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 1001.

    Not Luddite re: new tech,open to new approaches in food/farming (eg vertical farming),but def suspicious of GMO.
    How cn responsible scientist argue that eating GMO= completely safe 'til ppl hv bn consuming for decent period of time (10 years?) w/ no ill-effect/increased cancer risk etc. Same way certain pharm/pesticides/herbicides etc certified 'harmless' but after several years' use -> not safe.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1000.

    Tests should be run on lab ministers and lab politicians end of. In 50 years when they cannot have children the world will be a better-safer place. Look at the state of the world, economy,wildlife,people.
    If these ministers and such want to push this issue, it can only be bad for the rest of us making them global dictators. Already been telling us to get used to idea of eating insects...yuk.

  • rate this

    Comment number 999.

    994 The Info Warrior - People are entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts.
    You talk about arrogance, but do you not find it arrogant when someone ignores the vast majority of scientific research because they "feel" differently? Why is it wrong to call someone out when they complain about bias, then cite an organic food blog as a source?
    1000 comments and no evidence against GM.

  • rate this

    Comment number 998.

    @996.Elsie says Xx to all,
    Provided electricity was cheap enough to make it viable, competitive vertical farms could be set up by lots of people, even if they weren't one of the few big land owners. That vertical farms could produce ENOUGH organic food cheaply would mean there would be no economic incentive to grow GM, ergo even Monsanto's vertical farms would have to be organic to make money.

  • rate this

    Comment number 997.

    Pests are pests, the farmers will want to kill them one way or another, or they're losing money, better to do it with GM pest resistance than insecticides. (Yes I know some GM crops are designed to allow you to use stronger pesticides, and I am against those).

  • rate this

    Comment number 996.

    I wish to introduce the topic of vertical farms, a new idea that has not been mentioned.........
    It would solve all our need to experiment with GM food. Does anyone else agree please ? Perhaps Bertie ( U R RIGHT ) and andyg could enter into this debate together.
    Vertical farms that are owned by Monsanto are particularly interesting. And Vertical Bee Hives are something U R RIGHT to think of.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 995.

    Perhaps, but unlike Pressurised Water Reactors(PWR),.. Thorium(LFTR) only produces very little short lived waste and is prefectly safe, plus unlike GM food your not putting any of that stuff into your body, not to mention vertical farms would allow vast amounts of land to be returned to nature, win-win for any logical environmentalist.

  • rate this

    Comment number 994.

    Dear Drunken Hobo, In this democratic HYS; just as you are fully entitled to your opinion, everyone here is also entitled to theirs! Who on earth elected you to be a thought and view policeman? All you appear to do is pick at and find fault with other users comments. You should really stop arrogantly attacking other users! BTW; whatever you say, I am still completely against the idea of GMOs!

  • rate this

    Comment number 993.

    Everyone seems to be missing the fundamental point that these GM plants are modified to be pest resistant... but one mans pest is another creatures food... and to eradicate a pest is to remove a part of the food chain and to change the whole ecosystem. Our wildlife is declining rapidly already, we don't need to make it worse. Ho to GMOs!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 992.

    I know, but I rather suspect that the thought of making their organic food with the help of nuclear energy would make a lot of the anti-GM lobby turn their noses up.

  • rate this

    Comment number 991.

    considering I wouldn't trust the Tories to walk my dog, there is no way I trust them letting GM loose on the UK, this is the Party that are promoting Fracking, covering for the banks,Health Scandals,attacking the sick. Anything for a quick buck is their motto. We now have Politics USA where corporations own the government and we my friends are just another resource to be used up and discarded.

  • rate this

    Comment number 990.

    978. Poisoned Chalice

    "if GM gets released into the environment it will sterilize by cross-pollination every plant that is in the vicinity."

    Sterilise nature and you have a monopoly on the food chain. This is a serious issue and it should lay with the ppl of this nation to decide if we want it. Either a referendum or party manifesto. Let us vote on it!

  • rate this

    Comment number 989.

    The funny thing about this is that I used to be anti-GM. Not rabidly so, I just didn't approve of the idea of food being altered.
    It wasn't the case for that convinced me to change my mind, but the "case" against - it soon became apparant there simply wasn't one. I couldn't find a single shred of evidence against GM food, only lies.
    Same story with global warming denialism.

  • Comment number 988.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 987.

    Re 980----Even a genetically-modified John Wyndham is unlikely to manage what you ask , Hugo :)))))))))) Must read that book again-----what was his novel about the folk with 6 toes ?
    But I digress and am genetically modifying this forum-----just a test to see if it does any damage to anyone's health :)))))))

  • rate this

    Comment number 986.

    Ok, i know i am a ludite-treehuggin hippy that is no scientist....but i have a neat little book that reads...And God said, Let the Earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth; and it was so. Sorry but my version does not have...Let man say he is king and ration food and land at extortionate prices.

  • rate this

    Comment number 985.

    @981.Elsie says Xx to all,
    Not everyone here who's against GM is a luddite!!!
    I for one suggested indoor vertical farms which could produce more than enough organic food for any future world population. I also suggested using Thorium Molten Salt Reactors(LFTR) to produce cheap enough electricity to make vertical farming economically viable,....hardly a ludditus proposition!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 984.

    Bees is right.

    How about " safe as a politician"

    I'm not seriously going to accept on face value that Mr Patterson knows what he's talking about....or knows what the UK citizens want.

    He has an agenda, and he's going to push it through...not to be trusted, even if you agree with him, as you won't know what your really agreeing to.

  • rate this

    Comment number 983.

    ohh dear, it really does seem that science is our new religion, faith instead of facts.
    What other horrors is "science" hiding i wonder?
    Well i can tell you there is a major one affecting our seas but up to now the "science" is doing sterling work just as it does for monsanto.

  • rate this

    Comment number 982.

    @Andy H
    What is also simplistic is assuming that non-GM farming practices also 'do no harm'. There is plenty that is reprehensible in farming that has nothing to do with GM, and 'organic' farming is not necessarily any better.


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