UK – UK agriculture is a high-tech industry and it needs high-tech solutions to problems such as disease, writes Chris Harris.This was the message from the UK’s Environment Secretary Owen Paterson to the National Farmers’ Union conference in Birmingham.
Mr Paterson told the conference that the industry and the government needs to work together to improve market conditions for innovative genetically modified products.
He said that a greater openness on the issue will give farmers access to tools that are needed to produce food as efficiently and sustainably as possible.
“We need to make the case for GM to the public, with a balanced understanding of the risks and benefits,” Mr Paterson said.
“I fully appreciate the strong feelings on both sides of the debate, but we shouldn’t forget that respected scientific opinion, including that of the European Commission’s own Chief Scientist, shows that GM crops pose no greater risk than conventional crops.”
Mr Paterson said that the most recent statistics show that 170 million hectares of GM crops were grown globally in 2012.
“That’s over 12 per cent of the world’s arable land,” Mr Paterson said.
He said it is a land area seven times the area of the UK and represents a 100 fold increase since 1996.
Mr Paterson added that more than 90m per cent of Brazilian soy is GM and it is estimated to be 30 per cent more cost effective.
He added that GM crops are now being cultivated commercially in Australia, Canada and South Africa and the rest of the world is moving ahead with the new technology and is leaving Europe behind.
He said the decision by BASF to withdraw its blight resistant potato from the EU regulatory process should act as a wake-up call to the European farming sector and regulators.
“We must address the paralysis in the current system,” Mr Paterson said.