Jim Tattersall, a former microbiologist who writes about soil health and regenerative agriculture and its benefits for the climate, has written to his local MP in West Lancashire to draw attention to an Agricultural Bill amendment passing through Parliament without due debate and proper scrutiny and highlights the merits of regenerative agriculture practices over current industrial farming methods.
“A group of MPs has asked the government to table a new amendment to the Agriculture Bill in the House of Lords. If approved, the amendment would enable gene-edited crops, foods and livestock animals in England’s food supply and farmers’ fields with little or no safety checking and no GMO labeling. Public opinion needs to be galvanised to stop this amendment as a matter of urgency.”
Dear Ms Cooper
You might be interested to pass on this email to people in the Labour Party who are involved in agriculture, environmental issues and opposing the current proposals to allow gene-edited foods to be sold without any regulation.
I am suggesting an alternative that has many advantages for farmers, consumers and the environment.
I am a former microbiologist and have recently taken a number of courses in soil biology and regenerative agriculture. I have been amazed to discover the many complex symbiotic relationships that have recently been discovered between soil organisms and plants.
The brilliant scientists who have discovered these relationships have also developed a regenerative agriculture that nurtures these relationships to produce healthy, disease-resistant crops and regenerate degraded soil.
Conventional agriculture is simply destroying the biology in the soil with disastrous consequences.
Regenerative agriculture also has tremendous potential to alleviate global warming and many other global problems. Not many people know about regenerative agriculture and we rarely hear about it in the media.
Since there is now a very keen awareness in society to promote practices that can mitigate Climate Change and other environmental issues I thought you might be interested to see the points below.
I have produced a more detailed report on regenerative agriculture and can send it by WeTransfer – please let me know if you would like me to send a copy.
The report gives a deeper understanding of the symbiotic relationships that have evolved to create healthy soil and healthy plants.
It includes a section on Success Stories of farmers who have converted to regenerative agriculture.
I have provided links to their websites and YouTube references, where available. If you listen to these farmers talking about how they have transformed their land, produce, financial situation and whole life for the better it is difficult not to conclude that every farmer should farm the way they do. The whole world would be quickly transformed for the better if they did.
If you have any queries or comments I will be very happy to respond.
Advantages of regenerative agriculture:
- Regenerative agriculture involves: no-till or reduced-till sowing of seeds; planting of cover crops to sequester carbon in the soil, increase soil fertility and inhibit the growth of weeds; leaving living roots in the soil as long as possible; increasing biodiversity; planned grazing of livestock in humane conditions on natural pastures; minimal or zero use of agrochemicals.
- Regenerative agriculture nurtures the many complex symbiotic relationships that have evolved between soil organisms and plants over millions of years.
- Regenerative agriculture produces healthy plants with a full complement of nutrients and strong immunity to disease and attack by pests. Plants are more nutritious and healthy for consumers and have a delicious taste.
- Regenerative agriculture sequesters atmospheric carbon in the soil and increases soil organic matter year on year, so can make a great contribution to reversing global warming. Dr David Johnson of New Mexico State University has shown that soil organic matter can be increased by 0.5% per year and has estimated that all of human-emitted CO2 can be sequestered in just 25% of the world’s arable land if appropriate regenerative practices are employed.
YouTube video: Drawing-down Carbon at the Landscape Level – David Johnson.
- Regenerative agriculture creates good soil structure and water infiltration with less soil erosion. About one third of the arable land in the world has been lost to soil erosion and the United Nations has warned that there might be very little fertile soil left in 60 years if current trends continue. Regenerative agriculture is necessary to reverse the decline in fertile soil and regenerate degraded soil.
- Regenerative agriculture draws down nitrogen from the air into the soil and provides plants with all of the nitrogen they need.
- Farmers who convert to regenerative agriculture find that they vastly reduce their input costs, produce much healthier produce in healthier conditions and increase their profits with less work because they are allowing Nature to work for them.
- Regenerative agriculture can make a major contribution to solving many of the problems of the world today, including global warming and climate change, erosion and desertification of arable land, environmental pollution, declining human health and increase of chronic diseases, droughts, wildfires, flooding, loss of biodiversity, acidification of the oceans, feeding the growing population of the world and destabilisation of societies and generation of conflicts.
- Regenerative agriculture can provide the benefits that are claimed for expensive gene-edited organisms, without the associated toxic agrochemicals and release into the environment of organisms with potentially harmful properties.
- In a 2018 review entitled “Climate Smart or Regenerative Agriculture?” for the Global Development And Environment Institute at Tufts University, Anne-Marie Codur and Josephine Watson concluded:
“An increasing body of research suggests that regenerative agriculture not only could feed the world, but will be the only way to restore and maintain the health of global soils to render agricultural practices sustainably viable”.
Disadvantages of degenerative agriculture:
- Conventional agriculture can be referred to as degenerative agriculture because it decreases soil organic matter year on year and causes loss of soil by erosion.
