley, UK, London