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

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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.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 721.

    I cannot believe this pressure to grow unwanted GM crops in Europe including the UK. The only benefits are profits not produce. Do humans still think they are smarter than Nature? It seems human arrogance is unbounded

  • rate this

    Comment number 720.

    I am an American doing a PhD in plant breeding. Traditional plant breeding entails gathering the best traits from a population to improve your target crop. Sometimes the variation you are looking for does not exist in your population of plants. That is where Genetic Transformation or Genetic Modification (same thing) has real value. For more info look up BT Maize. (Bacillus Thuringiensis)

  • rate this

    Comment number 719.

    Is GM food safe?
    Bad science: we tested it on some rats and monkeys over 2 years and mostly they didn't die.
    Good science: we isolated n thousand of all kinds of species from the rest of the world for 3 or 4 generations and fed them GM food exclusively. After this time none of them showed any statistical deviation in their health or mortality from the control group (rest of the world).
    Which one?

  • rate this

    Comment number 718.

    712. billybase
    "That is the silliest thing I have heard for a while - drugs do not provide any basic nutrition"

    When did I say recreational drugs provided any basic nutrition?

    I didn't.

    You have introduction a proposition of your own and then started ranting about it.

    Which funnily enough is exactly the sort of behaviour I was talking about.

    Thanks Pal.

  • rate this

    Comment number 717.

    If we can genetically modify crops to grow more favorably I think it's a great idea, These cynical, backward looking opponents to these ideas are living in the dark ages. The demand for food is ever growing which is pushing prices ever higher, This is the sort of constructive solution we need

  • rate this

    Comment number 716.

    The next world war will be over access to food supplies and against those who control it. It will be the people vs. corporations allied with corrupted governments like in the US. This is why at the same time there are draconian law enforcement efforts being put into effect under the guise of figthing terrorism but the terrorists the capitalists envision are exploited populations who might rebel.

  • rate this

    Comment number 715.

    705 Koncerned - That site is even worse than NaturalNews. It claims that household microwaves are dangerous:

    Now seriously, honestly truthfully, you must see how utterly and completely idiotic this is! If they talk such utter nonsense, what chance that they'll be impartial with GM food?

  • rate this

    Comment number 714.

    As I said GM food is a big business profit ploy.

    It's like buying those coffee machines that comes with pods (and extra chemicals) They charge a small fortune for them. What's wrong with Fairtrade coffee beans?

    In the same way farmers pay 1000 more for GM seeds that are unproven.

    Can't wait to download the app that will tell me which foods contain GM ingredients so I can boycott them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 713.

    @707 The Soil Association has nothing to do with the positives or negatives of GM because they believe in a niche system of agriculture that is based on a fundamental philosophy that food should be grown as closely to natural ecosystems as possible, not in producing high yields particularly. GM cannot fit into this by definition, but it does not mean that GM cannot be positive.

  • rate this

    Comment number 712.

    688.Knut Largerson

    14 Minutes ago

    "I wonder what percentage of people who object to GM crops will gleefully use recreational drugs that could contain pretty much anything."

    That is the silliest thing I have heard for a while - drugs do not provide any basic nutrition

    I wonder what percentage of people who are against bio-fuels use petrol based transport? same arguement

  • rate this

    Comment number 711.

    @676.D Dortman

    I am all for population control so long as it is "NOT FORCED", but there is something we could do which is dam all the religious idiots and enforce contraception teaching and training in all schools etc...World wide, plus we have to ensure that women know that they are not cow's, they are not there for a man or church to generate children, especially male airs and so on......

  • rate this

    Comment number 710.

    371. WeirdAlex “How exataly would we go about reducing our population growth?”

    One way we in the west could achieve this is by removing the financial benefits for having children which were introduced to increase our population after the second world war, if we as a race don’t start showing some restraint then nature will in all lightly hood find a way, remember the recent pandemic scares

  • rate this

    Comment number 709.

    @ 701 kathhh8

    so you've never used any medicine of any type ever?

  • rate this

    Comment number 708.

    Dying slowly from eating GM foods has to be better than sending a handful of selected people to another planet to repopulate a second earth..

  • rate this

    Comment number 707.

    The Soil Association has a board packed with members with interests in organic businesses.

    Worse it has celebrity vice presidents with no scientific education - Monty Don a gardening presenter without a single A level, Trudie Styler expert in tantric sex & breaking employment law.

    Oh & patron HRH Prince Charles who talks to organic plants only having no time for GM.

  • rate this

    Comment number 706.

    The objections to GM organisms have little to do with human health - that is an irrelevance. Every mouthful of food you eat is likely to contain billions of genes at least and they are unlikely to harm you.
    The problem comes from what effect those genes may have on organisms in the environment who can breed with these GM organisms or which will have novel selection pressures applied as a result.

  • rate this

    Comment number 705.

    @680 Powermeerkat

    "Don't like GM products? Take care of massive overpopulation of this planet."

    Overpopulation is the biggest red herring misinformation the "Pro GM" corporate propaganda machine pushes.

  • Comment number 704.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 703.

    GM food has been developed to make a profit for big business. It is nothing to do with feeding more people because they really do not know what the effects of GM seed will have on nature in the future.

    This is about making big bucks and enslaving people into a food producing chain that will, in effect, hold generations of people in "hock" to the company.It is unproven and it stinks of cronyism

  • rate this

    Comment number 702.

    Sure put the world's entire food supply into the greedy hands of criminal corporations like evil Monsanto that tried, but lost, to acquire exclusive patent rights to Basmati rice thus controlling at their own extortionist price one of Inidia's basic food staples. Corporations like Monsato have bribed govenment officials and scientists to promote their profit agenda. GM foods is capitalist fascism.


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