Landlines: Refusal to accept that science should overcome emotion

I wonder if the recent European change of heart on genetically modified (GM) crops will see much change in the United Kingdom?

Thanks to diehard opponents over what is now almost 20 years, only tiny areas of experimental GM crops are grown in the UK at present, most still behind protective fences. Now that the European Union blanket ban has effectively been lifted and member states can make up their own mind, there is theoretically no limit to the area of GM crops that could be grown.

But even if the Westminster government approved the use of GM crops in England by whoever wanted to grow them, it is unlikely that Scotland’s present SNP government will change its hard-line opposition. So GM crops on one side of the Tweed and no chance on the other? That might be a difficult one to monitor.

Not only to my mind, but to the minds of many scientists, GM crops should have been grown in the UK for at least the past decade. Their usefulness has been proved entirely to my and their satisfaction, as has the fact that they have produced no ill effects whatever in the tens of millions of people in the world now eating food made from GM crops or meat from animals fed on GM products.

Cue, as I have experienced before, uproar from the GM opponents, still vociferous, still arguing, still refusing to accept that science should overcome emotion. In passing, it’s hard to know where the emotion came from in the first place apart from irrational fear of the new, but it’s certainly there. The antis are not going to pay any attention to one of the most recent scientific compilations, a review of more than 140 separate research findings that GM crops reduce pesticide use by a third, on average, and increase yields by about one fifth. That is efficient crop growing which also gives farmers more profit.

I predict that will cut no ice at all with the antis. The only hope, for those of us who think that GM crops are on balance a good thing, is that the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is in favour of more GM crops and Parliament is thought likely to vote in favour. But it is also thought that is unlikely to happen in Scotland. As ever, we shall have to wait and see.

The increasing size of farm machinery and tractors is reflected in sales figures for last year. The Agricultural Engineers Association reports that the UK tractor sales total was down marginally to 12,433 over 50hp, but sales of tractors between 141hp and 160hp were up almost 14% and sales of tractors over 200hp were up 11%.

Most significantly, more than 17% of tractors sold last year were over 200hp. I used to think that was huge. Now for arable operations of any scale it’s modest, as a visit to Lamma, the farm machinery trade show for professionals held near Peterborough last week would confirm – ranks of huge machines at mind-blowing prices.