It's crazy to ignore benefits of GM food, says 'Country Life'

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The Independent Online

Country Life magazine has provoked a row with environmentalists by wading into the row over genetically modified foods with a fiery editorial that pours vitriol on those who it accuses of ignoring the benefits such crops may offer.

The publication, which is often seen as representing the finest traditions of the countryside, goes as far as to suggest it is "criminal" and "immoral" to turn our backs on GM produce.

The editorial says "future generations will think us crazy, or criminal, not to embrace [GM technology]" and argues that concerns over "Frankenstein foods" have grown into a fear among the public of "developments it doesn't understand".

The article, written by the editor, Mark Hedges, marks the first time the magazine has taken a strong editorial stance on the GM debate. It argues that GM technology could help alleviate the type of problems caused by the recent rise in food prices as well as providing plants that are able to withstand the effects of climate change.

"Places where deeper boreholes have sucked the land dry will need drought-resistant crops, if they're to grow any crops at all," the editorial suggests. "Where too much water has been abstracted from aquifers, allowing seawater to seep in, there will be a demand for saline-tolerant plants."

It adds: "The population of the world is expected to grow from 6.7 billion to 9 billion. We shall need different kinds of plants – more productive, multi-tasking – and need them quickly."

The editorial also attacks the green lobby for leading opposition to GM technology and claims that modified crops which rely less on fertiliser products could in fact help reduce carbon emissions from farming.

Environmental groups derided the editorial, accusing Country Life of pandering to the GM industry without casting a critical eye over scientific evidence.

Clare Oxborrow, a food campaigner for Friends of the Earth, said: "It's quite astonishing that Country Life has fallen for the GM industry's PR machine. The idea that drought and salt-resistant crops could be just round the corner is pie-in-the-sky speculation. GM companies have been claiming these sorts of fix-all solutions for the past 10 years but they've never got any closer to achieving any of their promises."

Nnimmo Bassey, Friends of the Earth's food campaigner in Nigeria, said he had seen little evidence to show that GM crops could help feed poorer countries. "The biotech industry tells Africans that we need GM crops to tackle the food needs of our population. But the majority of GM crops are used to feed animals in rich countries, to produce damaging agrofuels, and don't even yield more than conventional crops."

Mr Hedges defended the article saying Britain could no longer ignore the possible benefits that GM technology could offer. "I just take the view that British society has been incredibly cavalier in dismissing GM crops," he said. "For Country Life to come out and say this will initially, I think, be slightly unexpected but I hope that through the article people will finally start to take notice of the issue and begin debating it again rather than just ignoring it all together."

Worldwide, GM crops are grown by at least six million farmers in 16 countries, but the UK has no commercial production. According to the National Farmers Union, only one GM product, a blight-resistant potato, is being trialled in Britain, in Cambridge.

Click here to read the Country Life article