A crisis is looming. We have a world population that is rapidly approaching plague proportions and we have a finite amount of land upon which to produce enough food for that population to eat.
There are some, including our current Environment Secretary Owen Paterson, who enthusiastically advocate the use of genetically modified (GM) crops to help meet this challenge. The argument is that GM crops will give us improved yields because they will be capable inherently of combating common diseases and predators, which currently account for the loss of around 10% of our food crops.
Our crop seeds naturally modify and evolve over time, gradually adapting to changes in their environment. In relatively recent times some plant breeders have intervened in this process by creating, through hybridisation (cross pollination), new varieties of seed with particularly desirable characteristics. I have written about the danger of an over reliance on these F1 hybridised seeds in a previous blog.
GM crops, however, are an in entirely different dimension altogether.
They are completely artificial creations, made by taking individual genes from the DNA of one species and inserting them into the DNA of another. The two species concerned do not even have to be plants. Some of the more bizarre examples are of a jellyfish gene being inserted into potato DNA with the intention of creating a potato plant that will glow in the dark when it needs watering, and a cold water fish gene being transplanted into tomato DNA with the intention of making the fruit frost tolerant.
GM experimentation is both reckless and dangerous. It cuts across the evolutionary logic of thousands of years of seed recycling and it threatens to contaminate the gene pool irrevocably.
And the evidence to date, after thirteen years of commercial growing in the USA, is that GM crops are not delivering on these promises of higher yields and pest resistance. In fact, a 2008 report sponsored by the UN and the World Bank concluded that GM crops have “little to offer global agriculture and the challenges of poverty, hunger, and climate change”.
The most widely used GM crops are those created by the global chemical giant Monsanto under its “Round Up Ready” logo. These are crops that have been genetically engineered to be resistant to Round Up, a glyphosate weedkiller, meaning that the farmers can spray their fields liberally with glyphosate and know that only the weeds, rather than their crop, will be killed off in the process.
Of course, the very toxins which make these GM crops immune will inevitably end up in our food. And because the “Round Up Ready” crops have been drenched with even more Round Up by indiscriminate spraying, those eating GM foods will end up consuming even more of these toxins. Already this excessive herbicide use has led to the emergence of Round Up resistant “superweeds” in parts of the US where these crops are grown.
As for protecting plants from predators, recent evidence is that this, too, is a questionable claim. Last month, farmers in Illinois reported that their pest resistant Monsanto “Bt” GM corn is being attacked by corn rootworm. “Bt” corn was engineered specifically to produce an insecticidal protein that kills rootworm. The experience in Illinois suggests that this resistance is a myth, or perhaps that after a few years it ceases to be effective.
The GM foods being grown in the USA have undergone no long-term safety testing. The pathogens promoted by many GM crops can persist in the soil for years and even decades. As Dr Suzanne Wuerthele of the US Environmental Protection Agency has said on the subject of GM foods, “We are confronted with the most powerful technology the world has ever known, and it is being rapidly deployed with almost no thought whatsoever to its consequences.”
I could go on, except that it’s time for me to dig out the stripey apron and get into that kitchen.
I grow two varieties of beetroot on my allotment plot, the Circus Garden – Golden Detroit, an orange variety, and sanguina, which as it’s name implies is a deep blood red. Both are “true”, or “heritage” varieties, which have evolved naturally over many generations.
Beetroot can help reduce high blood pressure through its high nitrate content. It also contains betacyanin, which has been shown to reduce the rate of growth of cancerous tumours. Beetroot juice is also claimed to improve stamina in athletes.
Beetroot and apricot may seem like unlikely fellow ingredients for a burger, but trust me, they work perfectly here alongside the other components. These burgers are not only very tasty and full of protein and all the goodness of beetroot they are also vegan, and of course GM free. How could something so virtuous taste so good?
beetroot, chickpea and bean burgers
200 g fresh beetroot
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
150 g cooked black beans
150g cooked red kidney beans
150 g cooked chickpeas
150 g cooked bulgar wheat
60 g red onion, finely chopped
60 g dried apricots
2 plump cloves garlic, finely chopped
30 g rice flour
2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tbsp organic soy sauce
1 tsp sea salt
½ tsp dried sage
½ tsp dried thyme
½ tsp dried chilli flakes
½ tsp smoked paprika
1. Preheat the oven to 190 C (375 F, gas mark 5).
2. Wash the beetroot and cut into big chunks. Place in an oven dish and drizzle over the 2 tbsp olive oil. Cover the dish with aluminium foil and place in the pre-heated oven for around 30 minutes, until the beetroot is tender. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.
3. Heat a frying pan over a high heat. Add the cumin seeds and dry fry until they begin to brown and give off aroma. Remove from the heat and crush using a pestle and mortar or a mini chopper.
4. Place the black beans, kidney beans and chickpeas into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse briefly, to create a pulp that still has bean chunks in it. Tip into a mixing bowl. Finely chop or blitz the apricots in a mini chopper and add to the mixing bowl.
4. Once the beetroot is cool, peel and grate it, or blitz with a mini chopper, and add to the mixing bowl with the beans. Add the bulgur wheat, red onion, garlic, rice flour, cumin, coriander, soy sauce, salt, sage, thyme, chilli flakes and smoked paprika. Mix thoroughly. Place the bowl in the fridge to chill for 30 minutes.
5. Remove the mixture from the fridge and form into burgers, each weighing approximately 75 grams. Place the burgers on a baking sheet and return to the fridge. At this stage any burger you don’t intend to cook now can be frozen in a ziplock bag or other suitable container.
6. To cook, heat the groundnut oil in a frying pan over a medium heat. Add the burgers, taking care not to crowd the pan. Cook for 3-4 minutes on each side until golden and crispy. Serve them in a burger bap with lettuce, tomato, avocado and red onion and chunky home made chips.