THE National Farmers Union has welcomed moves by the Government to start a debate about a greater role for GM crops. As world food prices continue to rise, Environment Minister Phil Woolas said yesterday that he wants a debate on the benefits of GM crops in offering greater yields, particularly in the developing world.
A spokesman for the NFU said: “We are pleased the Defra minister is finally talking about GM crops in an open, pragmatic and science-based way.
“We sincerely hope this indicates a real change in Government thinking and a move away from the highly politicised and emotive way this issue has been dealt with during the last decade.
“The reality is that GM technology is not new and it has been applied to commercial agriculture around the world for more than 12 years.
“In the context of increasing food prices as well as fuel, we are pleased that the benefits of reduced inputs and increased yields by improving crops using GM technology are finally being recognised as a benefit for both consumers and the environment.”
This week, Mr Woolas said: “There is a growing question of whether GM crops can help the developing world out of the current food price crisis.
“It is a question that we as a nation need to ask ourselves. The debate is already under way.
“Many people concerned about poverty in the developing world and the environment are wrestling with this issue.”
Mr Woolas has reportedly held talks with the Agricultural Biotechnology Council, an umbrella group formed in 2000 to promote the role of biotechnology in agriculture. Ministers argue there is a growing body of evidence that GM crops are safe.
Biotech crops, including corn and soybeans that have been genetically modified to resist insects or disease, have been widely grown in the US for years.
The Government has already decided that there is no scientific case for a blanket ban on GM crops, but following heated public debate about so-called “Frankenstein foods” it made clear in 2004 that commercial planting would go ahead only on a case-by-case basis if it can be shown to be safe for humans and the environment.
There is no commercial cultivation of GM plants in the UK at present, and only one trial is under way, involving potatoes in Cambridgeshire.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown is expected to argue in favour of cost cuts for GM products used in animal feed at the EU summit in Brussels later.
Mr Brown is also expected to urge fellow leaders to look again at GM as a way of reducing the cost of food for the world’s poorest countries.
A Downing Street spokeswoman said: “It has always been the Government’s position, and continues to be the Government’s position, that GM crops could offer a range of benefits over the longer term.
“As Phil Woolas has also reiterated, it is also our position that safety is the top priority and that GM crops are to be considered on a case-by-case basis, based entirely on the science,” added the spokeswoman.