One of the great concerns of organic farming has been the proliferation of genetically modified crops. Companies such as Monsanto have been aggressively marketing these crops on the grounds that they are the solution to feeding the planet’s burgeoning population.
By GM crops I am not referring to hybrids, but to crops which have had genetic material added to them in a manner that would not occur in nature. GM crops are forbidden in organic farming and for this it has been criticised. The critics claim that the ban is unscientific and that the organic community is irrational and emotional.
One of the main reasons for the ban on GM crops is the application of the fourth Principle of organic Farming, the principle of care. This principle, as defined by IFOAM (International federation of Organic movements),states that “Organic Agriculture should be managed in a precautionary and responsible manner, to protect the health and well-being of current and future generations and the environment”.
If we wish to exercise care in the way we farm we need to apply the precautionary principle. GM technology at present is too uncertain. There are numerous studies that cast doubt on the safety of the technology. The biotech corporations do not make their research public which frustrates proper scientific enquiry.
GM crops should not be released until we are absolutely certain that there will not be any adverse long or short term effects.
When a farmer relies on farming as his livelihood there is always the desire to increase yield. There is nothing wrong with that if we first take care that the methods used to increase yield do not harm the soil, environment and the health of those who eat the crops.
Our understanding of health and the complexities of the ecosystem are incomplete. It is very easy to cause harm out of sheer ignorance, so we must tread carefully. The technology we use must be appropriate and we must avoid being seduced by the ambitious promise of a new technology. We might solve a short term problem only to cause a major headache for the next generation.
An example of this is the use of herbicide resistant GM crops. This technology has enabled farmers to control weed infestation by the liberal spraying of herbicides. Unfortunately it has caused the emergence of herbicide resistant weeds known as the “superweeds”. This is a major concern for farmers down the line as further control options become more limited.
If our goal is to be sustainable we have to be careful. The principle of care is a very important guideline to prevent us from being seduced by short term gain and to ensure we can maintain a resilient path through a very uncertain future.