Brexit and GMO Regulation – 4 Ways You Can Help
By Emmy Jenkins
On the tip of the media tongue, Brexit is rocking the boat across all industry sectors in our complex economy. By leaving the EU, we’re making the decision to bypass European policy in favour of our own ability to craft self-sustainable, resilient, dynamic policy for our own nation.
Despite Britain’s wartime success in de-energising and reducing consumption, our economy and political landscape has changed dramatic since this example of self-efficacy.
In this sense, our belief in Britain’s ability to manifest relevant policy — that supports the positives of EU policy and refines the negatives — is not exactly at an all-time high.
While trade tariffs and social rights appear to be the dominating subjects in the public discourse, agricultural policy has the potential for serious disruption — especially in terms of GM crops entering our food pipelines.
The National Permaculture Convergence 2018 welcomed Liz O’Neil, the Director of GM Freeze, to talk about how Brexit could potentially affect agricultural policy surrounding genetically modified crops in the UK. Running campaigns to help safeguard British farmers and consumers, GM Freeze is on the front line of the battle to help prevent GM crops from sneaking into our fields unnoticed.
Welcoming Liz O’Neil to the Permaculture Convergence 2018, she opens the floor to a debate surrounding GM crops and the changes to their usage once Brexit has gone through. The Director of GM Freeze, Liz has been campaigning to provide a defensive line against GM crops entering our fields willy nilly.
Liz tirelessly contacts MPs and VIPs and other acronym-important-policy-influencer to open the debate regarding the problems with GM crops. From issues regarding health, to the implicit use of monocropping, to patented seed, Liz understands that the corporate profit margin behind GM crops leads us to toeing a dangerous line.
Forming GM Freeze in 1999 as the Five-Year Freeze, GM Freeze have been a non-profit since 2005. Campaigning to oppose patenting, to inform and inspire, and to stand as the united voice against GM crops, GM Freeze works diligently to spot upcoming trends, potential hurdles, and clandestine policy — and to tackle it head on.
With an hour session at the National Permaculture Convergence 2018, Liz used her time and space to open the conversation by informing on the dangers ahead of us, and inviting comments from the forum.
The discussion was in-depth, embraced varying viewpoints, and endeavoured to openly remain unbiased, while giving room for subjectivity. Here are some of the points highlighted regarding the dangers of GM crops and the impending Brexit agreement, as well as some tips on what you can do about it.
“Don’t Hide What’s Inside” – Request Clear Labelling
Currently, under EU regulations, food containing GM crops needs to be labelled explicitly stating this is the case. This clearly indicates to the buyers that the ingredients within a product have been genetically modified.
As was sadly demonstrated recently with the Pret a Manger sandwich event, labelling is imperative to clarify to consumers what they’re purchasing. Unfortunately, as corporations run as profit-driven machines, their responsibility to display adequate labelling is not at the forefront of their minds. Therefore, labelling regulations have had to be forced upon them under EU policy.
The problem for manufacturers and food producers using GM techniques is that when labelled as such, products become less appealing. In today’s day and age where consumers are becoming more conscious of their eating habits, personal food journeys, and carbon footprints, consumers have come to rely on labelling to indicate harmful substances in food products.
GM labelling sets these products apart, decreasing their attractiveness. As multiple international campaigns have highlighted the potential dangers of GM food, the general public are becoming increasingly cautious.
In this sense, labelling works to decrease the consumption and therefore resulting demand for GM products. Moreover, EU labelling showcases the people’s right to know what is in their food and how it is produced.
However, as with plenty of other industry sectors, the agricultural sector is likely to be highly disturbed by Brexit, resulting in disruption to policies which have held firm for some time.
As consistent backers of the GM circus, and with a strong foothold in the international research surrounding genetic modification, the UK is poised to support GM producers. In heralding GM crops as the sustainable solution to world hunger, the UK is in the position to revoke the requirement for food products to be labelled as GM.
Labelling is an easy policy to slip away from us, according to Liz O’Neil. Before we know it, in the frenzy of policy chaos, the likelihood of GM labelling from disappearing is very high.
To prevent this from happening, Liz suggests contacting your local MP to increase awareness. GM Freeze’s current campaign Don’t Hide What’s Inside aims to raise collective awareness about the issue through various social media crusades, inviting you to share their images and evidence to really illuminate the issue to the world.
