Public needs reassurance on GM benefits, says UK environment secretary

By Caroline Scott-Thomas

- Last updated on GMT

Public needs reassurance on GM benefits, says UK environment secretary

Related tags Gm crops Agriculture Gm

The UK’s environment secretary Owen Paterson has called for faster EU approval processes for genetically modified (GM) crops and more public reassurance of its benefits, at a meeting of the nation’s farming industry on Thursday.

Speaking at the Oxford Farming Conference, the Conservative secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs said: “When we’re talking about innovation, we should also consider GM…We should not be afraid of making the case to the public about the potential benefits of GM beyond the food chain, for example, significantly reducing the use of pesticides and inputs such as diesel.

“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.”

Paterson was joined at the conference by environmental author and campaigner Mark Lynas, who was instrumental in the anti-GM campaigns during the 1990s, but has since done a U-turn from his previous position on the issue.

‘Three trillion GM meals eaten’

He began his presentation​ with an apology for his role in “demonising an important technological option which can be used to help the environment” ​and said:

“The GM debate is over. It is finished. We no longer need to discuss whether or not it is safe – over a decade and a half with three trillion GM meals eaten there has never been a single substantiated case of harm. You are more likely to get hit by an asteroid than to get hurt by GM food.”

Also at the conference, the Soil Association’s innovation director Tom Macmillan responded​ to Lynas’s and Paterson’s comments, saying that organic farming also has a role in improving farming productivity.

"Farmers and the public have been promised the earth on GM yet the results to date have been poor,”​ he said.

“…US Government figures show pesticide use has increased since GM crops have been grown there because superweeds and resistant insects have multiplied. Lynas, Paterson and other GM enthusiasts must beware of opening floodgates to real problems like this."

Benefiting multinationals

Meanwhile, Friends of the Earth’s senior food and farming campaigner Clare Oxborrow said in a statement​ that GM crops were not the solution to today’s food challenges.

 "They are largely being developed to benefit multinational biotech firms that are gaining control of the seed industry, not to feed poor people in developing countries.

"World food production needs a radical overhaul, but this should be based on less intensive practices that increase agricultural diversity, deliver resilience to the impacts of climate change and benefit local communities.”

Lynas also argued that control of GM crops by a handful of large corporations is an issue that anti-GM campaigners have encouraged, by pushing for highly complex (and expensive) regulatory processes before GM crops can be given the go-ahead.

“Biotechnology has not been stopped, but it has been made prohibitively expensive to all but the very biggest corporations. It now costs tens of millions to get a crop through the regulatory systems in different countries,”​ he said.

“…There is a depressing irony here that the anti-biotech campaigners complain about GM crops only being marketed by big corporations when this is a situation they have done more than anyone to help bring about.”

Related topics Policy Organics GM food Food labelling

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"The GM Dabate is over..."

Posted by C Mill,

This statement is ridiculous as it sounds. There hasn't been ANY long term study on GMOs in the human body to prove or disprove the statement. What we've seen in animal studies is of concern so fast tracking the approval of GMO crops without safety studies is scary. Paterson is just another pawn for the bio-tech industry! He is no different than the pro bio-tech folks in the USA.

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Monsanto can't satisfy themselves with U.S. food supply?

Posted by John C. Campbell III,

Let us remind you that this good will and human compassion (feeding the hungry) comes to us from the good folks who convinced "Fort Fumble" (Pentagon) that Agent Orange would only kill jungle plants? and that the sue small farmers who's crops get cross pollinated by neighboring fields planted with their seed?

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GM crops are not the answer.

Posted by J walker,

If only people could appreciate what the multi-nationals have done to get their GM products accepted, they would realise that GM has NOT produced greater yields - less pests yes but at what a cost - super weeds and insects - more chemical biocides - detrimental cross pollination - pollution due to run off into water ways - not to mention health problems with the farmers etc etc. There are better known ways to increase yields being practised and without chemicals and using much less fertiliser all of which is not in the interest of the big boys. Natural occurring ubiquitous fungi and bacteria associated with root systems and better farming practise is the way forward

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