Ministerial support for GM experiments

Environment Minister Owen Paterson says we owe it to the world’s one billion chronically hungry people to fully explore the possibilities of producing genetically modified food.

Owen Paterson

In a speech this week, the Conservative MP said GM is “a safe, proven and beneficial innovation” and the public needed more help to realise its potential.

Field trials to test GM wheat crops in ‘real world’ conditions at Rothamsted Research, the independent scientific research institute in Herefordshire, have proved controversial.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Campaigners had wanted the Government to block an extension to the current trial but the request has been granted by Defra and the trial will now include additional autumn-sown cadenza wheat.

The experiment combines modern genetic engineering with natural plant defences to test whether aphid-repelling wheat works in the field.

Research leader Professor John Picket said: “This additional data will add a lot of value to the overall investigation by testing our wheat plant under a more varied range of environmental conditions throughout the year and in accordance with the different times of the year farmer’s plant their wheat.”

Wheat is the most important UK crop with an annual value of about £1.2bn.

Dorothy Fairburn, the Country Land and Business Association’s (CLA) regional director for the North, endorsed the research, saying: “Research is key to the successful development of GM and we fully support the work being carried out by Rothamsted.”

She backed Owen Paterson’s call for the GM issue to be considered objectively and without political bias: “GM isn’t the only solution to food shortages but technological innovation has always been at the heart of UK agriculture and it needs to be part of its future. Consumers, farmers and landowners should be given the freedom to choose whether they consume or produce GM.”

Peter Kendall, president of the National Farmers’ Union, echoed those sentiments, saying: “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.”