THE ENVIRONMENT Secretary, Owen Paterson, used his speech at the Oxford Farming Conference to once-again promote the role of genetically modified (GM) foods.
Paterson, who in December said GM would be a good thing highlighted the growing number of farmers that are using the technology and the great opportunity it provides.
However, he said the food industry had a role to play in making the case for growing and selling GM in the UK. A Footprint survey last year found that the foodservice sector would like another chance to debate the technology.
We should not be afraid of making the case to the public about the potential benefits of GM beyond the food chain, for example [in] significantly reducing the use of pesticides and inputs such as diesel, said Paterson.
In 2011, 16 million farmers in 29 countries grew GM products on 160 million hectares. Thats 11% of the worlds arable land. To put it in context thats six times larger than the surface area of the UK, he added.
Mark Lynas, the environmental campaigner who has made a dramatic u-turn from GM crop destroyer to supporter also used his speech to call for a major dose of international myth busting and international deregulation on GM.
Paterson also reiterated that GM must be considered in its proper overall context with a balanced understanding of the risks and benefits. I fully appreciate the strong feelings on both sides of the debate, he said.
Anti-GM campaigners are becoming increasing concerned that ministers have done a dodgy deal with the GM industry to promote the crops. GeneWatch UK warned that the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Science and Technology in Agriculture is being used by Monsanto and other GM companies to lobby on behalf of their business interests. Funders of the group include the industry body the Agricultural Biotechnology Council (ABC), which represents the major GM crop companies (BASF, BayerCropScience, Dow AgroSciences, Pioneer (DuPont), Monsanto and Syngenta).
"It is clear that ministers have done a dodgy deal with the GM industry to promote GM crops in Britain and that lobbying in parliament is not led by the interests of constituents," said GeneWatch UK director Helen Wallace.
The government has refuted the claims that such a deal has taken place. However, Number 10 is said to be keen to speed up what is seem as a slow European GM approval system.
Paterson also said that as well as making the case at home, we also need to go through the rigorous processes that the EU has in place to ensure the safety of GM crops. I believe that GM offers great opportunities but I also recognise that we owe a duty to the public to reassure them that it is a safe and beneficial innovation.
Lynas is under no illusions about just how safe he thinks GM foods are. You are more likely to get hit by an asteroid than to get hurt by GM food. More to the point, people have died from choosing organic, but no-one has died from eating GM, he added.
Tom Macmillan, innovation director at the Soil Association, warned that banging on about GM crops is a red herring. "Farmers and the public have been promised the earth on GM yet the results to date have been poor. The UK Governments own farm scale experiment showed that overall the GM crops were worse for British wildlife.
- The next Footprint Forum will focus on GM crops. For more details see here.