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 741.

    A cautionary tale: Klebsiella planticola
    " The bacteria had been tested--as it turns out in a careless and very
    unscientific mannner--by scientists working for the biotech industry and
    was believed to be safe for the environment." FInd out how wrong they were

  • rate this

    Comment number 740.

    732. billybase
    "Your argument was flawed and a strawman will only get you so far"

    It Straw Man not Strawman.

    I expressed an opinion, you are the one who introduced an informal fallacy.

    Perhaps if you had the vaguest clue how to construct a logical argument we could continue this ad nauseum.

  • Comment number 739.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 738.

    GM soya beans have been grown in the USA and S America for decades.The farmers who grow them have themselves eaten them for decades and come to no harm at all.Yet,in this country we are not allowed to import and buy them and have to pay through the nose for non-GM soya.
    I am fed up with having my life made expensive to satisfy pseudo-scientists' egos.It must stop.

  • rate this

    Comment number 737.

    729 David Holder
    If you are under the impression that scientific tests have not improved since the 1950s, all i can say is join the modern world in 2013.
    for those that are unwilling to eat GM crops in the future, all i can say is starve then.

  • rate this

    Comment number 736.

    @710.David Holder
    711.Matthew :
    Have you looked at recent demographics for Europe, US, Latin America,Japan,Singapore, etc? Most folks can't even be paid to have children @a replacement level, much less overpopulate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 735.

    Mr Paterson's stance was backed by a number of scientists, including Professor Dale Sanders, the Director of the John Innes Centre in Norwich.

    Well a little bit of digging reveals that many of John Innes research projects is funded by Crop Improvement Research Club aka Monsanto, BASF et al. Say no more!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 734.

    How very interesting.......... Only one 'Editors pick' that I can find and, although subtle, it is definitely supportive of GM foods - draw your own conclusions - but remember that which I posted earlier - Whoever controls the food supply, controls the World - GM crops will be no doubt subject to patent so vast revenues for the very few, as usual..

  • rate this

    Comment number 733.

    It seems uninformed opinion is even a worse danger that GM food.

    If I were you I would:-
    1) Do some research about this (I have and the jury really is out on the safety of GM food, for humans and animals - so safety in unproven)
    2) If you want to eat GM food, go ahead, but I don't.

    I know that I would much rather rely on nature, not a chemical company like Monsanto, who's in it for PROFIT.

  • rate this

    Comment number 732.

    718.Knut Largerson

    Your argument was flawed and a strawman will only get you so far

    even GMO straw

  • rate this

    Comment number 731.

    The EFSA has belatedly discovered that the most common genetic regulatory sequence in GMOs also encodes a significant fragment of a viral gene. There are clear indications that Gene VI might not be safe for human consumption.

  • rate this

    Comment number 730.

    @626, the oral contraceptive pill isn't made using recombinant DNA technology. Instead derivatives of both oestrogen and progesterone are used- ethinyl estradiol and progestin respectively. Those are both made synthetically. However, it has been very important in the production of insulin and factor 8.

  • rate this

    Comment number 729.

    709. WeirdAlex “@ 701 kathhh8 so you've never used any medicine of any type ever?”

    Ah yes medicine, remember the thalidomide tragedy? Thalidomide first entered the German market in 1957 as an over-the-counter remedy based on the makers safety claims that it was safe for all and look what happened.

  • rate this

    Comment number 728.

    It seems to me that GM needs to be approached from evidence rather than ignorance and preconceived prejudice. The scientific evidence seems to point to GM being rather more positive than negative, of course there will be problems and difficulties but what form of agriculture is perfect. Scary that I for once agree with a Tory and find Soil association and friends somewhat medieval in outlook!

  • rate this

    Comment number 727.

    It's not about the food being poisonous - although that is an obvious concern.

    it's the patenting of nature.

  • rate this

    Comment number 726.

    Monsanto must have a lot of faith in their own product.

    I know its old news...

  • rate this

    Comment number 725.

    Remember nuclear deterrence? A very small risk of a major disaster - a risk principle which was effective in preventing nuclear war. GMOs? same principle?

  • rate this

    Comment number 724.

    Oh dear, what will happen if an insect eats it and becomes Gen/mod,then bites a pet cat or dog that slobbers on or licks a child who rubs their mouth and accidently becomes genetically modified,
    maybe when the child grows up and has kids they might be born with 6 legs, wings a wagging tail and an instinct to kill wildlife.
    Say no to GM protesters.

  • rate this

    Comment number 723.

    This will happen somewhere, some time so the key is to ensure that the procedures for understanding, creating, testing and ultimately introducing such modifications are risk-free.
    And that any possible environmental impact is clearly understood and, as far as possible, tested in dedicated remote areas.
    Expanding population needs expanding food supply or inevitably, wars will maintain balance.

  • rate this

    Comment number 722.

    I expect much better from you BBC. This article reads like a Monsanto advert.

    How dare you make no mention of bee colony collapse? THAT is what your precocious GMO's get you!! Im sure of course that you could care less what more than just myself are saying.

    I am attempting to articulate and opinion but there are not nearly enough characters to form a cogent argument. Flabbergasted.BBC FAIL


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