The row about genetically modified (GM) food re-ignited this week after a government minister said there were “real environmental benefits” associated with the technology.
Owen Paterson, secretary of state at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) told The Daily Telegraph that consumer opposition to the technology was a “complete nonsense”.
GM foods were already widespread throughout the food chain, he said. “There isn’t a single piece of meat being served [in a typical London restaurant] where a bullock hasn’t eaten some GM feed. So it’s a complete nonsense … large amounts of GM products are used across Europe.”
Paterson’s views were endorsed later by Prime Minister David Cameron. The Prime Minister’s spokesman said on Monday: “Provided it is used safely and responsibly it could be a useful way to address food shortages. There was a scientific regulatory environment that should be respected across Europe.”
‘Make regulation more efficient’
The European Commission was looking at ways to make regulation more efficient and effective, so that processes could be as quick as possible, he added.
But campaign groups have reacted angrily against suggestions that GM technology should become widespread in the food industry. Commenting on Paterson’s recent interview with the Daily Telegraph regarding GM crops, the Soil Association said: “Owen Patterson is wrong to claim that GM crops are good for the environment.
“The UK government’s own farm scale experiment showed that overall the GM crops were worse for British wildlife. US government figures show that, overall, pesticide use has increased since GM crops have been grown there, because as scientists opposed to GM predicted, superweeds and resistant insects have multiplied.”
Anti GM campaigner Pete Riley, from the group GM Freeze, said: “Paterson seems to be formulating policy from an evidence base provided by the agri-biotech industry and ignoring the Government’s own data showing GM harms wildlife. He needs to consult more widely with people who understand the evidence.”
Riley added: “Millions of people go hungry because they cannot afford to buy food while millions of others are sick and obese because they are not able to afford a healthy diet. GM crops do nothing to address these fundamental problems.”
‘GM crops are failing farmers’
Lincolnshire farmer Pete Lundgren said: “Paterson’s comments come from the past. There is now clear evidence that the current GM crops are failing farmers, and yet we are still hearing the same pro-GM mantra from DEFRA that we did in the early 1990s.
“What we farmers need is a food production system that provides safe, healthy food that our customers want to buy, provides the farmer with a decent return on time and investment and delivers genuine environmental and social benefits in the countryside. GM crops do not and will not deliver these benefits.”
Meanwhile, Paterson told a Women’s Institute’s food security event last week: “I am currently working with David Willetts, the science minister, on the Life Sciences Agri-Tech Strategy to help encourage innovation and new technologies.
“We need to be able to translate research into new products, processes and technologies, and this should include serious consideration of GM. In 2011, 16M farmers in 29 countries grew GM products on 160MHa. That’s 11% of the world’s arable land.”
Last month, the Food and Drink Federation warned that without the adoption of GM technology, Britain risked becoming “a food museum”.