GM even safer than conventional food, says environment secretary

gm crop While there have been several field trials, only two GM crops have been approved for commercial growing in the EU

Related Stories

GM crops are probably safer than conventional plants, according to the Environment Secretary.

Making the strongest call yet for the adoption of the technology, Mr Paterson told the BBC that that GM has significant benefits for farmers, consumers and the environment.

He said the next generation of GM crops offers the "most wonderful opportunities to improve human health."

But green groups say this new push is dangerous and misguided.

The environment secretary has never made a secret of his support for GM technology. Speaking to the BBC ahead of a major speech in favour of GM, Mr Paterson said it was being adopted by the rest of the world and the UK and Europe risked being left behind.

He dismissed criticisms that GM could pose problems to human health.

"The use of more precise technology and the greater regulatory scrutiny probably make GMOs even safer than than conventional plants and food," he said.

"The EU chief scientist Anne Glover has said it pretty bluntly - there is no substantiated case of any adverse impact on human health on animal health or on environmental health."

Persuade the public

Mr Paterson said that GM offers benefits not just to UK consumers and farmers but holds a great deal of promise especially in the developing world. He cited the example of Golden Rice, a GM variety that has been modified to have increased levels of vitamin A.

Global GM

Last year about 170 million hectares of GM crops were cultivated in 28 countries. Proponents argue that about half of the GM crops grown worldwide are produced by resource poor farmers. Apart from the US, the world's leading growers are Brazil, Argentina, Canada and India.

This helps prevent blindness in young children especially in deprived environments. But even though the rice was developed in 1999, it has yet to be grown commercially.

"Every attempt to deploy has been thwarted and in that time seven million children have gone blind or died," said Mr Paterson.

In his speech on Thursday morning at Rothamsted Research in Harpenden, Mr Paterson argued that the government, along with industry and the scientific community "owe a duty to the British public to reassure them GM is a safe, proven and beneficial innovation".

The European Union has been deadlocked on GM for a number of years. Only two crops have been approved for commercial growing - another seven are awaiting the green light.

Owen Paterson speech at Rothamsted Mr Paterson says that GM was "safe, proven and beneficial"

In the speech, Mr Paterson suggested that member states which are open to the safe use of GM crops should not be prevented from moving forward with the technology.

"We need evidence-based regulation and decision-making in the EU. Consumers need accurate information in order to make informed choices. The market should then decide if a GM product is viable," he said.

"Farmers are also consumers but right now that market is not functioning and they are being denied choice. That's why I want to explore ways of getting the EU system working, as this will encourage further investment and innovation."

But critics have been quick to condemn Mr Paterson's view that GM is a "safe, proven and beneficial innovation".

Soil Association policy director Peter Melchett said that GM would make it harder, not easier, to feed the world.

"The British Government constantly claim that GM crops are just one tool in the toolbox for the future of farming. In fact GM is the cuckoo in the nest. It drives out and destroys the systems that international scientists agree we need to feed the world.

"We need farming that helps poorer African and Asian farmers produce food, not farming that helps Bayer, Syngenta and Monsanto produce profits," he added.

Kirtana Chandrasekaran, from Friends of the Earth, said: "We have loads of other types of farming science that are delivering, that are, through conventional breeding, giving us drought tolerant crops.

"They are starved of funding... We are continuing to flog GM when it's not delivering what we need."

Mr Paterson's stance was backed by a number of scientists, including Professor Dale Sanders, the Director of the John Innes Centre in Norwich. He wants to see a greater focus on solving global problems such as malnutrition rather than arguments about one technology or another.

EU spud spat

Only two commercial GM products have so far been licensed, and neither of them was for human consumption.

One was a type of potato called Amflora developed by German chemical firm BASF. It had been modified to produce more of a type of starch useful for industrial processes.

But in January this year, BASF announced it was withdrawing the product and ending development of all its GM potato varieties.

The commercially grown GM is a type of maize made by Monsanto. Modified to make it resistant to pests, it is mainly grown in Spain for animal feed.

"Evaluation of potential scientific solutions to agriculture should be evidence-based," he said.

"The overwhelming global conclusion regarding the deployment of GM technologies in the field is that the risks associated with the technologies are infinitesimally small."

Mr Paterson's speech comes in the same week that the National Farmers Union warned that the UK's wheat crop could be 30% smaller than last year because of extreme weather.

The environment secretary said that GM could "combat the damaging effects of unpredictable weather and disease on crops".

The technology has "the potential to reduce fertiliser and chemical use, improve the efficiency of agricultural production and reduce post-harvest losses. If we use cultivated land more efficiently, we could free up space for biodiversity, nature and wilderness."

At present there are no commercial GM crops grown in the UK although cattle, sheep and pigs are often fed on imported GM. There is only one active GM trial of wheat that has been modified to deter aphids.

Follow Matt on Twitter.


More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 641.

    If this involves money, the powerful (movers & shakers), I guess my opinion will, like yours, fall on deaf ears. Well, it seems, most things do!

  • rate this

    Comment number 640.

    When will the knee jerk, reactionary nay sayers learn that MOST GM crops ARE NOT made by the likes of Monsanto..... does not matter what Monsanto have said/done in the past unless you are specifically talking about one of the few GM crops that is one of their products....

