‘Time is right to embrace genetically modified crops’

The country’s ability to be a global force in advancing agricultural technology is suffering because of the way the EU works, an influential group of MPs has concluded.

MPs say opposition to the use of GM crops throughout Europe is holding the UK back.

Specifically, flawed regulation fed by opposition elsewhere in Europe to genetically modified crops was holding the UK back, MP Andrew Miller, chairman of the Parliamentary Science and Technology Committee, said this week.

The publication of the Committee’s report on ‘Advanced genetic techniques for crop improvement’ coincided with the annual National Farmers’ Union (NFU) conference in Birmingham, during which the Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss praised the merits of GM crops.

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Publishing the report, Mr Miller MP, chairman of the Science and Technology Committee, said: “Opposition to genetically modified crops in many European countries is based on values and politics, not science. The scientific evidence is clear that crops developed using genetic modification pose no more risk to humans, animals or the environment than equivalent crops developed using more ‘conventional’ techniques.

“Unfortunately, the way the EU’s regulatory system works means that countries opposed to genetically modified crops can block their growth in other countries. This has driven research activity out of the EU and put at risk the UK’s ability to be a global player in advancing agricultural technology.”

He added: “Regulatory reform is no longer merely an option, it is a necessity.

“To meet the huge challenge of feeding a burgeoning global population, using fewer resources, as our climate becomes increasingly unstable, we will need to use all of the tools at our disposal, be they social, political, economic or technological.”

The Committee’s report identified three “flaws” in current EU regulations: they are based on the assumption that GM crops pose greater risk than crops produced using other techniques; assessments of risks posed by these products fail to take into account the potential benefits to the producer, the consumer and the environment, and member states are prevented from making their own decisions about whether to adopt GM products.

Speaking on Tuesday to delegates at the NFU conference, the Environment Secretary, Ms Truss, said there was now wider support within EU countries for regulatory reform.

“On GM, one wide-ranging review found recently that in countries where these crops are used, they have increased output by more than a fifth, grown farmers’ incomes by two thirds and slashed pesticide use,” Ms Truss said.

“Europe needs to embrace scientific advances, many of them achieved here in Britain, and I am pleased that the need for greater national discretion on GM is now accepted.”

Trials of GM crops are being led in the UK by scientists at the Rothamsted Research institute in Hertfordshire. Last September, it completed Britain’s first trial of GM crops enriched with nutrients to produce health-boosting qualities.