Latest food scares will influence attitudes to GM technology

EUROPEAN agriculture can survive without genetic modification, but the disparitybetween costs of production will widen and farmers will be increasingly reliant on subsidies, a leading scientist told the Sentry conference.

Meanwhile, the rest of the world will be reaping the rewards of GM crops, which as well as increased yield and decreased dependence on chemicals, can also include improved soil quality.

Professor Maurice Moloney, director and chief executive of Rothamsted Research, said in North America uptake of the crops had been swift.

“After just 15 years, 95 per cent of all canola grown in Canada is GM. Farmers choose to spend the money - this is not due to marketing, but because the technology works so well.”

Pro-science culture

The ‘strong pro-science culture’ has helped generate positive public opinion in the US, but in Europe there is a high level of suspicion over new technological ideas. Similarly, regulatory agencies were trusted more in North America than in Europe, said Prof Moloney.

There was less urban-rural alienation in North America, so people had more contact and interest in the agricultural community, he said.

In further comments on GM technology during the conference, Adam Leyland, editor of The Grocer magazine, said the recent horsemeat scandal would damage public trust in agriculture and food and might make people less willing to accept GM and other new ideas. 

While consumers’ attitudes to genetic modification were ‘thawing’, any assurances the technology was totally safe were treated with a great deal of suspicion, he said. “It will take a long time to repair that breach in trust - and that is before you throw GM into the mix.”

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