GM crops have a role in preventing world hunger, chief scientist says

The Government should approve trials to develop crops resistant to climate change that would feed a growing population

GM crops have a role to play in preventing mass starvation across the world caused by a combination of climate change and rapid population growth, a senior government scientist said yesterday.

Professor Robert Watson, the chief scientific adviser at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), called for UK trials of GM foods, arguing that the Government needs to be more open with the public about the risks and benefits of genetically modified foods.

"Over the next 20 to 50 years, the population is going to increase from 6.5 to 9 billion. There will be more extreme weather, more demand for food, meat, and water, a changing climate: it is a very challenging situation, which, if we don't deal with it, could become a nightmare scenario," said Professor Watson. "We have to look at all the technologies, policies and practices, all forms of bio-tech, including GM."

"We need to have trials in the UK, and to make them open and transparent," Professor Watson added. "We'd have to protect them, to stop them getting trashed. There are a whole range of situations in which science can play a very important role. We'll need seeds which are more temperature- and pest-tolerant."

The suggestion that the Government should resume trials of GM crops, which halted in 2008, has generated criticism from environmental campaigners who point out that the growth of herbicide-resistant GM crops in countries such as Argentina and the US has seen dramatic increases in pesticide use and created pesticide-resistant "super-weeds".

"If the Government does make the mistake of approving new field trials, then they should prepare themselves for the response of local communities, who will be worried about the risks that these crops pose," said Clare Oxborrow, senior food campaigner at Friends of the Earth. "The issues that applied a few years ago still apply. The risks of contamination have not been addressed; nor have any health and safety concerns."

A 2008 trial by Leeds University, in which potatoes were genetically modified to resist a parasitic worm, provoked anger from local residents and was destroyed by environmentalists. In addition to environmental fears about loss of bio-diversity and harm to other crops, consumers are also concerned about the possible health risks posed by GM food.

A study conducted by Eurobarometer in 2008 which surveyed 25,000 EU citizens found that 61 per cent thought that animal cloning was morally wrong. Meanwhile, a Gallup poll in 2005 found that 54 per cent of Britons were opposed to bio-technology in food production.

Professor Watson acknowledged that the subject is controversial. "It is similar to nuclear power," he said. "We have to look at all the risks and benefits, real and perceived, and tell the public what we are trying to achieve."

In 2008, however, Professor Watson led a study for the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development, of which he is the director, which found that GM foods are likely to play only a small role in feeding the world's poor. The report highlighted that the "assessment of the technology lags behind its development".

The chief scientist's comments add weight to the claims of the Royal Society which last month argued that GM crops will prove important in preventing future food shortages. The controversial report called for a 10-year research programme, in which £200m a year would be spent on science that improves crops and sustainable crop management – including research into GM crops.

However, Professor Watson emphasised that GM foods could only play one part in solving a world food crisis, stressing that improving farming in developing countries is also vital. He recommends ending farming subsidies in developed countries, which would make the price of food produced in developing nations more competitive. He also spoke of the need to improve infrastructure, such as loans for farmers, and improve African farmers' education.

News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
News
i100

Other places that have held independence referendums
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur
film

It scooped up an unprecedented 11 Academy Awards when it was first remade in 1959

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

Arts and Entertainment
Blossoming love: Colin Firth as Stanley and Emma Stone as Sophie, in 'Magic in the Moonlight'
film

Actors star in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

News
news

News
peopleThe Times of India said actress should treat it as a 'compliment'
Arts and Entertainment
Maxine Peake plays Hamlet at Manchester's Royal Exchange
theatreReview: Maxine Peake brings emotional ferocity to Shakespeare's starring part
News
London's New Year's Eve fireworks event is going to be ticketed this year for the first time at £10 a head
news

Revellers will have to pay to see New Year's Eve fireworks in London

News
news

Watch this commuter wage a one-man war against the Circle Line
Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
lifeShould we feel guilty about keeping cats inside?
Travel
travel

...and the perfect time to visit them

Sport
Jonas Gutierrez (r) competes with Yaya Toure (l)
football

Newcastle winger reveals he has testicular cancer - and is losing his trademark long hair as a result

News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
news

Man's attempt to avoid being impounded heavily criticised

Life and Style
tech

Try putting that one on your Christmas list
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    Day In a Page

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week