GM crops could benefit agricultural sector

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Gm crops, Genetically modified organism, Genetically modified food, Genetic engineering

The European Union may be about to grant access to more genetically
modified foods, a controversial step that could eventually lead to
widespread GM crop growing in the bloc, writes Anthony
Fletcher.Although unpopular with many European consumers, a UK
government adviser argues that such a move would be of benefit to

In a recent interview with the UK's Guardian​ newspaper, Chris Pollock, director of the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research, the government-funded research centre for science in agriculture and the environment, says that the technology is necessary not just to improve agriculture, but to stay competitive.

"If the UK is going to play some part in a global agricultural market, any new technology that reduces the price of a crop will have to be taken up if you are not to be at a disadvantage,"​ he told the newspaper. "Developed countries need to implement new technologies to stay ahead of the game."

Pollock also argues that GM technology may provide new ways of improving the countryside. If the technology allows farmers to produce the same yields from smaller acreages, then this would leave more land aside for wildlife.

He also dismisses hysterical food safety worries about the technology. "There's no good scientific reason, in my view, for saying GM crops will innately cause problems purely because they are genetically modified,"​ he told the newspaper.

"As a technophile, my argument would be that ever since the invention of the internal combustion engine, we've managed technology, with mistakes, but we've managed it to the extent that life expectancy continues to go up at a year a decade."

Pollock believes that the consumer will ultimately be better off if they are introduced. "Historically, every time you do something more efficiently, what happens is the price falls."

The battle over GM crops is still raging in Europe. EU trade commissioner Pascal Lamy stoked the flames this week by telling Reuters​ it is likely that there will be new GM authorisations in the future. "It has to be agreed by a majority of member nations but, in the end, it's the Commission that decides,"​ he said.

Any such developments will be bitterly opposed by environmental groups, who argue that any introduction of GM foods is the thin end of the wedge. They fear that once GM crops are grown on the continent, they will contaminate non-GM crops and consumers will have no choice at all over GM food.

Pete Riley, a GM campaigner with UK-based pressure group Friends of the Earth, takes rapeseed as an example.

"The fact is that oil seed rape is a very small seed, and can easily be blown around,"​ he said. "The pollen can spread several kilometres. This means that genetically modified seeds are easily blown onto non-GM farmland, and these 'volunteer' crops, as they are called, are finding their way into our food chain whether we like it or not."

The international dispute over GM is also far from over. In 2003, the United States, backed by Canada and Argentina, challenged the EU's five-year ban on genetically modified foods. European farm ministers are set to meet next month to debate dropping the ban by authorising a new biotech sweetcorn variety to be sold in shops.

But the EU is also expected to enforce new rules on labelling GM foods and tracing food from farm to table. The US is already complaining that the European regulations will be unworkable, and farm groups have been looking at the possibility of taking the EU before the World Trade Organisation.

Related topics: Processing & Packaging

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