Two-thirds of Brits support GM crops, claims Bayer-sponsored survey

Facility belonging to Rothamsted Research, which is pushing forward with more GMO field trials © Facebook
A large-scale UK public survey says there has been a sea change in attitudes toward genetically-modified foods. The study has been published as the government prepares to loosen its attitudes to GMOs following Brexit, and more field trials are being given the go-ahead.

A survey of 2,000 people was conducted by Populus, a respected pollster, and commissioned by Bayer Crop Science. One of the top ten biggest producers in the industry, it is also a subsidiary of Bayer AG, which is currently in the process of merging with Monsanto, the world’s biggest seed producer, and a leader in GMO proliferation.

According to the results, published in The Times, 54 percent of the respondents said that they agreed with the existence of genetically-modified crops “in principle,” and 10 percent said they were “necessary” to feed a growing population. Only 27 percent said they were opposed to the technology outright.

The finding is significant, as George Eustice, the agriculture minister, recently told parliament that the government is looking for new, “science-based and proportionate” rules on genetically-modified crops, “as part of the preparations for EU exit.” While the European Union has technically ruled genetically-modified crops to be safe, most of its member states remain wary. This week, the German cabinet approved a draft law that will ban GMO cultivation, following France, which has already done the same, in the wake of the EU’s permissive ruling last year.

On Thursday, Rothamsted Research, a long-established bioengineering facility, applied to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to conduct a study of GM wheat over the next two years. The wheat, which is sprayed by tiny DNA-modifying particles, is more efficient at photosynthesis, and has produced yields that are up to 40 percent higher in lab conditions.

If the application is successful, it will be the second ongoing trial of genetically-modified cultures in the UK, following a 2014 rape seed planting, also performed at Rothamsted’s research station, located just north of London.

FILE PHOTO: Police officers prevent anti-GM demonstrators from reaching land surrounding Rothamsted Research in Harpenden, southern England May 27, 2012 © Paul Hackett

Between 2003 and 2010, there were no GMO field trials in the UK, following a series of high-profile disruptions by activists, and a hardening of the public mood against so-called Frankenfoods.

A YouGov survey conducted only two years ago claimed that 40 percent of Brits say that the UK government shouldn’t be promoting the adoption of GM crops in the UK, with only 22 percent in favor of it doing so, and 38 percent unsure. It is unclear if the difference with the latest survey is due to a genuine evolution of opinion, or due to the fact that the previous one asked about growing GMs in the UK, rather than the more abstract question asked by Populus in its latest questionnaire.

Leading UK groups that have traditionally opposed farming have already dismissed the current poll’s findings.

Peter Melchett, policy director at the Soil Association, a pro-organic charity, called the results “nonsense,” and said that any planned trials would be “irrelevant” due to a lack of market demand for genetically-modified cultures.

“GM is a bogus solution sucking up funding that could make a real difference if it was spent on waste reduction and poverty eradication,” Liz O’Neill, director of GM Freeze, the UK’s umbrella campaign for a moratorium on GM in food and farming, told The Times.

The international market for genetically-modified crops – mostly corn, soybean, cotton and canola - expanded sharply following their mass introduction in the 1990s. as they have become popular in the US, Brazil and Argentina, in particular. But last year, the acreage of land seeded with GMOs fell for the first time ever, due to a wider farming downturn, and a lack of new markets adopting genetically-modified crops.