IN A speech this morning [Thursday 20th June] Owen Paterson, the environment secretary, called for the UK public to back Genetically Modified (GM) crop production, claiming that Europe was falling behind the rest of the world.
Paterson pointed to a 100-fold increase in the global use of GM in the past 17 years; production of which takes up 12% of all arable land. EU contributions to this figure stands at around 0.1%.
Paterson went on to urge Britain, as a centre for scientific research, to embrace GM crop technology and for farmers to follow suit in order to meet the world’s growing food demands: “The recent OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook for 2012 to 2021 concluded that agricultural production needs to increase by 60 per cent over the next 40 years to meet the rising demand for food. Our growing population will put further pressures on land, energy and water - creating a food security risk. We need to adopt new technologies, of which GM is one, if we are to combat this.”
The debate around GM crops in the UK has been long and contentious, and the Government’s standing as pro-GM has raised concerns for campaigners who are not convinced GM is the answer.
Soil Association Policy Director Peter Melchett commented: “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.”
However Paterson claimed that there were significant economic and environmental benefits to producing GM crops and called for the industry at large to assure the British public that GM is a ‘safe, proven and beneficial’ innovation.