GM crops ‘safe’ and ‘beneficial’, says minister

The UK government must be among those reassuring the public that genetically modified crops are “a safe, proven and beneficial innovation”, environment secretary Owen Paterson has said.

June 20, 2013

At a speech at Rothamstead Research, the Hertfordshire-based Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council institute, Mr Paterson said that Europe risked being left behind by not making use of GM technology.

“In other parts of the world where GM crops are grown, plants are better protected against pests and insects are better protected against accidentally being sprayed,” he said.

On the issue of campaigns in the UK against GM food, Mr Paterson said that the products were subject to extensive testing and development in tightly controlled conditions.

“There are some who describe GM crops as ‘Frankenfoods’, deliberately termed to imply that they pose a risk to human health and the environment. The science does not support this,” he said.

As well as improving yields, other benefits he listed included combating the effects of unpredictable weather and reducing fertiliser and chemical use.

“Governments wouldn’t license 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. At the moment Europe is missing out.”

Less than 0.1 per cent of global GM cultivation occurs in the EU, he said, while the rest of the world is ploughing ahead and “reaping the benefits of new technologies”.

Mr Paterson said that it was important to work with other European countries to find a way for GM, hinting at the EU-level deadlock that often holds up approvals.

“I want British researchers and farmers to have access to the latest technologies so that they can reap the economic and environmental benefits. At the moment we are expecting them to respond to the challenges of global food security with one hand tied behind their backs,” he added.

He added that we risked driving “scientific and intellectual capital away from Europe for good”.

Commenting on the speech, Cathie Martin, theme leader at plant sciences research institute The John Innes Centre, said that issues over regulation often prevented small business and public bodies developing GM crops in Europe, effectively giving a monopoly to multinationals.

Maurice Moloney, chief executive of Rothamsted Research – last year the scene of an attempt by protesters to trash a trial crop of GM wheat - said he was “very happy to see clear leadership on this issue”, from Mr Paterson.

Meanwhile, Ottoline Leyser, director of the Sainsbury Laboratory at the University of Cambridge, stressed that it was “time we stopped giving GM the special status of either saviour or demon and got on with improving the safety, security and sustainability of the food supply chain”.

elizabeth.gibney@tsleducation.com

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