    ....most GM foods ARE NOT developed by business, but by independent researchers funded by the UN etc......

  • rate this

    Comment number 639.

    A toxic herbicide known as Agent Orange (AO), named after the orange stripe painted across drums containing the defoliant, continues to wreak horrific biological damage on newborns today, not only in the country where it was irresponsibly sprayed, but amongst vets who were sent there. It also causes cancer and other illnesses. Still think it's OK to spray GM seeds/crops with it?

  • rate this

    Comment number 638.

    Dont be fooled, GM products may not be harmful, but they are not reproducable and must be bought from suppliers. This is nothing short of a way to control people. Those better off will never eat them, but those less wealthy will have no choice. Given billions of tons of food waste each year, the idea is rediculous.

  • rate this

    Comment number 637.

    I wonder who will get the blame when something goes seriously wrong - I'd like to see the people responsible for this try to blame Labour in true Tory style

  • rate this

    Comment number 636.

    We have been modifying food and animals ever since we first planted wild grass (rice and other grains) If GM reduces the need for herbicides and pesticides then it could benefit the environment. GM cotton uses far less chemicals and water then the environmentally damaging "non-gm" cotton.
    Our environment is already man made so why not use science to benefit rather than harm.

  • rate this

    Comment number 635.

    Time will settle the question of whether GM crops are beneficial or not. Those who were right will thrive and prosper; those who were wrong will starve or die of cancers and all your belief will not determine which group you end up in.

  • rate this

    Comment number 634.

    @622.Not So Bitter

    "The issue here is gene drift, GM CANNOT be safe..."

    Do you want to elaborate on that stament, give any background reasoning, a research paper that backs up this statement, knowledge of what gene-drift is, how it occurs, what it's dangers are?

    Without this, your statement sounds like goverment/big compnay sound bite.

  • rate this

    Comment number 633.

    What a very very stupid and dangerous man. My money is on the fact that he would not dream of eating it himself and certainly would not allow his family to eat this utter junk. GM MUST NOT be allowed anywhere in the world. Monsanto et al need stopping forever.

  • rate this

    Comment number 632.

    HELLO 626!

    Selective breeding is NOT GM modification; the genes involved are in the environment already; bit different from a fish gene in a tomato.

    Geeze, preserve us from the 'educated'

  • rate this

    Comment number 631.

    Wow from the government that denies that insecticides can have detrimental effects on Bees this governments noses are so deeply embedded in the troughs of lobbyists and private suppers with Sam and Dave at downing street nothing this government will do will surprise me corrupt to the core

  • rate this

    Comment number 630.

    The Environment Secretary is starting a 'discussion' (as it will be called) to prepare the ground for what has been decided behind closed doors. We, the PBI, will call it a 'victory' when agribusiness negotiates a 'compromise' that's 85% of what it wants. Meanwhile we will be eating strawberries crossed with salmon for frost resistance, and drinking milk from turbocharged cows.

  • rate this

    Comment number 629.

    The GM Lobby group earned their pay on this one. Once again we have the Government listening to lobbyists (or should that be being bribed????) rather than listening to the people.

    Say NO to GM food,

  • rate this

    Comment number 628.

    The Soil Association is big business selling us £5 carrots covered in poo.

    The world is using GM without any problems or evidence of problems to come. This is a largely made up UK scare like MMR & mobile phones causing cancer & Global warming.

    Too many rich old people without anything real to worry about need their scares.

  • rate this

    Comment number 627.

    595. Mani Hesketh:
    I think there are probably a few agribusiness stooges posting in this thread. Notice how they always seem to be the same ones...

  • rate this

    Comment number 626.

    So what about carrots, gen/mod back in the 19th century to make it a colour more appetising for people to eat.
    Or maybe you should look up the process of manufacturing the contraceptive pill or indeed pregnancy testing kits.
    Also, maybe looking up what animals & plants share the same DNA, albeit in different amounts.

  • rate this

    Comment number 625.

    I would like an answer to one of these two questions, is this politician being paid off by the major GM company? or is just dumb?
    GM companies have been allowed to unleash their garbage on the world because they own those who should protect us, and money has a loud voice, especially among politicians.
    If you think GM food is ok, ask the farmers in India who were conned into using them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 624.

    616. billybase
    Monsanto told us once that agent orange was safe as well
    I don't think they did but its "technically" true if they did.

    Agent Orange is a fairly boring mix of two herbicides. The stuff sprayed over Vietnam was contaminated with 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzodioxin. Thats maybe the most toxic chemical ever made by man. Doesn't say much for Monsanto QC in the 60s

  • rate this

    Comment number 623.

    I'm surprised with most of the bunkum I've read today that nobody has suggested that crop circles are messages from extra-terrestrials telling us not to plant GM crops.

  • rate this

    Comment number 622.

    I'm getting utterly sick and tired of the anti-English bashing that goes on here from all sides. I'm not pro English or anti Welsh, Irish or anything else, but PLEASE can we stop lumping the actions of a super elite state as was, from those of its people. The English have done nothing to the Welsh, Irish or Scottish.

    The issue here is gene drift, GM CANNOT be safe...


Page 19 of 51


More Science & Environment stories



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.