UK must have power to decide on GM crops, say MPs

GM crops are an indispensable tool in the fight against global hunger and the UK should retain ultimate power to decide on the technology, MP's have claimed.

The Government’s Science and Technology Committee published a report on Thursday claiming that current EU policy is “not fit for purpose” and is “risking the UK’s ability to be a global player in advancing agricultural technology”.

Committee chair Andrew Miller said: “Opposition to genetically modified crops in many European countries is based on values and politics, not science. The scientific evidence is clear that crops developed using genetic modification pose no more risk to humans, animals or the environment than equivalent crops developed using more ‘conventional’ techniques.

“Unfortunately, the way the EU’s regulatory system works means that countries opposed to genetically modified crops can block their growth in other countries.”

The EU recently agreed to give individual nations more power to decide on GM crops, but the report argues more radical reform is needed. Miller concluded that the UK must repatriate national decision making on food and crop safety for the benefit of farmers, consumers and UK agricultural science.

Sustainable food supply?

Science groups welcomed the report, particularly its potential impact on food shortages. Professor Ottoline Leyser from the University of Cambridge said:“I particularly welcome the call to reframe and widen the debate around how best to ensure the integrity, sustainability and security of our food supply chain. The so-called GM debate has shed much heat but very little light on these issues, which surely must be top of the agenda for the 21st century.”

Natural harm

However, the Soil Association shot back that that GM crops “have a negative impact on farmland, birds, wild flowers and other wildlife, something which the committee, despite its emphasis on the importance of scientific evidence, fails to mention.” 

Greenpeace added that GM involved crude and outdated gene-splicing, which several studies had linked to unpredictable effects. “The committee fails to understand that the role of the [EU] risk assessment process is to evaluate the problems and risks posed by GM crops,” said Marco Contiero, Greenpeace Europe’s agriculture director.

“It is for the risk managers – EU member states and the commission – to take into account the results of the safety testing, together with a series of other legitimate factors related to broader socio-economic issues, which also include the potential benefits of GM crops.” 

The UK government appears to support GM crops, as Environment Secretary Liz Truss said in January that the technology can have a positive environmental impact by saving water and using fewer pesticides.

Brad Allen

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie