Europe will become a food and farming museum without science on genetic modification (GM), environment secretary Owen Paterson has warned – echoing food manufacturers’ long-standing fears.
Paterson, an outspoken advocate of GM production techniques, told the Oxford Farming Conference yesterday (January 8): “Europe risks becoming the Museum of world farming, as innovative companies make decisions to invest and develop new technologies in other markets.
“The longer that Europe continues to close its doors to GM, the greater the risk that the rest of the world will bypass us altogether.”
‘The world will bypass us’
His comments followed a similar warning from the former Food and Drink Federation president Jim Moseley in November 2012. “Despite its great heritage around food manufacturing in the UK and in Europe, we could become a food museum as all the markets around us adopt this and other new technologies,” Moseley told a conference organised by the agri-food consultancy European Food and Farming Partnerships.
A test of EU Member State’s willingness to adopt GM techniques will come later this month, when ministers vote on the licensing of a GM insect-resistant maize for commercial cultivation, said Paterson. If approved, in the face of significant opposition, it would be the first GM food crop to receive EU authorisation for 15 years.
During that time “delays and blockages [to the introduction of GM crops] have been politically motivated rather than based on evidence”, Paterson said.
The fact that 17M farmers now grow GM crops on 170Mha or 12% of the globe’s arable area proved the safety of the technology, he added.
‘Other tools in the toolbox’
But he made clear GM was “not a pancea” and there were “other tools in the toolbox”.
Meanwhile, the Soil Association, which is leading a campaign to persuade retailers to label meat, eggs and dairy fed on GM feed, said Paterson was determined to introduce GM techniques into Britian, regardless of any opposition.
In a comment posted on its website before Paterson’s speech, it said: “Owen Paterson, secretary of state for the environment, seems determined to railroad GM into our countryside and into our food, without protecting the integrity of organic food or the right of any farmer to grow GM free food.”
Further support for GM science came from Simon Coveney, Irish minister for agriculture, food and the marine.
Coveney told FoodManufacture.co.uk that GM science was an important means of boosting food output, reducing waste and minimising environmental impacts. But it was only one of a number of new technologies that should be embraced, he added.
Watch out more news from the Oxford Farming Conference – including a video interview with Coveney on why the agri-food industry is on the brink of a “golden age” – later this week on FoodManufacture.co.uk.