GM Free Cymru

Paterson's GMO delusion

Date Added to website 30 June 2013

After a few months of heavy hints and occasional direct comments from Environment Secretary Owen Paterson on the supposed benefits of GMOs, last week he came out with all guns blazing. In a meticulously prepared and stage managed performance at Rothamsted, in the full glare of all the publicity that DEFRA could muster, Paterson showed the world just how besotted he is with GMOs and the GM industry -- and how ill-informed he is about the environmental and health effects of GMOs on the farm and in the food chain. There was of course saturation coverage in the press, on radio and TV, but there was much more questioning and criticism than Paterson bargained for, and large sections of the media pointed out the fundamental errors in parts of his speech, and the highly selective nature of his arguments. Not least, the journalists covering the speech pointed out over and again that he was seeking to justify a "glamorous" technology as a way forward for Britain, while apparently failing to notice that there is profound scepticism about GMOs in Britain and -- even more to the point -- no market for the products which the GM industry wants to foist on British consumers. A number of commentators pointed out that GM technology is not glamorous and high-status at all, but is in reality an old technology that has failed to deliver on its promises. But no matter what anybody else (including the British consumer) might think, Paterson seems convinced that "education" is all that is needed to bring the public on board -- and in this noble aspiration he is cheered on by GM proponents like Chris Pollock of ACRE and the lobbyists of the biotechnology industry who seem to have open access to Paterson and other Government ministers. That is the extent of his delusion -- and it is increasingly apparent that with respect to the health and environmental problems associated with GMOs Paterson operates a "don't look, don't see" policy, taking very great care who he talks to and who he listens to. In ensuring that he shields himself from anything inconvenient in the matter of GMOs, senior DEFRA civil servants are also culpable. After all, they are the ones who probably wrote his speech, and who have now themselves demonstrated how poorly informed they are on key issues. interestingly. Paterson has received only lukewarm support from his own Government colleagues, and both Cameron and Clegg seem to have been embarrassed by the speech, and seem to be keen to show that they do not necessarily share Paterson's enthusiasm for this controversial technology. We may therefore safely assume that the Environment secretary's days are numbered, and that it will not be very long before he is put out to grass.

In the meantime, because the speech is out there in the glare of maximum publicity, it has to be dealt with. The articles below cover most of the key points in the speech, but not many commentators have covered the health and safety angles. Paterson (see the speech transcript below) claims that in Europe we have the best safety assurance system in the world, based on a science-based regulatory system. He cites Ann Glover's oft-repeated lie ""There is no substantiated case of any adverse impact on human health, animal health or environmental health" and appears to believe it -- which goes to show just how ill-informed he is himself. He also claims that there have been 50 EU-funded projects on GM safety which have found "no harm" and which have concluded that GM foods are probably safer than non-GM foods. That is of course nonsense -- none of the EU projects was a properly designed long-term feeding study designed to establish GMO toxicity or safety. And it's deeply ironic that on the one hand Paterson should be extolling the virtues of the EU regulatory system while on the other hand actively seeking to dismantle or destroy it!

Paterson has rightly come in for heavy criticism for his statements on Golden Rice -- and for trotting out the absurd line that seven million children have gone blind or have died because of opposition to Golden Rice. As others have pointed out, the Golden Rice developers have not gone through any of the appropriate procedures for testing, regulating and releasing Golden Rice into the market place. They have maintained the pretence that Golden Rice is not a GM product, in a deliberate attempt to muddy the waters and to drive a Trojan Horse through the regulatory system in the Philippines and elsewhere. They have conducted unethical tests on children in China, and have had to cope with a major PR backlash as a result. The Golden Rice developers are their own worst enemies, and if Paterson does not know that he should be ashamed of himself and angry with those who are supposed to brief him.

