Voices 01/07/2013

UK weolcome GM business

UK was the natural home for scientific research and that the Government would work with companies to overcome any barriers to them setting up here.

Since 1996 there has been a 100-fold increase in the use of GM. Last year, GM crops were grown by 17.3 million farmers in 28 countries on 170 million hectares. That’s 12 per cent of global 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 was. The UK should be at the forefront of that now, as it was then.

Used properly, 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.

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 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.

GM 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.

di Owen Paterson