Government support grows for study of GM food benefits

Related tags Gm Genetic engineering Genetically modified food

Government support grows for study of GM food benefits
Call from within for research to inform the public of the pros and cons of GM food

Government support for scientific analysis of genetically modified (GM) food and its benefits is growing, with leading members of the Labour Party publicly advocating it.

At a Labour Party conference fringe event in Manchester, food and farming minister Lord Rooker accused GM critics of "ignorance" that was harming UK competitiveness.

At the meeting, British food chain: is it fit for purpose?, he said the anti-GM movement had "taken us for a ride"

Also speaking at the event, Andrew Opie, British Retail Consortium food policy director, said the industry "could not sell it [GM] as no one wanted it"

Rooker accepted that it was the government's responsibility to convince people that GM technology was sound. He did not expect the industry to take the lead, because it was merely responding to consumer demand.

Referring to the Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling's conference speech calling the UK a leader in biotechnology, Rooker said this would not be the case unless attitudes to GM changed.

He stressed that there was no evidence that anyone had been harmed by GM foods, but that, while there were considerable benefits for producers from GM, consumer benefits were unclear.

Further calls for the government to inform the public on GM food came from within at the conference. Science minister Ian Pearson told delegates that a "significant majority" of consumers would approve of GM if the consumer and environmental benefits were properly demonstrated.

Separately, environment minister Phil Woolas has met pro-GM body the Agricultural Biotechnology Council to learn more about how GM technology could benefit the environment and tackle food shortages.

The Institute of Food Science & Technology (IFST) has published a report analysing GM food's pros and cons. It claims the anti-GM lobby uses the precautionary principle as an excuse to halt progress on developing GM crops. In fact, the principle should also be applied to "all alternative courses of action, including doing nothing", said the IFST.

It said GM had more benefits than traditional selective breeding, including pest and herbicide resistance; improved yields with less labour, energy and pesticide input, among others. The IFST said the problem of how to feed the world "will not be solved by GM alone", but "will certainly not be solved without the contribution of science, including GM"

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