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 701.

    We can't trust them with our health when it all comes down to making profit

  • rate this

    Comment number 700.

    @689 in addition, I read the pig stomach study & found it a bit skewed. They were right that the highly inflamed stomachs were significantly higher in the GM diet but if you look at their table, the moderately inflamed stomachs were significantly higher in the non-GM. Combined, these 2 were almost equal whereas no inflammation was higher in the GM. Fact is soy of any type isn't a great animal feed

  • rate this

    Comment number 699.

    Meat production is environmentally unsustainable. GM food whether it is safe or not, is merely a short term fix. Do we risk GM technology for short term gains or do we open the debate wider. Amen, now im off for a big fat juicy steak.

  • rate this

    Comment number 698.

    Read this and then try and convince me that GMO's are safe!!

    Does anybody know what lies ahead in maybe 10, 20 years time?

    By the way Judy Carmen's Website seems to have been taken down, what do you know!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 697.

    GM is an unnecessary risk to environment and consumers. Issues raised in support are regarding excess population not lack of food. There's no justification in creating GM at all, it's just for the profit of certain global companies. And government's role is not to push something on the people but to represent the people's wishes, and do whatever's needed to ensure that majority view holds sway.

  • rate this

    Comment number 696.

    to those advocating population control. I assume you are volunteering to be sterilized/removed from the population. if not who are you suggesting we subject this to?

  • rate this

    Comment number 695.

    What's the bet that the environment secretary loves plastic food, lives in a plastic house with a plastic wife and 2.4 plastic kids.

  • rate this

    Comment number 694.

    The colour of carrots was modified in the 17th century by the Dutch in honour of their ruling house of Orange.

    Modification of plants has always gone on; it is the gene manipulation that is worrying. I would be less concerned about GM food if it wasn't being pushed by Monsanto and others, who do not deliver to the starving but sell to farmers to boost their profits.

  • rate this

    Comment number 693.

    Lots of people saying use the precautionary principle because cannot rule out potential harm - it might be an attractive line of thought however it does not make sense.

    Desktop computers have not been round long enough to know what might happen to you health if you use them for 5 decades.....

    ....yet here you are demanding other people are FORCED to take on the precautionary principle.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 692.

    Something's wrong with the 'Highest Rated' and 'Lowest Rated' buttons today. Somehow they must have got switched around. The lowest rated are sane, sensible, rational scientific comments on one possible answer to improving the world's food supply.The highest rated are a collection of uninformed, opinionated, ignorant, dogmatic prejudice.

    Please can someone at BBC sort out this glitch? Thanks.

  • rate this

    Comment number 691.

    You are right that we don't stop using big pharma medicines. So why isn't government sponsored money on GM research going into growing cheaper pharmaceuticals in non-food crops? There's far less opposition to pharming cheap insulin and bioproteins than feeding us pesticide resistant wheat. It's an equally good opportunity for the UK to excel, but the government seems fixated on food crops.

  • rate this

    Comment number 690.

    "GM even safer than conventional food" - This message brought to you by HorseIsBeef ltd.

  • rate this

    Comment number 689.

    675 Ian - Other snippets from NaturalNews:
    Interview with disgraced former Doctor, Andrew Wakefield:
    Claims that homeopathy works:

    They have no interest in the truth. They just want to push their anti-science agenda. Find a better source!

  • rate this

    Comment number 688.

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

    Nothing else would explain the skewed logic or the propensity for being noisy when other people don't agree with their arguments.

  • rate this

    Comment number 687.

    Nearly all scientists speak about the danger of global warming, surely if there was any evidence GM was dangerous they'd be speaking out about that too. But people love a conspiracy theory.

  • rate this

    Comment number 686.

    We've all been eating GMOs for decades.
    All the grain grown for bread are polyploid (multiple copies of the genome). They were created by exposing wild type grain to mutagens such as colchicine and mustard gas. The original strains of things like wheat look very weedy compared to the polyploid equivalents.

  • rate this

    Comment number 685.

    I despise this lot,they are incompetent,out of touch posh boys who believe they are born to rule,Cameron,Clegg Osbourne the list goes on and on,however they are(by luck they have no judgement)correct on this issue,it's disgusting to hear the Gaurdianista vegetarian bigot types decrying GM food especially when the third world keeps producing children they and we can't afford to feed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 684.


    Parts of Africa have been a place of famine over the years, such as the events in the early 80's in Ethiopia, yet there are many African nations that routinely and massively over produce food, They unfortunately throw loads away as they can not sell it to others due to the food cartels in the EU/US that maintain high prices E.g. £1.30 for a can of tomatoes WTH?

  • rate this

    Comment number 683.

    673. theworldhasgoneinsane,

    The environment secretary didn't actually say it was safe, but it was PROBABLY safe. Something that the pro camp seems to be missing, even the biggest proponents of GM cannot guarantee this product IS safe, just that it's probably safe, in any other industry probably safe isn't good enough.

  • rate this

    Comment number 682.

    Just watch -- the next move will be to rename tainted brand GMO as Biofoods

    ....oh wait


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