Scotland and Wales remain opposed to GM crops
DEFRA Secretary Owen Paterson’s views on genetically modified crops could set Westminster against the Scottish and Welsh Governments.
Both administrations are opposed to the technology and have taken steps to prevent it being grown in their countries.
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The cultivation of GM crops could damage Scotland’s rich environment and would threaten our reputation for producing high quality and natural foods. It would damage Scotland’s image as a land of food and drink.”
A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “The Welsh Government maintains a precautionary approach to GM crop cultivation in Wales and adheres to the UK and EU legislative framework.”
Elsewhere Mr Paterson’s speech paving the way for a fresh debate on the technology was predictably welcomed by proponents of GM and slammed by anti-GM campaigners.
Dr Julian, Little, chair of the Agricultural Biotechnology Council, said it was ‘extremely encouraging to again hear the Government’s commitment to unlocking the potential of British agricultural science, and pushing the rest of Europe to follow a science-based approach to policy making’.
“GM technologies are already assisting farmers around the world to boost food security in an environmentally sensitive and sustainable way. The mountain of evidence of the benefits gained by farmers through GM technology continues to grow, from higher crop yields to lower carbon emissions, and the UK cannot afford to be left behind,” he said.
NFU President Peter Kendall said: “I applaud Owen Paterson for the leadership he is showing on this issue.
“The NFU agrees that the UK, which is the natural home for science research, should be at the forefront of providing agricultural solutions not watching from the sidelines.
“Rightly so, farmers fear being left behind. As Mr Paterson said, I also want British farmers to be able to develop the latest technologies so they can reap economic and environmental benefits.
“I welcome his commitment to getting the EU approvals system working. The Environment Secretary also asked all interested parties to help him and said he would back them in return. I, and the NFU, will take up this challenge.”
But Friends of the Earth’s Head of Policy, Research and Science Mike Childs said there was ‘no evidence GM crops will deliver for farmers or food security’.
“Despite decades of research, there are still no miracle crops to tackle the challenges agriculture faces, such as climate change, soil degradation, water shortages and growing demand. Where GM crops are grown, they are exacerbating the very intensive farming practices that are part of the problem.”
Soil Association policy director Peter Melchett said: “Owen Paterson’s GM dream will make it harder to feed the world.”
He described GM as the ’cuckoo in the nest’. “It drives out and destroys the systems that international scientists agree we need to feed the world. We need farming that helps poorer African and Asian farmers produce food, not farming that helps Bayer, Syngenta and Monsanto produce profits,” he said.
GeneWatch UK director Helen Wallace questioned why Mr Paterson was ‘wasting taxpayers’ time and money doing PR for Monsanto and the other GM companies?’
“Paterson appears to be deaf, dumb and blind when it comes to any science not peddled by big corporations. Only industry-funded research shows any benefits from GM crops, which do not increase yields and are having harmful effects on the environment in North and South America,” she said.
She said the speech ignored various problems associated with GM crops, including ‘the spread of superweeds resistant to the weedkillers sprayed on herbicide-tolerant GM crops and the resulting increased use of herbicides’ and the development of pests resistant to pest-resistant crops.
Caroline Drummond, LEAF (Linking Environment and Food) chief executive, said: “GM technology has the potential to benefit the sustainability of farming systems in the UK. However, the potential benefits to farmers and consumers need to be clearly identified and weighed against the possible risks and there are several areas that cannot be neglected.
“One of these is the need for more research into GM technology. We need to be able to establish the development of plants that have greater resistance to pests and diseases, more resilience to adverse environments and develop the nutritional value of crops.”