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The agricultural revolution – UK pushes Europe to embrace GM crops


Britain is to push the European Union to relax restrictions on the licensing of genetically modified crops for human consumption amid growing scientific evidence that they are safe, and surveys showing they are supported by farmers. The Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson, is expected to use a speech next week to outline the start of a new government approach to GM to ensure Britain “is not left behind” in agricultural science.

The move comes as 61 per cent of UK farmers now say they would like to grow GM crops after a disastrous 12-month cycle of poor weather that is expected significantly to reduce harvest yields. Senior government officials said that ministers are increasingly concerned that the potential moral and ethical benefits of GM are being ignored by costly and bureaucratic licensing regulations.

With one-twelfth of global arable land under GM cultivation they have privately warned that Britain faces being left behind in an important technology that has the potential to improve crop yields, help the UK’s agricultural industry and provide benefits to human health through vitamin fortification.

Government sources added that GM also had applications beyond food including the potential to combat diseases such as ash dieback and in developing new medicines.

“The point about GM is not simply about food production,” they said. “There are wider potential environmental and economic benefits to the technology both in the UK and internationally.

“What we want to do is start a dialogue within Europe on GM based upon the science.”

Ministers are hopeful of building support in Brussels for a change of heart on GM, with Germany seen as a key swing voter. However, any attempts to relax the rules could face opposition from countries such as Poland which in April became the eighth EU member state to ban the cultivation of GM crops.

Mr Paterson is said to believe that Britain should take the lead in moving the debate on from the knee-jerk reaction against GM for much of the last decade.

The move comes as a poll of over 600 British farmers found a considerable shift in their stance toward GM in the past year, with nearly a third saying they would be more likely to grow GM crops if it were legal now than they were 12 months ago – about half of them a “lot more” so.

On top of the advocated benefits of improving yields and cutting down on costs such as pesticides, the increasingly extreme weather has concentrated farmers’ minds on the need to guard against climate change.

“The weather has definitely had an impact,” said Martin Haworth, director of policy at the National Farmers Union. “Farmers are becoming more and more aware that climate change doesn’t mean a gradual rise in temperatures but rather a stream of extreme weather events. GM technology is one possible way of mitigating this.

“Last summer was disastrous for potatoes, for example. The potential for growing potatoes resistant to blight has had an impact on some farmers’ attitudes,” he said, adding that farmers were “very frustrated” at not being able to grow GM crops.

One of the survey’s respondents said they wanted to grow GM crops because “the terrible weather in the past two years has meant that yields have been down and the cost of fertiliser and pesticides have been rising ever since”.

GM crops can be engineered to grow faster, increase their resistance to weeds, pests and pesticides, produce extra nutrients or survive harsher weather conditions. They are created by taking genes with beneficial qualities from other organisms and injecting them into the plant. A gene from bacteria found in soil has proved particularly effective at warding off pests from cotton plants, for example.

But while they are widely grown in North and South America, GM crops are effectively banned in the UK and Europe where they are considered on an extremely strict case-by-case basis.

Since the first GM food was produced in 1994 – a delayed-ripening tomato, which had a longer shelf-life – the EU has granted just two licences to cultivate GM crops, neither of them grown in the UK. One was for plants engineered to resist corn borers and the other for a starchy potato used to make paper.

Apart from that, Europe’s exposure to GM products has been confined to imports of genetically modified animal feed, while much of the meat, eggs and milk comes from animals that have been reared on engineered grains.

Science Minister David Willetts said that controls on GM crops should be weakened to make it easier for Britain’s farmers to grow them.

“We believe that GM crops can help make agriculture more efficient and also just as importantly more sustainable, by, for example, reducing the use of pesticides and the use of fossil fuels,” he said.

“There are just too m any 21st-Century technologies that Europe is just being very slow to adopt… one productive way forward is to have this discussion as part of a wider need for Europe to remain innovative rather than a museum of 20th century technology,” he added.

A European Commission analysis of 130 research projects carried out by 500 groups over 25 years concluded in December 2010 that there is “no scientific evidence associating genetically modified organisms with higher risks for the environment or food and feed safety than conventional plants or organisms”.

However, the evidence is not conclusive and the technique continues to be highly controversial. Opponents to GM crops argue that it is far too early to conclude that the technique is safe – including many farmers, with a quarter saying they would not cultivate them under any circumstances.

They are concerned that adopting GM crops could foster stronger pests, diseases and weeds as their foes evolve to adapt to engineered plant and that the injected “rogue” genes could cause problems by spreading to other plants.