Demand Regulation for New GM Techniques
Currently, there are a list of techniques which are considered to be genetic modification techniques. Now, presently under EU policy, all GM foods and crops are required to be risk-assessed, with a traceable audit trail that clearly outlines their genetic modification properties.
While this has served well up until now, new GM techniques are being developed all the time. These ‘advanced’ ways to fiddle with plant DNA are often referred to as ‘sophisticated breeding techniques’.
This is not the case at all. Breeding requires years of training real plants and selecting seeds that showcase tendencies you prefer. This takes time and art.
Genetic modification changes genetic aspects of the very conceptual structure of a plant. While certain methods aim to target specific architectural points within a plant’s make-up, these approaches cannot guarantee that they do not accidentally change other genetic aspects of the plant. In this sense, while the GM technique may be designed to alter Gene A to make the plant more resilient to a certain bug, it could also accidentally alter Genes J and S to do with allergens, causing unexpected adverse reactions in consumers.
New techniques, such as CRISPR (a genome editing tool) claim to be more accurate than previous methods. While these new methods don’t add DNA from other species, they do edit and physically manipulate the genome, in ways we can’t truly understand.
With no longitudinal studies proving or even indicating safe use over the long-term, we’re playing with fire. Without long-standing EU policy infrastructure in place to demand the safe labelling, and proper audit trail for these products, they slip under the radar.
Where in the EU, techniques like CRSIPR were just defined as GM methods, with Brexit on the horizon, the UK could revoke this. This would rescind their need to complete the appropriate indicative steps to safeguard consumers.
Liz implores that you contact your local MP. No matter where you’re located in the UK, making your MP aware of this potential car crash is important. Fighting from all corners, we can ensure that techniques such as this remain categorized as potentially unsafe, requiring producers to identify these products and provide audit trails for them.
"#SafeguardOurFarms" – Protect Farmers From GM Contamination
While many anti-GM voices like to spout about the potential health effects of GM crops, we, in fact, are not in a scientifically sound position to argue this effectively. In this case, rather than wade into unknown waters, we make a concerted effort to research this further, while battling from the appropriate side.
In this case, however, the patenting of seeds is a real issue. The corporate stranglehold on farmers is forcing them to give up land and pay high fines, while GM food slips into our food unnoticed.
Contamination can happen simply from seeds landing on farmers’ sites unwittingly. A GM seed blown in the wind, settling and growing on a farmer’s land contaminates his product. Without his knowledge, the farmer harvests his crops, contaminating his final product with GM crops without realising.
In this event, this contaminated food reaches the shelves without labelling to indicate that it contains GM ingredients.
Legally, the corporations that hold the seed patent can then sue farmers for using the seed without a contract or permission.
GM Freeze spend a great deal of their time explaining this process in detail to help people understand how contamination is happening without us seeing it. Currently, EU regulation requires the tracing and recording of all GMOs released into the environment. This helps to cut back on contamination, while also providing the Big Data needed to demonstrate the potential areas that could be at risk from contamination.
With Brexit looming, the UK needs to step up to the plate to ensure that this audit trail is continued. Without it, farmers not growing GM crops are at risk of contamination from neighbouring farms, polluting our food supply unsuspectingly.
GM Freeze asks you to join their awareness campaign by sharing their multimedia posts and utilizing the #SafeguardOurFarms hashtag when passing the message around. By raising awareness, we can help to bring this into the public sphere.
Protect Soil by Visioning Regenerative Food Systems
Trade embargoes, foodless shelves, and starving citizens is the picture painted by the left of the impending Brexit deal. The fear of scarcity is what is leading the world in the pioneering of genetic medication techniques to play with our food.
This is a fallacy. There is more than enough food on the Earth currently, with supplies to feed up to 10 billion people. With 7 billion people currently residing on the planet, the question is not of whether the food is there, but why it isn’t be distributed effectively and efficiently.
People aren’t hungry because of scarcity, people are hungry because of greed, because of politics, and because of wealth disparities.
In this sense, the worry about food should not be the issue.
However with the increase of GM crops being planted in our fields, we are looking at true soil destruction. If the UK’s support for GM crops were to see fewer restrictions on GMOs, we’re likely to see problems with crops growth in the future. Keeping restrictions helps to prevent this formidable forecast.
