EU changes open door to more GM

By Nicholas Robinson

- Last updated on GMT

Commercial GM crops could be grown in the UK following EU rule changes
Commercial GM crops could be grown in the UK following EU rule changes

Related tags Food industry United kingdom European union

New legislation allowing EU Member States (MSs) to regulate the growth of genetically modified organisms (GMO) in their territories will change the face of the UK food industry, according to a leading academic in the field.

The decision by Members of the Europe Parliament last month to give individual MSs the power to cultivate, restrict or ban GMOs would lead to more innovation and investment in the sector, claimed Professor Huw Jones, research team leader at Rothamsted Research’s Centre for Crop Genetic Improvement.

“It’s a step in the right direction; it will free up the current blockages in the approvals process and hopefully pave the way for more GMO food approvals in the UK,”​ Jones added.

'Pave the way for more GMOs'

Despite the new powers, the industry shouldn’t expect to see a change overnight, he said.

“But, slowly, we should start to see more plants with special properties in the UK. Within 10 years, we could have wheat that repels predatory insects, which would reduce our reliance on pesticides.”

However MSs would only be able to make a decision on the use of GMOs after they had been approved by the EU, said Eve Mitchell, EU food policy analyst at environmental group Food and Water Europe. “It will not be possible for any given EU country to approve a GM crop on its own,”​ she added.

The new powers would allow MSs to ban a GMO if they believed it posed a risk to the environment or public health even if it had been approved for use by the European Food Safety Authority, said Frédérique Ries, member of the EU party the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe.

“This agreement will ensure more flexibility for MSs that wish to restrict the cultivation of the GMOs in their territory,”​ she added.

Opposes the use of GMOs

Consumers’ perceptions would also change now that the UK had more control over GMO use, Jones added. This was despite objections from leaders of non-governmental organisations, he said, such as Soil Association boss Helen Browning, who opposes the use of GMOs in the UK’s food industry.

According to Browning, GMOs won’t be used by the UK’s food industry in the future. She said: “The GM debate has been tedious and it’s not even relevant to the future of farming in the UK.”

GMOs were a very small part of the mix and new technology such as better breeding and gene mapping was becoming available that would supersede it, Browning argued.

However, Jones claimed that GMOs were already widely used by the food industry. “The EU imports more than 50 different types of crops and there are certainly GM varieties within that mix,”​ he pointed out.

“It’s not realistic to say that GMOs aren’t in the UK’s food industry or part of its future, because it’s not true and more could be used if manufacturers choose.”

Don't miss Browning's plans to push the assocatlion forward revealed in a feature​ published in the latest editon of our sister title the monthly magazine Food Manufacture.

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