ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

22 February 2002

HASKINS: "ORGANIC FARMING... WOULD LEAD TO ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL COLLAPSE IN MUCH OF THE DEVELOPING WORLD"

1. Haskins: loony toons and spectacular hype
2. Lord Haskins criticises GM opposition including Welsh Assembly
3. EXCERPTS from Haskins' lecture
4. Welsh farmers reject GM crops
"All the branches which responded fully supported the union's policy to call for a GM-free Wales." - Farmers Union of Wales president Bob Parry

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1. Haskins: loony toons and spectacular hype

Lord Haskins, one of Blair's closest advisors and 'UK Rural Recovery co-ordinator', was invited to give a BBC Wales lecture this week on the 'The Future of Food and Farming'. The lecture will be broadcast on BBC Radio Wales at a later date.

In the lecture the former chairman of food giant Northern Foods says, "So why am I confident the world will find ways of feeding an extra 3bn people.. The answer lies in genetic modification raising food outputs to spectacular heights".

Haskins presents no evidence to support this miraculous "answer" - unsurprisingly, as it is a statement of faith lacking any evidential basis!

As the University of Minnesota economist Vernon W.Ruttan has noted, despite all of the industry hype on this issue, "Thus far, biotechnology has not raised the yield potential of crops" [Economist: Biotech Has Not Made Impact Yet , 11-21-2000 - Edited by Laura Engelson, Regional Editor, Farm Progress] Indeed, thousands of controlled varietal trials show yield losses, not yield gains, are more commonly associated with transgenic crops compared to best available alternatives.
[http://members.tripod.com/~ngin/151201b.htm]

Haskins promotion of the GM miracle in Wales is particularly ironic as such hype has been roundly rejected there both by the people of Wales, through the Welsh Assembly, and by Welsh farmers (see item 4).

Meanwhile, Haskins paints a lurid picture as regards the impact of a widescale adoption of organic farming:

"organic farming is much less productive than "conventional" farming and consequently, there would be less food available and food prices would soar. It would lead to economic and political collapse in much of the developing world..."

This from a man  who claims to be standing up to the "the prophets of doom"! (see item 3 below),

In fact, the viability of sustainable non-GM alternatives, including organic approaches, has been demonstrated over and over again, with farmers in the South achieving yield increases of 50-100% for rainfed agriculture, and 5-10% for irrigated crops.
[http://www2.essex.ac.uk/ces/ResearchProgrammes/CESOccasionalPapers/SAFErepSUBHEADS.htm]

In other words, unlike for GM crops, there is actual evidence for increased yields. In addition, organic production actually opens up markets, as the FAO has recently noted in urging poor nations to boost exports of organic produce to take advantage of booming markets in developed countries, while GM crops are shutting farmers out of major export market.
[http://www.planetark.org/dailynewsstory.cfm/newsid/13562/story.htms]

This is not to forget, of course, that feeding the world's hungry involves much more than production which is why Steve Smith, head of Novartis Seeds, admitted to a Norfolk meeting, "If anyone tells you that GM is going to feed the world, tell them that it is not."

see also:
The Real Green Revolution - new report
http://www.greenpeace.org.uk/contentlookup.cfm?CFID=32520&CFTOKEN=26539326&ucidparam=20020207104701

Biotech has bamboozled us all - George Monbiot
http://www.monbiot.com/dsp_article.cfm?article_id=150
Biotechnology : Not the answer to hunger - Devinder Sharma
http://www.connectotel.com/gmfood/hi210700.txt
and multiple links at http://members.tripod.com/~ngin/feedtheworld.htm

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2. Lord Haskins criticises GM opposition

http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/uk/wales/newsid_1834000/1834181.stm
Thursday, 21 February, 2002, 16:18 GMT

One of the UK Government's chief advisors on farming has criticised the Welsh Assembly's opposition to genetically-modified (GM) crop trials in Wales.

