UK should adopt GM, says Paterson
Speaking at Rothamsted crop research centre in Hertfordshire, which has just been granted permission to plant autumn-sown wheat for GM field trials, Paterson argued that GM crops modified to include high levels of vitamin A, for example, Golden Rice, could prevent blindness and death.
“The problem we face in feeding ourselves in 40 years’ time are very real and something we have to prepare for right now,” he said. “At this very moment there are 1 billion people on this planet who are chronically hungry. Are we really going to look them in the eye and say ‘We have the proven technology to help, but the issue’s just too difficult to deal with, it’s just too controversial’?”
But opposition has argued that the technology is not as proven as Paterson says, with only two crops approved for commercial growth, while another seven await approval from the European Union.
Paterson argued that yesterday’s agriculture would not feed tomorrow’s population. “If we use cultivated land more efficiently, we could free up space for biodiversity, nature and wilderness.”
But the Soil Association’s director of policy, Peter Melchett, dismissed Paterson’s claims as simplistic. “Paterson’s GM dream will make it harder to feed the world,” he said. “The Government constantly claim that GM crops are just ‘one tool in the toolbox’ for the future of farming. In fact GM is 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 [GM companies] Bayer, Syngenta and Monsanto produce profits.”
Mike Childs of Friends of the Earth drew similar conclusions, suggesting Paterson “remains blinkered by the unfulfilled promises of GM crops. GM crops have consistently under-performed, despite claims from the biotech industry… they are locking farmers into buying inputs and costly seed, while encouraging resistant weeds and insects and not delivering the increased yields as promised.”
Sir Gordon Conway, former chief scientist at the department for international development, said the speech was “long overdue”.
“It is a brave speech although long overdue. Millions of smallholders in the developing countries — in China, India, Africa and Latin America — are already significantly benefiting from growing GM crops”.