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New figures reveal Government spending millions on GM research
29 October 2007
Government funding for agricultural biotechnology research, including GM, amounted to at least £49 million last year, and £50 million the previous year, a Friends of the Earth report has revealed . Despite extensive Government commitments to sustainable farming, research into organic farming received a small fraction of this: just £1.6 million funding from DEFRA last year. This information comes to light as the EU Environment Commissioner proposed that two GM maize crops should not be approved for growing because of the risks they pose to the environment .
The figures, obtained by Friends of the Earth after numerous Freedom of Information requests, expose the huge divide between Government commitments to sustainable farming and its disproportionate funding and political support for GM which has failed to deliver any economic, environmental or consumer benefits.
Friends of the Earth's Food Campaigner Kirtana Chandrasekaran said:
"Government support for GM is out of all proportion to its non-existent benefits; it is handing out millions of pounds for a technology that has fallen flat on its face. Meanwhile the Government is starving organic farming, which already provides clear benefits for consumers, farmers and the economy, but which is further threatened by increased incidences of GM contamination".
"There is mounting evidence that GM had been a disaster for farmers and consumers all over the world. The Government must now recognise that it is investing in failure and shift its support to the booming sustainable farming sector."
The GM industry in the UK has benefited not only from funding but also political and regulatory support:
- The Government's advisory committee on GM releases to the environment has called for a system that concentrates on their claimed benefits of GM rather than its risks
- DEFRA consulted with biotech company BASF this year to ensure that conditions for the planting of GM potato trials in Cambridge and Yorkshire were `acceptable' 
- At the EU level, the UK has consistently voted against the majority to lift all bans on GM crops put in place by other member states
Friends of the Earth is calling on the UK Government to recognise that agricultural biotechnology has not delivered any benefits for UK food and farming. The Government must now realign its funding priorities to support the thriving sustainable farming industry by:
- Halting its political and financial support for GM food and farming.
- Shifting current funds allocated to agricultural biotechnology to encourage innovation in popular sustainable agriculture such as organic farming.
- Setting up a Sustainable Agricultural Research Council replacing the BBSRC to provide an appropriate and well-funded institutional setting for the innovation of sustainable farming practices.
- Addressing the excessive industry influence on the Government's policy for science and innovation, particularly with reference to GM crops and foods, to close the gap between Government policy commitments to a sustainable, competitive agricultural system and its research agenda.
The last Government analysis of GM crops found that they would offer only small benefits for UK farmers. In Spain, the only European country to commercially grow GM crops, the European Commission found that farmers did not receive any significant economic benefits and that seed companies pocketed a large share of farmers' profits . The GM industry's own evaluations show that the industry has suffered from loss in sales, and the loss of 75 biotech companies through mergers and acquisitions.
On the other hand, sales of organic food in the UK have increased by 22% in the last year and are touching the £2 billion pound mark. Organic farming is at the forefront of cutting-edge business with 39% of organic farms practicing innovative marketing and processing techniques.
Furthermore, organic farming consistently performs better on environmental grounds. Evaluations of growing GM herbicide tolerant crops in the UK found that two out of three crops led to reduced food and habitats available for wildlife on farms. DEFRA studies have proven environmental benefits and increased wildlife on organic farms.
 Summary of the report available at: www.foe.co.uk/resource/briefings/jobs_report_summary.pdf (PDF† )
Full report available from Friends of the Earth
 Freedom of Information Documents are available showing Friends of the Earth expose of correspondence between DEFRA and BASF
If you're a journalist looking for press information please contact the Friends of the Earth media team on 020 7566 1649.
Published by Friends of the Earth Trust
Last modified: Jul 2008