Lord Haskins, the Rural Recovery co-ordinator for England, likened attempts to stop GM crop trials to King Canute trying to stop the tide coming in.

He defended GM crops as an important component in future efforts to feed a growing world population.

"These GM trials are taking place and commercial GM activity is taking place in America, in South America, in Australia and in Asia," he said.

"We are only going to be shooting ourselves in the foot if we don't allow our farmers to test them."

Lord Haskins made the comments in a BBC Wales sponsored lecture to the Cardiff University Regeneration Institute on Wednesday night.

It was the second in a series of public lectures sponsored by the BBC, in association with the Regeneration Institute.

In Wales, the assembly has opposed GM maize trials.

Lord Haskins was also scornful about the potential of organic farming, which the assembly also supports.

However, he did back efforts to subsidise environmentally-friendly farming activity.

Scientific advances

During the lecture, Lord Haskins considered the ongoing food debate, in the light of the world's growing population.

He argued that man's ingenuity - which has resulted in a major increase in food production over the past two centuries - will solve the problem of having to double existing food production in the next 30 years.

He cited advances including progress in animal and plant-breeding science, as well as in the development of fertilisers, fungicides and herbicides.

Lord Haskins argued the future demand can be met in genetic modification raising food outputs to "spectacular heights".

He also felt that satellite technology would squeeze vital improvements from harvests and the elimination of inefficiencies in agricultural industries across the world.

[Lord Haskins on world food debate
http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/uk/wales/newsid_1825000/1825840.stm]

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3. EXCERPTS from Haskins' lecture:

Lord Haskins: "For centuries the prophets of doom have had a field day - forgive the pun - about the future of food and agriculture.

The 18th Century British political economist Malthus forecast that the world would not be able to feed its growing population.

...if he was alive today, Malthus might still argue that there must be a limit to this use of chemicals, fungicides, pesticides and pharmaceuticals. He might claim that machines cannot get any bigger, water is getting scarcer, there is much less new land available for cultivation without having a damaging effect on the environment and there is little further scope for food preservation. Environmentalists and animal welfare campaigners already argue for a fully organic approach to food production. This would certainly bring Malthus's worst predictions to fruition as organic farming is much less productive than "conventional" farming and consequently, there would be less food available and food prices would soar. It would lead to economic and political collapse in much of the developing world...

So why am I confident the world will find ways of feeding an extra 3bn people, confounding the Malthusisms once again? The answer lies in genetic modification raising food outputs to spectacular heights, satellite technology squeezing vital improvements from harvests and the elimination of inefficiencies in agricultural industries across the world."

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4. Welsh farmers reject GM crops

Farmers Guardian, February 15, 2002
New reports spark GM fears

CONCERNS expressed in two major new reports on the potential health effects of genetically modified foods are being seen by the Farmers' Union of Wales as confirmation of its bid for a GM-free Wales. "Both these reports, one endorsed by the Council of the Royal Society and the other from English Nature, reveal disturbing issues about the possible health risks to farmers and many others from GM foods," said FUW president Bob Parry.

"The Royal Society discloses shortcomings in the screening methods of the allergenic risks posed if farmers and food industry workers inhale pollen and dust from GM crops.

"The English Nature report shows that in Canada a generation of 'super weeds' is developing on the margins of fields or some distance from GM crops which stack up genes which themselves have become resistant to a series of herbicides.

"These new findings confirm our concerns that the development of GM foods is still being permitted despite surveys indicating consumer fears and opposition," said Mr Parry.

When Wales lost its GM-free status in May 2000 after a farmer planted GM maize 110 metres inside the Welsh border at Sealand, Flintshire, the union sought the views of county branches.

"All the branches which responded fully supported the union's policy to call for a GM-free Wales," said Mr Parry.

He said they would continue to urge Welsh Assembly Rural Affairs Minister Carwyn Jones to carry out his earlier pledge to do everything possible to prevent the planting of GM crops.

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