And on safety issues generally, it is extraordinary that in a speech purporting to be full of respect for sound science and good evidence, there should be no mention at all of the accumulating evidence of harm arising from the consumption of GMOs either on the farm or in the home. Paterson appears to be blissfully unaware of ANY evidence showing harmful effects of growing and consuming GMOs, either directly or indirectly. He must indeed be well protected by his minders if he has not noticed the furore surrounding either the 2012 Seralini et al paper or the 2013 Carman et al paper demonstrating real harm to mammals given GMOs and traces of Roundup in their diets in carefully controlled experiments:‎ "A long-term toxicology study on pigs fed a combined genetically modified (GM) soy and GM corn maize diet" (2013) by Dr Judy Carman, Howard Vlieger, Dr Larry Ver Steeg, Veryln Sneller, Dr Garth Robinson, Dr Kate Clinch-Jones, Dr Julie Haynes and Dr John Edwards. Journal of Organic Systems, Vol 8. No 1 (2013), pp 38-54 "Long term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize" (2012) by Gilles-Eric Séralini , Emilie Clair, Robin Mesnage, Steeve Gress, Nicolas Defarge, Manuela Malatesta, Didier Hennequin, Joël Spiroux de Vendômois. Food and Chemical Toxicology Volume 50, Issue 11, November 2012, Pages 4221–4231

This is not just a matter of scientific debate, and the Environment Secretary should know that there are real animal welfare concerns also related to the use of GMO feed in pig farming, for example, as highlighted last year by Danish pig farmer Ib Pedersen: GM Soy linked to health damage in pigs -- a Danish Dossier

Paterson should know that these studies are not isolated, unique or unexpected. There are hundreds of studies in the literature which demonstrate that the results obtained by scientists like Carman and Seralini are exactly in line with earlier results published in the peer-reviewd literature, and indeed they conform with biological norms, given that GMOs and Roundup herbicide introduce novel proteins and toxic chemicals into the food chain. It would indeed be nothing short of a miracle if there were NO chronic toxic effects. Our Secretary of State does himself -- and all of us who are taxpayers and consumers -- no credit at all by entirely ignoring this powerful scientific evidence, while trotting out a string of old and tired platitudes about the supposed wonders of GM technology.

The following articles are very useful -- and at the end of this post we reproduce the full text of the Paterson speech.

UK Environment Secretary suffering from GM delusion

by Pete Riley

(Pete Riley, campaign director at GM Freeze argues that Defra are cherry picking their science to fit their agenda, disregarding the real needs of both people and planet.....)

In his recent speech at Rothamsted Research, Defra Secretary of State Owen Paterson called on Europe to speed up the approval of GM crops to give UK farmers access to the technology and begin a new agricultural revolution.

Paterson's thesis is that GM crops can reduce pesticide and fertiliser use, bring higher yields and lower costs. According to Mr Paterson they bring "a wealth of benefits" to people, the environment and the economy.

He blames the EU's precautionary approach to GM for delaying the march of GM herbicide tolerant (GMHT) and insect resistant crops across EU farmland, and says he is keen that decisions on approvals should be science based.

This is where his argument starts to look shaky. Somehow during the last 9 years he and his officials seem to have forgotten that in 2004 the UK government announced it would not approve GMHT oilseed rape and beet because the four-year Field Scale Evaluations (FSE) found they were more harmful to wildlife than the conventional weed control in these crops.

The FSE scientists found that the GM weed control regime caused a significant decrease in weed cover and weed seed production and there would be knock-on effect for insects and farmland birds, which need the weeds and their seeds for food and shelter.

In the years since the UK decision GMHT crops have not been approved in the EU despite numerous attempts and several pending applications because of concerns about their safety and environmental impact.

In the meantime, the emerging evidence of the harm caused by, and unsustainable nature of, GMHT crops grown in the Americas retrospectively backs up the UK's decision to say "no" - and reinforces Europe's precautionary stance. Monsanto's Roundup Ready (RR) soya dominates the North and South American seed markets to the extent that in Argentina and the US it is now very hard for farmers to buy non-GM soya varieties.

These GM crops were designed to use Roundup as the primary, or only, means of weed control, and in the early stages this enabled farmers to achieve a very high level of weed control. In the US Midwest soya and maize belt GM HT crops, led to the virtual elimination of Milkweed from arable fields. Milkweed is the main food plant for Monarch butterfly larvae, and its removal from RR soya and maize crops started a fifteen year decline in the population of this iconic species. Unfortunately, the US never bothered with FSE type trials before approving RR crops, which would have helped predict what has happened to the Monarch population.