Here’s the issue. Aside from the claims that GM crops and their fertilizer/herbicide counterparts have caused innumerable cases of cancer, GM crops go hand-in-hand with the practice of monocropping. Monocropping damages the soil as a wealth of one species of crop will all needs the same nutrients, therefore depleting a patch of soil of that specific mix of nutrients. With no diversity to create that balance, the soil gets sapped of its goodness.
Without the goodness in the soil, the microorganisms that create the complex underground life systems don’t develop. This means the glue to bind the soil disappears, causing it to blow away in the wind, wash away in the rain, and turn to desert. This desertification means the soil can no longer hold water when it rains, resulting floods.
In the first instance, we need to consider GM crops as being a contributing factor to the extreme flooding and drought which appears to be increasing worldwide.
GM crops are primed to deal with this lack of soil nutrients as their very quiddity is altered to make them resilient to fertilizer and herbicide. As the soil no longer carries the nutrients the plants need, they rely on the fertilizers for this food.
While this fertilizer gives plants phosphorous, nitrogen, and potassium, plants need many many more minerals and vitamins to grow big and strong. Lacking a whole chunk of vital goodies, these plants become weaker versions of themselves. Like a child without the necessary nutrients to grow, the plant becomes meek, malnutrition, and its immune system is compromised.
Weak plants give way for stronger plants to take their place. These weak crops allow weeds (strong, resilient, pioneer plants) to worm their way in and take over. To prevent this, farmers plants spray herbicide to prevent weeds from growing. Genetically altered to withstand the herbicide, the GM (puffed-up) crops continue to grow in baron, bleak soil.
What’s more, monocropping means that farmers provide pest buffets. Planting millions of cauliflowers in rows and rows only invites the hungry hungry caterpillar to invite all his hungry hungry friends. Pest breeding gets out of control and as unlimited supply of food allows these pests to multiply uncontrollably. Meek, tired, and over-stimulated by cargo-ship loads of nitrogen, the plants fail to present strong enough defence mechanisms.
Luckily for the GM companies’ pockets, these GM crops are genetically modified to be resilient to pesticide — so the farmers spray the pests with pesticide. Bye bye pests. Killing good bacteria, bad bacteria, and everything in between, these pesticides leave a sterile environment which quickly gets replaced by more pests as their predators (who appear later in the food chain) are also wiped out.
In short, support for GM crops by the UK government has huge potential to lead to baron soil. While increased yearly yields have been seen in the past, the longer-term soil statistics behind GM crops now show patterns that indicate soil depletion during those periods has offset these positives dramatically.
With UK support for GM crops, we could see increased industrial agricultural practices, something that only leads to further soil depletion. By raising awareness, we can upheave any chance of this poor policy,a nd help the UK form a strong national front against damaging industrial agricultural practices and corporate profit-driven strangleholds on farmers — while also helping to dynamically showcase an achievable and regenerative vision and model for the future.
Liz advocates raising awareness as well as writing to governmental representatives ensure that current EU restrictions are kept in place following Brexit. Why not go one step further and present your positive vision on a local level; perhaps try your hand at designing something for the community, and submit it to your MP to highlight positive change.
An interesting open forum, Liz held a great group session that really opened discussion about how the UK feels about GM crops, how we can protect ourselves in the future, and how we need to be aware that we may be affected by Brexit.
From writing to MPs to sharing social media campaigns, Liz advocates raising awareness around the issue without demonising those involved or spouting unprovable facts. Presenting our own innovative and efficient future vision can also be a way to demonstrate positive steps forward.
It is important to research your facts and to be open to hearing new debate on both sides of the coin. Getting lost in the argument can often prove unproductive, so the group made a big point of keeping this in mind. Scaremongering does not provide a solution, it only creates fear that paralyzes people.
For example, while there have been claims of health issues, denigrating GM crops on this basis opens inflammatory debate that can’t be proved either way. Moreover, demonising our scientists and chemical engineers involved in the process doesn’t solve the argument either. In order to change the way we move forward — safeguarding ourselves perhaps even further than EU policy has done for us — we must bring all stakeholders into the debate, seek to demand clarification, and protect our rights to choose the food we eat.
We must build longer tables and really get down to the nitty gritty.