OFC - UK Government Backs GM Development

UK - The development of genetically modified (GM) products in agriculture needs to be considered, according to the UK's Environment Secretary Owen Paterson, writes Chris Harris.
calendar icon 4 January 2013
clock icon 3 minute read

Speaking at the Oxford Farming Conference, Mr Paterson said that there is a role for biotechnology in farming to help boost yields and to develop strains that are resistant to disease or pests.

"I fully appreciate the strong feelings on both sides of the debate," Mr Paterson told the conference.

"GM needs to be considered in its proper overall context with a balanced understanding of the risks and benefits.

"we should not, however, be afraid of making the case to the public about the potential benefits of GM beyond the food chain, for example significantly reducing pesticides and inputs such as diesel."

Mr Paterson said that as well as presenting the case for biotechnology in the UK, the government also needs to go through the EU processes 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."

Mr Paterson said that in 2011 there were 16 million farmers in 29 countries producing GM products on 160 million hectares of land - 11 per cent of the world's arable land.

However, Mr Paterson's stance has been challenge by anti GM campaigners.

Friends of the Earth's senior food and farming campaigner Clare Oxborrow said: "GM crops are not the solution to the food challenges we face. 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.

"We must also switch to more sustainable diets globally, including reducing meat-consumption in wealthy nations and an end to food crops being used for biofuels."

The stance was countered at the Oxford conference by former anti-GM activist, Mark Lynas.

Mr Lynas apologised to the conference for actively destroying GM trial crops in the past and said his stance had not been based on scientific fact.

He also challenged the theory that GM only benefited large multinational companies. He said the anti-GM lobby had restricted the development of the products to such a degree that only large companies could afford to research and develop the products.

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