The UK Prime Minister's Strategy Unit has published a document which assesses the overall costs and benefits of commercial cultivation or non- cultivation of genetically modified crops in the UK.
Called Field Work: Weighing up the Costs and Benefits of GM Crops and running some 133 pages), the report, along with two others, will influence the UK Government's decision making and policy on GM crops and foods. Currently the UK government is generally seen as being pivotal to the wider spread implementation of GM crops and foods in Europe. This means that such a report could have a major influence on the final outcome and future acceptance of GM foods in Europe.
The Field Work report was commissioned by the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Margaret Beckett. In addition, a review of the scientific issues is being led by Professor Sir David King and is expected to be published later this month, while the outcome of the current GM Nation debate is due to be submitted in September 2003.
The combined aim of the three reports is to improve the evidence base for GM crops and to create a dialogue between people with differing opinions on genetic modification. The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) will be responsible for ensuring that the outcomes of the three reports are taken into consideration in future policy making.
The aim of the Field Work report is to analyse the overall costs and benefits of commercial cultivation or non-cultivation of GM crops in the UK. Trade-offs between costs in one area and benefits in another area may be measured in terms of financial costs, environmental costs, or potential costs to other sectors of agriculture. For example, GM crop cultivation has the potential to impact upon non-GM and organic farmers. The cost of this could be seen in developing legislation, in compensation paid by the GM farmers, or in costs incurred by non-GM farmers.
The report concludes that existing GM crops could offer some cost and convenience advantages to farmers, but the economic benefit would be limited particularly as these crops do not yet offer a benefit to consumers. However, in the longer term, developments in GM crops are likely to include direct health benefits such as added nutrients, reduced allergenicity and the production of pharmaceuticals or vaccines (pharming). The report reiterates that the balance of future costs and benefits will depend on public attitudes, and the ability to regulate and manage uncertainties.
The UK government says it believes that GM crops are just one area in which there is potential to contribute to the UK's future economic prosperity and sustainability. However it also believes that important advances in crop production will also come from conventional and organic techniques.
Links to the Field Work report, the Analysis Papers (which set out the detailed analysis underlying the main report), Consultancy support for the analysis of the impact of GM crops on UK farm profitability, and the Shocks and Surprises Seminar held in April 2003, are all on the Prime Minister's Strategy Unit web site. Comments on the Field Work report can be sent to the Strategy Unit before Friday 17th October, by e-mail to GMCrops@cabinet-office.x.gsi.gov.uk