Eventually overreliance on Roundup has also resulted in the very rapid growth in weed numbers and species resistant to glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup. Now farmers growing RR crops are offered a menu of seven different herbicides to use with it to prevent the resistance problem getting worse. Herbicide use is increasing under GM, not declining.

During the period of rapid resistance development from 2003-11 the USDA and two state universities conducted a long-term trial comparing yields and chemical use in two-, three- and four-year crop rotations. The results of the trial showed that the four-year non-GM rotation (which received manure), reduced fertiliser use by 83%, herbicide use by 87%, resulted in higher yields of maize and soya and reduced fossil fuel use by 49%, compared to the two year GM rotation of maize and soya. This four-year non-GM rotation produced similar profits to the GM system, but it employed more people and resulted in a massive reduction in water pollution.

Paterson's speech paid little attention to such research. Defra are cherry picking their science to fit their agenda. Paterson seized upon the potential for GM to produce drought tolerant maize, but conveniently forgot, or doesn't realise, that non-GM drought tolerant varieties are already available. The advantage of the non-GM approach is that no one holds patents on the genes involved, so others can use them to breed more varieties. Paterson praised experimental GM blight resistant potatoes, but forgot to mention the conventionally-bred varieties already sold by the UK's own Sárvári Research Trust.

Almost inevitably Paterson mentioned the Holy Grail of GM scientists - nitrogen fixing cereals. His assumption is that it will happen someday, but there are serious scientific doubts about this. The biggest problem is that to genetically modify such plants, nitrogen fixing bacterium must be coerced to behave symbiotically in cereals (as they do in clover).

This is far beyond what genetic engineers have achieved so far. Even natural evolutionary processes have failed to produce any nitrogen fixing grasses. The reason for this may lie in the fact that converting atmospheric nitrogen into nitrate is an energy intensive process and puts a big demand on the plant's resources. In cereals this is likely to affect yield of grain. The answer is to put money into optimising the benefits of nitrogen fixing crops in arable rotations.

Paterson also ignores the evidence that according to the UK's Home Grown Cereals Authority problems such as poor soil structure, mineral deficiency and short rotations are reducing the potential yields of current cereal varieties. There was no acknowledgement in the Paterson speech that these could be addressed by the sort of agronomy crops used in the US's rotation trials.

As with commercial GM proponents, Paterson focuses on what might someday be achieved rather than the scientific barriers to that achievement. He blames the public for failing to recognise that GM crops are "safe and beneficial", but it is unclear how he intends to overcome the lack of markets for GM crops in Europe, which has caused Monsanto, BASF, Bayer and Syngenta all to concentrate on non-GM aspects of their businesses here.

It is equally unclear how Paterson thinks it will be possible for the UK to "go it alone" on GM when we have signed up to the EU's regulatory system that has so far prevented the adoption of GMHT crops. If the UK were to produce GM crops how would this impact upon our export to Europe when consumer opposition to GM is high in many countries? Mr Paterson's arguments have failed to convince the Scottish and Welsh governments that they should abandon their opposition to GM crops, so how he will convince the EU remains a mystery.

The main reason for Paterson's promotion of GM crops appears to be his belief that it's needed to build the UK's high tech exports, which will be set out shortly in the Government's Agri-Tech Strategy. Mr Paterson appears blinded by technology and fails to address the real needs of farmers, consumers and the planet.

If Mr Paterson's wants a food system that serves the needs of everyone he needs to listen instead of trying to buck the market by forcing through GM crops.


See also this excellent coverage (with links to key references) of the Paterson speech:

Paterson sings from GM industry's hymn sheet

Thursday, 20 June 2013 21:49

1.Paterson's pro-GM speech raises questions about his role in Government 2.Owen Patterson on GM crops - Greenpeace response 3.Paterson Sings from GM Industry's Hymn Sheet


(This is a transcript of what Paterson actually said. It is nothing short of an extended puff for the GM industry, full of disingenuous statements, half truths and misunderstandings. It is entirely lacking in balance, and while Paterson (of course) claims to want everything to be science-led and evidence-based, this is so selective and biased as to be laughable. In places it is emotional and almost hysterical. It could have been written by the PR people from the Biotechnology industry -- and indeed it probably was. NOTE: in the transcript as received, all uses of the term "GM" had mysteriously disappeared. I have tried to put them back in, but there may be places in the text where I have failed to make the necessary insertions.)

