GM: Friend or Foe? after Years of Wrangling, the Government Is Set to Announce a New Push to Expand the Use of Genetically Modified Foods. ANDY FOWLER and JONATHAN WALKER Look at the Issues

The Journal (Newcastle, England), June 13, 2013 | Go to article overview

GM: Friend or Foe? after Years of Wrangling, the Government Is Set to Announce a New Push to Expand the Use of Genetically Modified Foods. ANDY FOWLER and JONATHAN WALKER Look at the Issues


DEPENDING on your point of view, they are either the key to end world hunger or Frankenstein foods that could destroy delicate ecosystems for the benefit of rapacious corporations.

Genetically modified food has always had the ability to inspire high passions and entrenched views, with a suspicion in some quarters that a compromise that could be beneficial to the UK and further afield is being lost in the war of words.

Now reports suggests that a fresh push to let farmers grow genetically modified crops is to be launched by the Environment Secretary next week.

Owen Paterson, who has family ties to Northumberland and recently visited farmers in the region, is expected to use a speech next week to call for a debate on both the moral and the business case for stepping up production of GM crops.

Continued The Environment Secretary will not propose immediate changes to regulations, but he will argue that GM crops economy - and let the UK play a greater role in tackling food shortages abroad. The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is understood to believe that complex controls currently in place are making it hard for farmers tomakethe best use of GM crops. A spokesman said: "The world's population is set to hit 9bn by 2050, and to meet the challenge we must increase food production, minimise waste and boost competition. "We must not ignore technologies, including GM, that can meet the challenge, particularly when they could also bring environmentalandeconomic benefits to the UK as well as internationally." But Mr Paterson will be cautious and call for an honest debate rather than immediately calling for a relaxation of restrictions on the crops, which are dubbed "Frankenstein food" by critics. It comes as 61% of UK farmers questioned in a survey by the National Farmers' Union saying they would like to grow GM crops. However, changes to the rules would require not only winning over public opinion, but also gaining the support of EU partners. Countries such as Poland, which has banned the cultivation of GM crops, are likely to be opposed. GM crops are created by taking genes with beneficial qualities from other organisms and injecting them into the plant. They can be engineered to grow faster, increase their resistance to weeds, pests and pesticides, produce extra nutrients or survive harsher weather conditions.

The EU has granted just two licences to cultivate GM crops and none in the UK, but they are widely grown in North and South America. Angharad Gatehouse, professor of invertebrate molecular biology atNewcastle University, is one of the world's leading experts on GM crops, with a range of research papers on the subject. Yesterday she said: "I think that if they have gone through the correct regulatory procedures, then the EU should relax the restrictions on the licensing of GM crops, but that it should be on a case-by-case basis . "I think one of the most promising areas is water and if you can develop crops that can tolerate drought and lack of water then you are making a positive step towards helping those that need it. "It is always those that need the most that have the least, and if there is something that can be done, then surely that is a good thing. …

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