Insect on dewy ears of barley, Yorkshire

GMO and other biotechnology

We believe biotechnology has an important role to play in meeting current and future challenges. However any technology must be proven safe and must contribute to more sustainable farming systems.

What is GM and biotechnology?

Biotechnology is a broad term which refers to the application of scientific and engineering principles to living biological systems. 

It includes traditional crop and animal breeding as well as laboratory techniques. In agriculture, biotechnology is usually applied with the intention of increasing yields or tackling disease.

Genetic Modification (GM) is a laboratory technique that transfers genetic material from one organism into another. The aim is to introduce a particular characteristic into the receiving organism, which is then referred to as a Genetically Modified Organism (or GMO). 

Worldwide, the main GM crops are soya, maize, cotton and oilseed rape. These are grown widely in areas including the USA and Brazil. The European Union (EU) imports animal feed which contains material from GM crops, but the area of GM crops grown within the EU remains small. No GM crops are currently grown commercially in the UK, although various GM research trials are ongoing.

The RSPB's position

Our vision for agriculture is for sustainable systems of farming to produce safe, healthy food, safeguard our soil, air and water, help to protect and enhance wildlife and habitats and contribute to a thriving rural economy. 

Investment in technology needs to go alongside the continued development of sustainable and wildlife-friendly ‘agro-ecological' approaches. Narrowly-focused technological approaches must not replace the diverse range of crops and farming systems which we need for farming to be resilient to future change.

The RSPB does not object in principle to the genetic modification of crop plants and we recognise that some aspects of GM technology may have benefits for both the environment and people. However, we are concerned that current applications of GM technology have the potential to exacerbate declines in farmland wildlife. 

To be acceptable any such technology must be compatible with a sustainable agricultural system. Stringent traceability and accurate labelling rules should apply to GM crops and products so farmers and their customers can differentiate between GM and non-GM. 

  • The RSPB calls for commercial releases of all GM crops to be withheld until research into the full ecological impacts of each crop is completed and shows there are no significant adverse effects.
  • The RSPB opposes the commercial release of any GM crop which shows significant negative impacts on wildlife or on the wider environment, or is likely to lead to further declines in farmland wildlife populations.
  • The RSPB calls for research into the full ecological impacts of all future GM crops to be included as part of the normal commercial release approval process. If significant impacts on wildlife or the wider environment are shown the crop in question should be banned from being grown.