Rt Hon Owen Paterson MP speech to Rothamsted Research Organisation: Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs Delivered on: 20 June 2013 Policy: Making the food and farming industry more competitive while protecting the environment Minister: The Rt Hon Owen Paterson MP

Speech made by Owen Paterson on GM technology. Originally given at Rothamsted Research. This is a transcript of the speech, exactly as it was delivered.


Thank you all for coming this morning. There is no better venue at which to initiate a discussion about GM technology and the role it can play in helping us meet future challenges than here at Rothamsted Research – the joint home of the Norman Borlaug Institute for Global Food Security. Back in the 1940s, against a backdrop of war, famine and political instability, Borlaug helped initiate what became known as the Green Revolution. This revolution saw a series of technological advances transform crop production in developing countries. It's no exaggeration that Borlaug is referred to as "the man who saved a billion lives". His example demonstrates what mankind can achieve through the application of science. More than 70 years on from that pioneering work, the challenges facing us are no less daunting with the world's population expected to grow from 7 billion to 9 billion by 2050. As the recent Foresight Report set out, we must achieve "sustainable intensification" if we are to feed ourselves. The era of complacency about food production must come to an end. I believe that it's time to start a more informed discussion about the potential of genetically modified crops. A discussion that enables to be considered in its proper overall context with a balanced understanding of the risks and benefits. While I believe that there are significant economic, environmental and international development benefits to GM , I am conscious of the views of those who have concerns and who need reassurance on this matter. I recognise that we – government, industry, the scientific community and others – owe a duty to the British public to reassure them that GM is a safe, proven and beneficial innovation. We must lead this discussion, explaining to the public not only what GM technology is but also how it can help.

Technological Advances

The recent OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook for 2012 to 2021 concluded that agricultural production needs to increase by 60 per cent over the next 40 years to meet the rising demand for food. Our growing population will put further pressures on land, energy and water - creating a food security risk. We need to adopt new technologies, of which GM is one, if we are to combat this. Borlaug and others harnessed innovation to completely change the way we farm. For example, it has been estimated that the production of a given quantity of a crop now requires 65 per cent less land than it did in 1961. Between 1967 and 2007 world food production increased by 115 per cent but land use only increased by eight per cent. Indur Goklany has calculated that if we tried to support today's population using the production methods of the 1950s, instead of farming 38 per cent of all land, we would need to use 82 per cent. The political debate here in Britain in recent decades has been based on a false premise: that we can either produce more or look after the environment. The truth is we need to do both and we won't be able to do so unless we embrace innovation in all areas – agriculture, agronomy, commerce and technology. We have been adapting genetics through plant breeding for centuries. Recent advances such as the sequencing of the wheat genome by UK scientists and the development of "superwheat" over at NIAB in Cambridge show what can be done with conventional cross-breeding. But we'll need to use all available tools if we are to address the serious challenges we face. Used properly, the advanced plant-breeding technique of GM promises effective ways to protect or increase crop yields. It can also combat the damaging effects of unpredictable weather and disease on crops. It has the potential to reduce fertiliser and chemical use, improve the efficiency of agricultural production and reduce post-harvest losses. Even more excitingly, if we use cultivated land more efficiently, we could free up space for biodiversity, nature and wilderness. Something I know a number of commentators have been calling for. Research undertaken by a team at Rockefeller University has found that over the course of the next 50 years new technology, combined with improved agricultural practices across the world, could release an area 2.5 times the size of France from cultivation.

