11th July 2003
'Little economic benefit' from GM crops
crop trials have proved highly controversial
commercial growing of genetically modified crops would bring little
short-term benefit to the British economy, a government report has
first of three major reports into biotech plants says only a narrow
range of existing GM crops is suited to British conditions.
The report from the Cabinet Office Strategy Unit says the lack of
demand for the GM foods from shoppers is likely to limit the extent
to which farmers grow the controversial new varieties.
But in a signal that Britain should not turn its back on GM technology,
it argues future GM crops could offer wide ranging benefits to both
farmers and consumers in the longer term.
Those potential plus points include GM crops more suited to the British
farming climate and direct health benefits, such as foods with added
"However, the overall balance of future costs and benefits will depend
on public attitudes, and on the ability of the regulatory system to
manage uncertainties," it adds.
government is set to make a decision later this year on whether or
not GM crops should be commercially grown.
It is seeking public opinion on the issue and has launched a website
allowing people to have their say in the GM debate, which ends on
Meanwhile, the results of three-year farm-scale GM crop trials are
due in the autumn.
The study for Friday's report looked at the impacts of GM food and
farming on farmers, processors, retailers and consumers, including
considered the environmental impacts of GM crops, and looked at the
farmers fear their crops could be at risk of contamination
The report suggests the signal sent out by the government's decision
on GM could affect the UK's ability to attract investment from science-based
Environment group Friends of the Earth (FoE) has warned that allowing
the large-scale growth of GM crops, like oil seed rape, would almost
certainly lead to widespread contamination of organic plants.
The report says the rules imposed on growing GM crops will determine
whether the cost of producing and segregating them from organic plants
would outweigh any financial gain.
"Future decisions on GM crops will involve trade-offs between costs
in one area and benefits in another," it says.
Another example of that trade-off is the fact that strict regulations
can reduce risks but also discourage development and farming of GM
crops, it argues.
Environment Minister Elliott Morley said the report was right to underline
that both shoppers and retailers would play an important part in shaping
the future of GM crops in the UK.
"The report highlights that GM crops are one area in which GM technology
has significant potential to contribute to the UK's future economic
prosperity and sustainability," he said.
"But it also points out that GM crops are just one possible tool for
achieving our goals - important advances in crop production will also
come from conventional and organic techniques."
Tony Combes, of the Agriculture and Biotechnology Council, told the
BBC it had been "proved throughout the world" that GM crops gave higher
yields for lower costs.
But Canada's National Farmers Union president Stewart Wells said that
in his experience, GM crops had failed to live up to their promises
of increased yields and reduced costs.
Soil Association policy manager Gundula Azeez said: "The government
has been wrong to support the introduction of GM crops on the basis
that they will bring economic benefits.
"GM food has already been rejected by all the major supermarkets,
most large food manufacturers and the public."
Liberal Democrat agriculture spokesman Andrew George warned that GM
crops would give the biotechnology companies who produce them a "stranglehold"
over British farmers.
"There is little economic demand for GM products in the UK and their
introduction could further damage the improving relationship between
British farmers and consumers," he added.
FoE believes cross-breeding could create superweeds, tolerant to many
GM campaigner Pete Riley said: "Consumers do not want GM food, and
there is a huge market for GM-free ingredients.
"The government must not jeopardise the UK's ability to meet this
opportunity by allowing GM crops to be commercially grown."