Paterson calls for fresh talks over the risks of GM crops
Westcountry farmers have welcomed moves by Environment Secretary Owen Paterson to reopen the debate on the use of genetically-modified crops in the UK.
In a speech tomorrow, Mr Paterson will call for fresh talks over the risks and benefits of the controversial technology.
A supporter of GM crops, Mr Paterson is reported to favour the Government taking a more proactive line in spelling out the potential benefits.
In January, Mr Paterson told the Oxford Farming Conference that farmers had to embrace genetically-modified food to secure their future in an increasingly competitive agricultural world.
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"GM needs to be considered in its proper overall context with a balanced understanding of the risks and benefits," he said.
"But we should not be afraid of making the case to the public about the potential benefits of GM beyond the food chain – significantly reducing the use of pesticides and inputs such as diesel."
Suggestions that GM technology was new and frightening, he said, was total nonsense. The European Union's negative approach to GM, was also affecting development in the UK.
"We are talking with the EU on this all the time," Mr Paterson added. "But I think the rules are holding back our farmers. There are only two GM products licensed in the EU and there should be much more."
The debate over GM has been polarised with opponents labelling in "Frankenstein food" and claiming that it could lead to a loss of wildlife. The Soil Association said GM crops were "less fair, potentially risky and less sustainable" adding the technology had "overpromised and under-delivered".
Ian Johnson, spokesman for the National Farmers' Union in the South West, said there were many potential benefits including a reduction in the use of pesticides, medical applications, as well as improving food production.
"You can't deny this technology," he said. "It exists and is being utilised all over the world. For us to think we can isolated ourselves from the debate is like living in cloud cuckoo land. We need an open and honest debate rather than shut it down which is what we have seen on other issues in the past such as bovine TB."
A spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: "The world's population is set to hit 9 billion 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 environmental and economic benefits to the UK as well as internationally."