UK Environment Secretary Owen Paterson today (20 June) insisted GM was a “safe, proven and beneficial innovation” that the Government and industry had a “duty” to explore.
In a speech at the Rotahmsted research institute, where GM trials have attracted protest, Paterson called for an “informed” debate on an issue that remains controversial.
“While I fully understand and respect the different opinions that exist on this issue, part of the discussion I hope today will initiate will be around the body of scientific evidence behind this technology, the rigorous controls that are already in place and the wealth of benefits on offer,” Paterson said.
“The problems we face in feeding ourselves in 40 years’ time are very real and something we have to prepare for right now. We should all keep one fact at the front of our minds. At this very moment there are one billion people on this planet who are chronically hungry. Are we really going to look them in the eye and say ‘We have the proven technology to help, but the issue’s just too difficult to deal with, it’s just too controversial’?
“It won’t be long until the population moves from seven billion to nine billion and we’ll have even fewer resources to feed them. It is our duty to explore technologies like GM because they may hold the answers to the very serious challenges ahead.”
Paterson insisted technologies like GM could help feed a growing global population while lessening the impact of increased agricultural production on the environment. He also claimed Europe was “missing out” on GM and the benefits he claimed the technology brings. The UK, Paterson claimed, was the “natural home” for science research and he called on researchers to do their work in the country.
“While the rest of the world is ploughing ahead and reaping the benefits of new technologies, Europe risks being left behind. We cannot afford to let that happen. The use of GM could be as transformative as the original agricultural revolution. The UK should be at the forefront of that, now, as it was then. I want companies and research providers to know that the UK is the best place for them to carry out their work, he said.
“Farmers wouldn’t grow these crops if they didn’t benefit from doing so. Governments wouldn’t licence these technologies if they didn’t recognise the economic, environmental and public benefits. Consumers wouldn’t buy these products if they didn’t think they were safe and cost effective.”
Dr Helen Ferrier of The National Farmers Union said it was “very encouraging” research into crop biotechnology was “now so high on the political agenda”.
She added: “Moving from the positive rhetoric to a strategy for enabling R&D, regulatory approval and commercialisation must be the next goal. Our interest is not about GM as a single technology but having all the best tools available to address the many challenges farmers face in increasing productivity sustainably in all sectors as part of the global supply chain.”
However, The Soil Association, a certification body for organic food and farming in the UK, said GM would not solve the problem of feeding a growing world population. Policy director Peter Melchett said: “Owen Paterson’s GM dream will make it harder to feed the world. The British Government constantly claim that GM crops are just one tool in the toolbox for the future of farming. In fact GM is the cuckoo in the nest. It drives out and destroys the systems that international scientists agree we need to feed the world. We need farming that helps poorer African and Asian farmers produce food, not farming that helps Bayer, Syngenta and Monsanto produce profits.”
Click here for Ben Cooper’s Consuming issues column on why the GM debate comes down to a matter of trust.