Podium: We must support our GM food industry

From the presidential address by the chairman of Glaxo Wellcome to the British Festival of Science

AT NO stage in world history has there been such great potential in science and technology to make an impact on the everyday lives of so many human beings. At no other time has the exploitation of scientific and technological innovation been so central to economic prosperity as it is today.

The UK has fallen behind in the struggle to compete not only with the developed countries but with an increasing number of developing countries. They recognise the critical importance of sustained and strategic investment in education and research and development, to succeed in the rapidly changing global economy.

Today knowledge is the engine of economic progress. The key attributes we must develop are the knowledge, skills and creativity needed to create high-productivity business processes and high-value goods and services. We must develop a strong, knowledge-driven economy. The US's ability to harness the potential of new technologies should be a lesson to us all.

It is government's role to create the right climate, in terms of fiscal, regulatory and intellectual property policies and incentives, to enable us to prosper through science. We look to government to create this climate, and to provide support for science and technology, including a clear and well-communicated strategy.

In the recent past, government messages and actions have not always been consistent. A good example of this is the refusal to approve the Wellcome Trust's development of a biotechnology park alongside Hinxton Hall, which is a world-leading facility for genomic research. The Wellcome Trust is consequently looking elsewhere, overseas including, to find alternative suitable sites. A chance to create the infrastructure for exploiting our leading-edge science may have been missed.

We must ensure that the fiscal and regulatory frameworks encourage and do not hinder the exploitation of new and emerging technologies, if we are not to fall further behind the US or be caught by Germany, which has created a flourishing biotechnology sector. I support the call by the Bioindustry Association to establish a National Biotechnology Centre to encourage, co-ordinate and focus our efforts in developing our industry.

We need a well-informed and supportive public. The public are the consumers, workforce, taxpayers and technology-users of today. They have every right to know about and understand scientific and technological developments. The recent GM foods affair has shown what happens when this is not achieved.

There is no doubt that GM foods, and other scientific and technological advances, do give rise to issues that are rightly the concern of society, and that the public has a right to ask questions and expect answers. However the debate must be a balanced one and in this case the potential benefits of GM technology have not been properly emphasised and thus are not understood by the public.

It is now possible that the outcome of the present anti-GM-food campaign will be detrimental to this country. It will lead to a failure to develop new UK companies based on the technology developed here, a loss of technical expertise as funding by international companies is withdrawn, and disadvantage for British agriculture. What is certain is that development of the technology will continue elsewhere, and its full potential and rewards realised by our competitors.

The scientific community has the primary responsibility for increasing the public's understanding of scientific matters. Scientists must be prepared to answer the questions and explain their work and its impact. Silence is interpreted as secrecy, provokes suspicion and fuels concern.

The creation of greater scientific literacy in the wider community must be seen as an important goal for the Government, educationists, the scientific community, industry and the media.

Science and technology are critical for our survival. There is no question that the UK has the potential to prosper through its exploitation, but much needs to be done.

Arts and Entertainment
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'