- Degenerative agriculture usually involves: tilling and ploughing; application of synthetic fertilisers, pesticides, herbicides and fungicides; growth of monocrops; compaction of the soil; over-grazing by livestock and can involve concentrated animal feeding operations that have very inhumane conditions for the animals.
- Although degenerative agriculture can produce good yields, it destroys most of the soil organisms that cycle essential nutrients to plants that give them a natural resistance to disease and attack by pests.
- Ploughing also exposes bare soil to the air and causes large amounts of soil organic matter to be oxidised to carbon dioxide and contribute to global warming.
- Fertilisers have a heavy carbon footprint, their manufacture causes environmental pollution, they are expensive for farmers to buy and about 70% of them run off the soil to pollute the environment.
- Pesticides, herbicides and fungicides are toxic and can have a harmful effect on the soil, plants, consumers and the environment.
- Degenerative agriculture is contributing to many of the global problems that regenerative agriculture can alleviate.
- Degenerative agriculture is expensive and many farmers are finding it difficult to survive financially, even with subsidies.
- Toxic residues of pesticides, herbicides and fungicides plus lower nutritional value of foods today has been implicated in the big increase in chronic diseases. Very little research has been done in this area but future research is likely to confirm this.
- If genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are grown there can be unpredictable outcomes, which could lead to unexpected toxins or allergens appearing in food. There could also be release into the environment of organisms whose long-term effects are unknown and the organisms cannot be withdrawn once introduced into the environment.
A statement released by the European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility and signed by 60 international scientists warned that the products of new genetic editing techniques, misleadingly termed New Plant Breeding Techniques by proponents, are genetically modified organisms and should be treated as such. The statement says:
“The scientific evidence shows that these techniques do not control unintended, unpredicted and potentially harmful consequences. Therefore the case for their thorough and scientifically independent risk appraisal is beyond argument.”
GMOs and gene-edited organisms are also very expensive and usually involve the use of associated toxic agrochemical
Thousands of farmers around the world have converted to regenerative agriculture in many different geographical and climatic situations.
Every farmer who converts to regenerative practices reduces his/her carbon footprint and reduces environmental pollution. Everything needs to be done as a matter of urgency to reduce global warming – reduce use of fossil fuels, plant trees etc., as well as encouraging as many farmers as possible to convert to regenerative practices.
Since air contains 78% nitrogen that can be freely drawn down into the soil by nitrogen-fixing bacteria, it seems obvious that this should be promoted as much as possible through regenerative practices.
Producing millions of tons of expensive nitrogen fertiliser that has a high carbon footprint, causes pollution during manufacture, causes run-off from soil into the environment and destroys many of the beneficial microbes in the soil is not a sensible way to operate.
We have become accustomed to think that science and technology can solve all of our problems. When the Green Revolution started in the 1940s it was thought that changing soil chemistry through application of fertilisers would be the best way forward.
Yields increased but the nutritional content of crops was reduced and plants with poorer resistance to disease and attack by pests resulted in the use of more and more pesticides and fungicides. The use of herbicides has resulted in herbicide-resistant superweeds that require the development of more and more herbicides.
From the 1980s onwards soil scientists started to discover the web of numerous symbiotic relationships that exist between soil organisms and plants. It is now apparent that if we want to change the chemistry of the soil, the most suitable way is to nurture the biology, which has evolved to produce very complex ecosystems over millions of years.
The reductionist approach that inspired the Green Revolution is not appropriate because applying individual chemicals can disrupt the whole ecosystem.
With respect to both GMOs and the new gene-edited organisms, unexpected consequences can arise because a single change at the level of the DNA can give rise to multiple changes within the organism.
Genes, proteins and biochemical pathways interact with each other in a highly complex and multi-layered network of genetic, biochemical and cell biological processes and unintended and harmful results can arise.
A reductionist approach to try and produce a single effect by modifying or adding a single gene, when the full implications are not well understood is fraught with danger and can produce unexpected allergens or toxins.
Since a significant number of experienced molecular biologists are warning of the dangers of introducing organisms into the environment whose long-term effects are unknown, it seems unnecessary to take risks now. This is especially relevant in the light of the Coronavirus pandemic.
Two leading UK scientists with expertise in gene editing have written an open letter to the government warning against de-regulating, weakening or abolishing regulations that control gene-edited crops and foods. See https://gmwatch.org/en/news/latest-news/1942
A large and growing body of scientific studies report “off target” risky or unsafe effects from gene editing. See https://gmwatch.org/en/news/latest-news/19223
Regenerative agriculture can provide many more benefits than GMOs or gene-edited crops, without potential risks and harmful effects and at a much lower cost, so appears to be a much more preferable option.
A group of MPs has asked the government to table a new amendment to the Agriculture Bill in the House of Lords. If approved, the amendment would enable gene-edited crops, foods and livestock animals in England’s food supply and farmers’ fields with little or no safety checking and no GMO labelling. Public opinion needs to be galvanised to stop this amendment as a matter of urgency.
Image courtesy of Local Food Initiative