Food minister Owen Paterson backs GM crops

mark at mark at
Mon Dec 10 06:53:45 GMT 2012

Food minister Owen Paterson backs GM crops
by Robert Winnett and James Kirkup, The Daily Telegraph
Mon 10th Dec 2012

Genetically modified food should be grown and sold widely in Britain 
and consumer opposition to the technology is a “complete nonsense”, 
the Cabinet minister in charge of food and farming has said.

  Owen Paterson, the Environment Secretary, made the remarks as 
ministers prepare to relax controls on the cultivation of GM crops, 
which he said had “real environmental benefits”.

Some senior Government figures privately believe that the technology — 
which can increase crop yields and prevent disease — is essential in 
assuring Britain’s future food security and to avoid dependency on 

Any move to allow the use of GM crops could be highly controversial, 
but Mr Paterson dismissed critics of the technology as “humbugs” and 
said that the case for GM food now needed to be made “emphatically”.

The comments are likely to alarm opponents of GM food, who fear that 
the crops can cause environmental damage and even be harmful to human 

The Coalition has so far allowed small-scale cultivation trials for GM 
food but its widespread use is effectively banned. Some GM products 
are contained in imported foods, but most supermarkets have banned the 
ingredients from their own-brand products because of public unease 
about the material.
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In the late Nineties, Tony Blair, the former prime minister, promoted 
the use of GM food, but later retreated in the face of public 
scepticism and campaigns against “Frankenfoods”.

However, recent polls suggest that British hostility to GM technology 
is waning, and some senior ministers are keen to explore its use. The 
Government has recently run a low-key consultation exercise about new 
“agri-tech” measures to increase the efficiency of British farms. The 
consultation sought views on options including the increased use of GM 

A formal ministerial response is due next year, but insiders say the 
exercise is likely to lead to an increase in the use of the 

Speaking to The Daily Telegraph, Mr Paterson, said: “Emphatically we 
should be looking at GM … I’m very clear it would be a good thing.

“The trouble is all this stuff about Frankenstein foods and putting 
poisons in foods.

“There are real benefits, and what you’ve got to do is sell the real 
environmental benefits.”

Those benefits include a reduction in the use of pesticides because 
some GM crops are pest-resistant, he said. That in turn reduces 
farmers’ fuel use.

The Environment Secretary also said that consumers were already 
unwittingly eating GM food on a regular basis, so concerns about human 
health are misplaced.

“There’s about 160 million hectares of GM being grown around the 
world,” he said. “There isn’t a single piece of meat being served [in 
a typical London restaurant] where a bullock hasn’t eaten some GM 
feed. So it’s a complete nonsense. But, the humbug! You know, large 
amounts of GM products are used across Europe.”

Mr Paterson would not be drawn on the consultation, but said he was 
confident that David Cameron would find an “appropriate moment” to 
back GM food.

“I’m very clear it would be a good thing,” he said. “So you’d discuss 
it within government, you’d discuss it at a European level and you’d 
need to persuade the public.”

Mr Paterson’s views on GM food are understood to be shared by a number 
of his colleagues, including David Willetts, the science minister.

Senior Liberal Democrats are also understood to be open to a change in 

During the past decade, the Lib Dems strongly opposed the increased 
use of GM technology for food, although the party’s election manifesto 
made no mention of the issue.

Some Lib Dem ministers fear that their party activists would strongly 
oppose any relaxation in the current rules, but others say the change 
must be considered.

David Heath, the Lib Dem farming minister, told farming groups last 
month that GM food was “one of the tools in the box” for increasing 
food production.

A senior party source told The Daily Telegraph that it should make the 
“rational” case for GM technology amid a growing global population and 
demand for food.

“This is something that we need to do to ensure that everyone has 
enough to eat in the years to come,” the source said. “Yes, some 
people have doubts and fears, but that’s something we should deal 
with, not run away from.”

Mr Paterson’s predecessor at the Department for Environment, Food and 
Rural Affairs was Caroline Spelman. She also backed the “benefits” of 
GM crops, but did not lift the ban on their commercial cultivation.

The official Government policy on GM crops is “precautionary, 
evidence-based and sensitive to public concerns”. It describes the 
technology as “not wholly good or bad” and will consider licensing 
crops on a case-by-case basis.

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