UK government stands behind GM

By Lorraine Heller

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Gm crops Genetic engineering Agriculture Genetically modified food Gm

The UK’s environment minister has challenged claims by Prince Charles that genetically modified (GM) crops are causing environmental damage.

The comments, made in an interview with the UK paper The Sunday Telegraph, came after Prince Charles called GM a “gigantic experiment with nature and the whole of humanity which has gone seriously wrong”.

Environment minister Phil Woolas said the government has a responsibility to base policy on science, and to look into whether genetically modified crops could help provide a solution to hunger in the developing world.

“It’s easy for those of us with plentiful food supplies to ignore the issue, but we have a responsibility to use science to help the less well off where we can. I’m asking to see the evidence. If it has been a disaster, then please provide the evidence.”

He said unless there was scientific evidence that proved that GM crops have done harm, the government would move ahead with GM crop trials and towards a more “liberal” ​regime in Britain.

Earlier this month, Prince Charles had told The Daily Telegraph that future reliance on corporations to mass-produce food would drive millions of farmers off their land.

He said the debate should be about “food security not food production”.

The government’s initial reaction was to say it welcomed all voices in the debate, with safety being a priority.

GM debate

The two opposing camps have long held strong views on the controversial technology.

GM supporters argue higher yields​ and therefore greater profitability could help combat food prices​, which have been on the rise over the past years.

However, green campaigners have expressed concerns that the long-term safety of GM crops has not been established. Additionally, they say there is no evidence suggesting GM can lead to increased production.

UK support?

In June, Woolas is said to have held private talks with the Agricultural Biotechnology Council about increasing Britain's acceptance of GM crops.

The following day, Prime Minister Gordon Brown also expressed support for the controversial technology. He called for the EU to relax regulations governing the import of genetically modified feed, which currently see all incoming shipments of feed undergoing strict testing, and any batches containing unapproved GM traces sent back.

A recent report by UK-based PG Economics called Global impact of biotech crops: socio-economic and environmental effects 1996-2006 said the present food supply crisis would be worse if it were not for commercial cultivation of GM crops over the last 12 years.

Global production of soybeans, corn, cotton and canola were respectively 5 per cent, 1.4 per cent, 5.2 per cent, and 0.5 per cent higher that they would have been if farmers were not using GM technology, said the report.

Nathalie Moll, executive director for EuropaBio, which represents the biotech industry, said the UK has always been very coherent and consistent in its decisions surrounding GM, and the group welcomed Brown's increased support.

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