Global Position

Since 1996 there has been a 100-fold increase in the global use of GMOs. Last year, GM crops were grown by 17.3 million farmers in 28 countries on 170 million hectares. That's 12 per cent of all arable land – an area around 7 times the size of the United Kingdom. Farmers wouldn't grow these crops if they didn't benefit from doing so. Governments wouldn't licence these technologies if they didn't recognise the economic, environmental and public benefits. Consumers wouldn't buy these products if they didn't think they were safe and cost effective. At the moment Europe is missing out. Less than 0.1% of global GM cultivation occurred in the EU. While the rest of the world is ploughing ahead and reaping the benefits of new technologies, Europe risks being left behind. We cannot afford to let that happen. The use of GM could be as transformative as the original agricultural revolution. The UK should be at the forefront of that, now, as it was then. I want the UK to have a leading role in feeding the world and increasing the resilience of global food supplies, not standing by watching others take the lead and forge ahead. The UK is the natural home for GM science research. I want companies and research providers to know that the UK is the best place for them to carry out their GM work. If there are barriers preventing them from undertaking their activities here, this Government will help overcome them.

Economic Benefits

The current range of GM crops was designed to offer farmers easier, quicker and cheaper control over pests or weeds. Evidence demonstrates that they have delivered on this, providing economic benefits for farmers and consumers alike. Europe benefits hugely from the GM crops grown in the rest of the world. The EU is the world's biggest net importer of agricultural goods and we rely on shipments of key commodities to support our livestock system. According to the European Feed Manufacturers Association, about 85 per cent of the EU's compound livestock feed production is now labelled to indicate that it contains GM-derived material. In April, four of our major supermarket chains announced that they could no longer guarantee that no GM feed would be used in the production of their own-brand eggs and poultry due to the difficulty and expense of securing non-GM feed. This was a necessary step and the supermarkets were right to make it absolutely clear that the use of such products in no way constitutes a food safety issue. Such transparency is vital to ensure that consumers are able to make an informed choice. At the beginning of the year I met the Brazilian Agriculture Minister in Berlin. He told me that GM soya is 30 per cent more cost effective than conventional soya. Soya is a key protein source for our livestock. It's an integral part of the global food system. Farmers worldwide grow GM soya because it makes business sense for them to do so. The adoption rates for GM soya stand at 88 per cent in Brazil, 93 per cent in the US and 100 per cent in Argentina. Europe imports GM soya from those countries because it makes economic sense for us to do so. Sourcing non- soya can now cost between an extra £100-150 per tonne. Without imports of GM crops our food and particularly meat products would be more expensive. We're not just talking about food though. GM cotton is a real success story. More than two-thirds of global cotton production is now GM-based, so it's likely that the majority of you in this room are wearing clothes made from GM crops. GM cotton provides farmers with in-built protection against pests which can otherwise halve yields. So the farmer benefits through insurance against losses and reduced input costs. There are environmental benefits through reduced insecticide use. The impacts of this are profound, particularly in developing countries where cotton tends to be grown. India went from being a net importer of cotton to a major exporter within a decade of GM cotton being approved in 2002. It is estimated that there has been a 216-fold increase in GM cotton uptake in India from 2002 to 2012. This translates to an enhanced farm income from cotton of some $12.6 billion for Indian farmers, coupled with a 24 per cent increase in yield per acre and a 50 per cent gain in cotton profit among smallholders. Simultaneously, the quantity of insecticides used to control cotton bollworm reduced by 96 per cent from over 5,700 metric tonnes to as low as 222 metric tonnes of active ingredient in 2011.

Pest and Disease Resistance

GM has already been used to make crops that can resist attack from specific insect pests or plant diseases. Other traits are being developed, including using scientific expertise here in the UK. The fungal disease late-blight remains a significant problem for potato growers. Tackling blight can require up to 15 separate fungicide applications a year. Before we skim over that fact, in practical terms that might see a heavy sprayer criss-crossing a field, burning diesel, compacting the soil, spraying the crop including surrounding plants and insects and emitting fumes. All this, up to 15 times a year. The total annual cost to the UK of controlling this disease is around £60 million and even then crops can still be affected. Both the Sainsbury Laboratory and BASF have trialled different types of GM blight- resistant potato in the UK. If this type of crop can be successfully deployed, it could deliver both economic and environmental benefits. As well as protection against devastating plant diseases, inputs like pesticides and fuel could be dramatically reduced. I'm dismayed by BASF's recent decision to withdraw their Blight Resistant Potato from the EU approvals system. I don't blame BASF. They simply took a commercial decision in response to current market and regulatory conditions. But the fact that those conditions have deteriorated to the point where a potentially economically beneficial and environmentally friendly crop has no prospect of gaining market access should be a wake-up call.

