At the UK’s Oxford Farming Conference in early January the UK’s Soil Association rejected statements supporting GM crops in the UK from environment secretary Owen Paterson.

Mr Paterson said: “GM needs to be considered in its proper overall context with a balanced understanding of the risks and benefits. We should not, however, be afraid of making the case to the public about the potential benefits of GM beyond the food chain, for example, significantly reducing the use of pesticides and inputs such as diesel. As well as making the case at home, we also need to go through the rigorous processes that the EU has in place to ensure the safety of GM crops.”

Tom Macmillan, innovation director at the Soil Association, responded at the conference: “Farmers and the public have been promised the earth on GM yet the results to date have been poor. The UK Government’s own farm scale experiment showed that overall the GM crops were worse for British wildlife. U.S. Government figures show pesticide use has increased since GM crops have been grown there because super weeds and resistant insects have multiplied.”

Soil Association policy director Peter Melchett’s response dismantled the argument that anti-GM is “anti-science”. He said: “One response to these criticisms from the pro-GM scientists is to claim that there is in fact a rigorous, scientific, regulatory regime, for example in the USA and EU, which proves that GM crops are safe. The regulatory regime for GM crops is not based on science, but rather on selected information from GM companies. And because of the perceived need for commercial confidentiality, not all the research the companies give to the regulators is published. The gold standard of science is peer reviewed published research.

“Independent researchers and NGOs like Greenpeace have used court orders (under EU Freedom of Information laws) to obtain access to previously secret corporate studies. Re-evaluation of the industry raw data shows that the scientists involved selectively studied only a few questions, and interpreted what little evidence they had in ways that favoured corporate interests.

“Major flaws in the experimental design were evident, which served to mask rather than reveal the effects of the GM transformation process. Nevertheless, these short, 90-day rat feeding studies did show clear signs of toxicity arising from the GM compared to non-GM equivalent feed. If such signs of toxicity are evident after just 90 days, then clearly, lifelong (2-year) studies are urgently needed.

“Almost all the claims made for GM crops by proponents of the technology are claims about benefits that GM technology will deliver in future. This is not a new phenomenon – such claims were being made in the late 1990s, when GM crops were first introduced. Claims that GM crops will solve world hunger, or will deliver drought resistant, nitrogen-fixing or nutrient rich crops, are not science but prophecy. The pro-GM lobby and the media treat these claims as if they are science, but none of them are based on scientific evidence.”

And a report from the UK Food Standards Agency delivered a major blow to Owen Paterson’s GM food policy. The report reveals “67% of the public think it is important (very or quite) to write on the label if the food product e.g. meat, egg, milk, is from animals that have been fed from genetically modified plants.”