The report was conducted by Farmers Weekly magazine and the Reed publishing group and commissioned by Barclays.

Underlining the scale of public opposition to GM foods, a separate new survey out today by YouGov found that only 21 per cent of the population supported the technology, while 35 per cent opposed it.

via Exclusive: The agricultural revolution – UK pushes Europe to embrace GM crops – UK Politics – UK – The Independent.

Secession Poll: Majority Opposes Their State Seceding From The Union


Secession Poll

Residents of all 50 states have filed online petitions to secede from the United States, as part of the White House website‘s “We the People” program. But a HuffPost/YouGov poll, released Friday, found that most Americans don’t embrace their own state severing ties with the nation. Over half opposed seeing their state secede, with 42 percent strongly opposing the idea, while 22 percent said they supported the idea. A quarter weren’t sure.

Republicans were more likely to support the proposition: 43 percent said they were in favor of the idea, compared to 22 percent of Independents and just 10 percent of Democrats.

Although petitions to secede have reached the 25,000-signature mark needed for an official White House response, in some states just over 20 percent of those polled said they’d heard a lot about the petitions, while 42 percent said they’d heard a little bit and 27 percent said that they’d heard nothing at all.

Americans were split on whether other states should be allowed to call it quits: 29 percent said states should be allowed to secede if a majority of their residents supported secession, while 38 percent said they should not, and a third weren’t sure. Republicans were more likely to approve of secession, with 46 percent saying states should be allowed to leave the union.

But a majority agreed that the break-up of the United States isn’t exactly imminent. More than half said it wasn’t likely that, during their lifetime, the majority of citizens in any state would support seceding. About a quarter said it was somewhat or very likely, and 20 percent said that they weren’t sure.

The HuffPost/YouGov poll interviewed 1,000 adults online between Nov. 14 and Nov. 15, with a 4.5 percent margin of error. It used a sample that was selected from YouGov’s opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population. Factors considered include age, race, gender, education, employment, income, marital status, number of children, voter registration, time and location of Internet access, interest in politics, religion and church attendance.

Efforts to secede are nothing new. Here’s a look back at previous attempts:

via Secession Poll: Majority Opposes Their State Seceding From The Union.

via Secession Poll: Majority Opposes Their State Seceding From The Union.

More Americans Say Obama, Not Romney, Shares Their Views


Obama Romney Poll

According to a new HuffPost/YouGov poll, Americans are more likely to say that President Barack Obama shares their views on important issues than they are to say that Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney does, and more than half say that Romney does not share their views.

According to the new poll conducted Oct. 30-31, only 30 percent of Americans think Romney shares their views on the issues that they care about, while 51 percent say he doesn’t share their views. Obama performed better — 44 percent say he shares their views on issues they care about, and 37 percent say that he does not share their views. Although respondents were more likely to say that Obama shares their views, the poll shows neither candidate has been able to convince at least 50 percent of Americans that he shares their views.

Among registered voters, slightly more say that Romney agrees with their views — 39 percent, or 9 percentage points higher than in the general population. But even among registered voters, 51 percent say that Romney does not agree with their views. Registered voters were more likely to say that Obama does not agree with their views than respondents overall, but registered voters were also more likely to say that he does share their views, though by a far narrower margin of 45 percent to 44 percent of overall respondents.

Independents were less likely to say that either candidate shares their views than respondents overall, but they were more likely to say that Obama shares their views than that Romney shares their views. Only 38 percent of independents said Obama shares their views (34 percent said he did not), and only 23 percent said that Romney shares their views (52 percent said he did not).

Men and adults age 65 and over were the most likely groups — aside from Republicans — to say that Obama does not share their views: male respondents say Obama does not share their views compared to Romney not sharing their views by a 44 percent to 42 percent margin, while those over age 65 say Obama does not share their views compared to Romney not sharing their views by a 49 percent to 43 percent margin. Older adults were also more likely to say that Romney shares their views — 48 percent — than they were to say that Obama shares their views, at 45 percent. Men were slightly more likely than respondents overall to say that Romney agrees with their views (37 percent), but no less likely to say that Romney does not agree with their views (52 percent).

The new HuffPost/YouGov surveyed 1,000 U.S. adults using a sample that was selected from YouGov’s opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population. Factors considered include age, race, gender, education, employment, income, marital status, number of children, voter registration, time and location of Internet access, interest in politics, religion and church. The survey’s margin of error is 4.6 percentage points.

via More Americans Say Obama, Not Romney, Shares Their Views.

via More Americans Say Obama, Not Romney, Shares Their Views.

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