Environmental Benefits

Thanks to biotechnology, farmers around the world have been able to protect yields, prevent damage from insects and pests and reduce farming's impact on the environment. There is also evidence which points to GM crops delivering further environmental benefits such as reduced soil erosion and reduced use of fuel and chemicals. We are currently debating the effects of pesticides on bees and other insects. In other parts of the world where crops are grown, plants are better protected against pests and insects are better protected against accidentally being sprayed. I recently spoke to a farmer in North Carolina who has been able to do away with all of his spraying equipment as a result of technology. The farmer benefits. The consumer benefits. The environment benefits.

Nitrogen Use Efficiency

Enabling crops to use nitrogen more efficiently would mean less artificial fertiliser and reduced fuel use. Such traits are currently being developed commercially and field trials of nitrogen-efficient GM wheat and barley are scheduled to take place in Australia between 2013 and 2015.

Nitrogen Fixation

In the longer term, research is underway into developing cereal crops that can 'fix' their own nitrogen. This could largely remove the need for farmers to apply chemical fertilisers. The environmental benefits of these kinds of GM crops are huge. Less spraying. Fewer chemicals going onto crops and the surrounding area. Fewer applications requiring less fuel. Less run off into our sensitive and vitally important water courses. The challenge here is enormous, as are the potential benefits. This is why I welcome the £6.4 million grant provided by the Gates Foundation last year to the John Innes Centre at Norwich to research this. This type of large-scale investment into a global problem using UK scientific expertise is something we should be proud of. I hope other research providers will look to the UK first when making their investment decisions.

International Benefits

The benefits of do not just extend to developed countries. It's estimated that around 90 per cent of those farmers who grew GM crops in 2012 were small, resource- poor farmers in developing countries. Over 7 million farmers in China and a further 7 million farmers in India decided to grow insect-resistant GM cotton because of the significant benefits. A drought-tolerant GM maize is now being grown in the USA and is undergoing field trials in Kenya, South Africa and Uganda. The Australians are currently researching drought-tolerant wheat. The potential for such crops to make a real difference to some of the world's poorest countries is tremendous. As well as drought-tolerance, scientists are also exploring the possible development of other GM crops which are flood-tolerant, salt-tolerant or resistant to extreme temperature fluctuations. All of these promise to allow agricultural production on land previously considered marginal. In Uganda, field trials of disease-resistant and nutritionally-enhanced bananas are at an advanced stage. Nigerian scientists have responded to the devastating economic impact of the "mung moth" on the blackeyed pea harvest by developing a pest resistant GM variety. Nigerian farmers currently lose nearly £200 million worth of crops to the parasite each year and spend a further £300 million importing pesticides to deal with it.


There are also GM crops in the pipeline promising health and nutritional benefits, the impact of which could be most acutely felt in the developing world. GM crops with enhanced omega-3 properties are now close to market. Nigeria is undertaking field trials of bio-fortified cassava and sorghum with enhanced vitamin A and iron content. Golden Rice was first created in 1999 by German professors Potrykus and Beyer and a not-for-profit independent research institute to help tackle vitamin A deficiency. It is the leading cause of irreversible blindness in children. The World Health Organisation estimates that this results in up to 500,000 children going blind a year – 250,000 of whom will lose their lives within a year. The problem is particularly severe in South East Asia. Golden Rice was only possible as a result of genetic engineering. We should all reflect on the fact that it is 15 years since it was developed and attempts to deploy it have been thwarted. This is despite the seeds being offered for free to those who need them most. In that time, more than seven million children gone blind or died. Biotechnology can also help develop plant made pharmaceuticals which produce proteins that can be used, for example, in influenza vaccines or for insulin production. GM offers real opportunities to develop crops that provide better resilience to extremes of weather and land conditions. There is the potential to add extra nutrients that can directly help people in developing countries who are vulnerable to nutrient deficiencies in their diets. As the world's population continues to increase, access to these technologies becomes even more important.


