Lord Sainsbury calls for new debate on GM crops

Genetically modified maize. Picture from Science Photo Library. Herbicide-resistant maize can be grown using this biotechnology

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A former science minister has called for the debate on genetically modified crops to be reopened, arguing they are vital for a growing global population.

Ahead of his speech at the British Science Association festival, Lord Sainsbury warned it would be foolish for the UK to rule out the technology.

He said proper scientific evidence was needed about GM crops - branded "Frankenstein foods" in the past.

Currently, there is no commercial cultivation of GM crops in the UK.

Various types of GM plants have been grown for research at sites in England since 1993, but the development of GM farming in Europe has been held back by EU legislation.

However, in recent months there has been a shift in Brussels with moves to hand back decision-making over the crops to individual countries.

Lord Sainsbury, who served in Tony Blair's Department for Trade and Industry from 1998 to 2006, said: "It is 12 years since we had that last very fraught and, I think, not very productive debate about it.

'Big problem'

"Twelve years on, we have got 30 million acres across the world of GM crops, we have got pretty much all the cotton industry in India and China on those kinds of crops and of course people are now beginning to think seriously about what is the major problem we face in the world, which is how we feed 9 billion people in 2050.

"We need now to have the debate again because in the last debate there was not proper scientific evidence put on the table.

"We need that scientific evidence because GM crops can play an important part in this big problem," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

Lord Sainsbury acknowledged that many of the ambitious claims made by the companies behind the technology for the benefits of GM had yet to deliver results, but said that, in time, he expected the genetically altered crops to have as large an impact as computers in "changing the way we live".

"I think to rule out GM, which is this major new biotechnology, would be very foolish," he said.

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