Battle lines drawn over GM

Related tags Gm crops Agriculture Gm

Battle lines drawn over GM
GM Food's ability to help the current food crisis is sparking increasingly heated debate

Experts locked horns over genetic modification (GM) as they discussed how to deal with rising food prices and global demand for food at Westminster Food & Nutrition Forum's latest seminar.

Crop Protection Association chief executive Dominic Dyer insisted that Europe considered the benefits of GM food. "To take the situation where we've got consumer concern, then put effective barriers up, which the European Community has in terms of trials of crops, is a step backwards," he said.

However, Friends of the Earth food and farming campaigner Helen Rimmer claimed that GM food was unnecessary and that people were starving because of poor resource management. She said: "There's no clear role for GM crops. We've already got enough food to feed the world."

Javier Blas, commodities correspondent at the Financial Times​, felt Europe was not ready to accept GM. "In Europe we are seeing measures to reduce the amount of chemicals [in food]." He claimed it was difficult to imagine Europe changing its scepticism, because we could still afford the "luxury" of organic produce.

Food Ethics Council research fellow Paul Steedman advised caution. "The danger is we mistake opportunities for solutions, then find that for all the money and political capital thrown at the food crisis, millions of people are still dying of hunger.

"We need to be clear why scarcity is a problem and it's chiefly because it's taking place in a policy context where social justice isn't a priority."

The debate followed the launch of a study claiming that GM crops had helped cut greenhouse gases and pesticide use and boosted farmers' incomes.

Graham Brookes, agricultural economist and report co-author, said: "Pesticide use has fallen significantly relative to levels of use that would have occurred without using biotechnology."

GM had also delivered "net economic benefits at the farm level amounting to nearly $7bn in 2006 due to yield gains and reduced production costs", he added. "If GM crops had not been available in 2006, maintaining global production levels at the levels seen in 2006 would have required additional plantings of 3.9Mha of soybeans, 1Mha of corn and 0.15Mha of canola."

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