As with all technologies, public and environmental safety is paramount. The reality is that in Europe and elsewhere, GM is perhaps the most regulated of all agricultural technologies. There are some that describe GM crops as "Frankenfoods", deliberately termed to imply that they pose a risk to human health and the environment. The truth is that GM products are subject to extensive testing and development in tightly controlled conditions – progressing from laboratory, to glasshouse, to field trials only when it's safe to do so. After all of the pre-commercial testing, marketing applications for GM products must undergo a comprehensive case-by-case scientific risk assessment. This is undertaken by independent scientists in the European Food Safety Authority. In the UK, we also receive independent GM advice from committees of world-leading scientific experts. Over the past 25 years the EU alone has funded more than 50 projects on GM safety involving more than 400 independent research groups at a cost of around £260 million. Summary reports produced by the European Commission in 2000 and in 2010 reached two powerful conclusions: First, there was no scientific evidence associating GMOs with higher risks for the environment or for food and feed safety than conventional plants and organisms. Second, the use of more precise technology and the greater regulatory scrutiny probably makes GMOs even safer than conventional plants and food. The European Commission's Chief Scientist Professor Anne Glover has recently said that "There is no substantiated case of any adverse impact on human health, animal health or environmental health". Weed resistance is also often highlighted as an environmental problem associated with crops but it's something that occurs in conventional cropping too. It's not a GM issue, it's a crop management issue. Farmers of both types of crops can take steps to mitigate against this, through effective management of rotations. Concerns have also been voiced about the ability for GM crops to co-exist alongside conventional and organic agriculture. I would like to assure the public that this is an issue that we take seriously. As and when GM crops come through which could be grown here, we will introduce measures to segregate them from conventional and organic crops so that all economic interests are protected. Agriculture is a highly segregated sector. Even though we don't currently grow any GM crops commercially, our industry is already able to protect the integrity of crops intended for different market outlets. They do this, for example, to maintain the vigour of conventional hybrid seeds. We also have the experience of other countries who are growing GM crops and the European Bureau, which issues best practice guidelines for the effective management of crops. With regard to consumer choice, I would like to make clear that no-one, least of all me, is suggesting the wholesale adoption of GM in the UK's food chain. I believe that people should be able to walk into a supermarket and choose whether to buy local organic potatoes or those produced from a blight-resistant GM variety grown in the UK. Whatever the product, whatever its origin, people should be confident in the knowledge that it is safe to eat and grown sustainably. Our policy should be based on sound science and strong safeguards. No-one wants to see a biotech monoculture in UK farming. Diversity and choice are a force for good.

Current EU situation

I am convinced that the EU has the most robust and comprehensive safety system for GMOs in the world. Not only do we have access to independent scientists in the European Food Safety Authority but there are scientific and regulatory authorities in each of the Member States who will assess GM crops and products before they are approved for use. As I have already outlined, the EU is already a mass consumer of GM crops – primarily through imports of livestock feed. More than 40 GM products have received the necessary approval for food and feed use in the EU without any health or environmental issues arising. Despite this, the picture is very different when it comes to the approval of GM crops which are destined to be grown within the EU. Only 1 GM crop has been approved for cultivation in the last 14 years. products which have passed the safety assessments remain stuck in the pipeline. I sympathise with the European Commissioner who has to grapple with divergent views across the EU. While I acknowledge the views of other Member States, I want British researchers and farmers to be able to develop the latest GM technologies so that they can reap the economic and environmental benefits. At the moment we are expecting them to respond to the challenges of global food security with one hand tied behind their back. This is deeply regrettable. It means that the prospect of GM crops coming through which offer solutions to UK-specific problems are many years away. We risk driving scientific and intellectual capital away from Europe for good. This will reduce our ability to develop and deploy crucial tools which could help ensure European agricultural production meets future demands while protecting the environment. We need evidence-based GM regulation and decision making in the EU. Consumers need accurate information in order to make informed choices. The market should then decide if a GM product is viable. Farmers are also consumers but right now that market is not functioning and they are being denied choice. That's why I want to explore ways of getting the EU system working, as this will encourage further GM investment and innovation. I'm not in any way suggesting that EU GM safeguards should be watered down. They are vital. But we must find a way to allow fair market access for GM products which have undergone a rigorous case by case safety assessment.

Impact of EU's position on the developing world

In April 2012, Ministers from 24 African states signed a joint communiqué which endorsed the use of biotechnology as one means of enhancing agricultural productivity in Africa. Yet there is evidence that the EU's treatment of GM is having a detrimental impact on developing countries. Europe's attitude to GM is interpreted as a sign that the technology is dangerous. And this can generate unwarranted resistance to the technology in the parts of the world that most need access to agricultural innovations. Developing countries also fear being locked out of EU markets if they use a GM crop that is unapproved in the EU. Only recently, Professor Calestous Juma argued that the current GM situation "Was to the great detriment of Africa" and that "Opposition to new technologies may cast a dark shadow over the prospects of feeding the world." We have a responsibility in the EU to ensure that we set the right framework to enable developing countries to take their own informed decisions about whether GM solutions are appropriate for them.

UK Science and Research

I would like to pay tribute to the pioneering research into GM technology which is taking place in the UK, not just here at Rothamsted but at places like the John Innes Centre, the Sainsbury Laboratory, Leeds University and many others. We have a world class science and research base and the expertise to develop the GM tools needed to address global challenges. We should rightly celebrate and be proud of this. There are opportunities to push ourselves even further. We in Britain have the science, the technology, the know-how to lead the world in this field. We must use our nation's rich history of science and innovation as a stepping stone to the future. GM crops offer a genuine prospect of high-yielding, low-or-no chemical agricultural production. If we want to reduce the use of chemicals in agriculture, while safeguarding yields and maintaining efficient production, we need to encourage GM innovation not deter it. The work taking place at Rothamsted on aphid resistant wheat is cutting-edge. It is precisely the type of pioneering science that we are famous for. When it comes to developing and benefiting from GM technology I want the UK to be at the forefront of the global race, not watching from the sidelines.

Agri-tech Strategy

The Agri-tech Strategy that David Willetts and I are collaborating on is aimed at ensuring just that and will be launched shortly. The aim is to turn innovative new ideas into practical applications, processes and products. We need to take advantage of opportunities to export UK agri-tech skills and services. GM is, however, only one of many agricultural technologies that we want to encourage. The clear message I want to convey today on behalf of the Government is that we already have a world class plant science community, and we want the UK to be the best place in the world for research into agricultural science and technology. That includes GM. The Government wants to roll out the red carpet for potential GM researchers and developers. We want to work with you to overcome barriers to GM research and development into and other GM applications being undertaken here.


To conclude, the problems we face in feeding ourselves in 40 years' time are very real and something we have to prepare for right now. We should all keep one fact at the front of our minds. At this very moment there are one billion people on this planet who are chronically hungry. Are we really going to look them in the eye and say "We have the proven GM technology to help, but the issue's just too difficult to deal with, it's just too controversial"? It won't be long until the population moves from seven billion to nine billion and we'll have even fewer resources to feed them. It is our duty to explore technologies like GM because they may hold the answers to the very serious challenges ahead. This isn't necessarily about making life easier for farmers or making their businesses more profitable, although I believe that there are great opportunities for the industry. It's about finding non-chemical solutions to pests and diseases. It's about fortifying food with vitamin A so that children in the poorest countries don't go blind or die. It's about making crops durable enough to survive sustained drought. It's about developing new medicines. It's about feeding families in some of the poorest parts of the world. We cannot expect to feed tomorrow's population with yesterday's agriculture. We have to use every tool at our disposal. While I fully understand and respect the different opinions that exist on this issue, part of the discussion I hope today will initiate will be around the body of scientific evidence behind this technology, the rigorous controls that are already in place and the wealth of benefits on offer. But it isn't just for government to make the case. Industry, the scientific and research community, retailers, NGOs, civic society and the media all have a role to play in ensuring that this GM discussion is constructive, well informed and evidence-led. I would like all those here today to play their part. I'll back you all the way.