Genetically modified crops needed to 'feed the world,' says Government's chief scientific advisor Mark Walport

Sir Mark says EU regulation means not enough GM crops can be grown

The case for genetically modified (GM) food is getting stronger because of its importance as a tool to feed a growing global population, according to the Government’s new chief scientific adviser.

Sir Mark Walport, who is one month into his new job, said today that he will aim to offer ministers the best and most accurate advice on all aspects of science policy, including the introduction of GM crops.

“The issue is European regulation, which is that Europe grows remarkably little genetically modified crops so I don’t think this is something that is going to change overnight,” Sir Mark said.

“But I think it is inexorably rising up the agenda again because as a technology it is showing its value more and more obviously in terms of the crops that are able to feed the world,” he said.

Public opposition to GM food, and the reluctance of supermarkets to stock it, has hindered the kind of wide-scale farming of genetically engineered crops seen in other parts of the world, notably North and South America.

However, Sir Mark questioned whether the majority of the public are as opposed to the technology as some GM critics have argued. He also said GM crops should be considered on a case-by-case basis.

“For every genetic modification you have to ask: what plant, what gene and for what purpose? The case will be strong for some and not strong for others. Each case has to be decided on its merits,” Sir Mark said.

“If it were possible for instance to develop a blight-resistant potato then that would be a valuable thing to do,” he said referring to a GM potato variety that is resistant to the fungal pest.

“I think the job of a scientific adviser is to set out the scientific case and that scientific case [for GM] it becoming stronger and stronger and stronger. But ultimately I’m very clear that my job is to advise on the science and it is then the politician’s job to decide how to use that. The final decision is a political decision,” Sir Mark said.

A two-year trial of a GM variety of aphid-resistant wheat is underway at Rothamsted Research in Harpenden, Hertfordshire. Sir Mark said that it is unfortunate that a large part of the trial’s costs is being spent on security to prevent the field being destroyed by anti-GM campaigners.

“The rule of law is absolutely paramount and in a sense you can say that it is a tragedy to spend so much on the rule of law for something like this,” he said.

Sir Mark, who was formerly head of the Wellcome Trust, Britain’s largest medical research charity, said that he will reiterate the advice of former chief scientists and chief medical officers by making it clear to ministers that there is no scientific evidence to support homeopathy, which is still offered on the NHS.

“Homeopathy is nonsense. It is non-science. Ultimately these are political decisions. My job is to provide advice on the science, and the scientific advice could not be more unequivocal… homeopathy is nonsense,” Sir Mark said

“My advice to ministers has been clear. There is no science in homeopathy. The most you can have is a placebo effect. It is then a political decision as to whether to spend money on it,” he said.

“It’s had fair amount of airing over the past few years and there can’t be a politician who really doesn’t have the opportunity to hear the scientific evidence,” Sir Mark added.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
One Direction's Zayn Malik gazes at a bouquet of flowers in the 'Night Changes' music video
people
News
people
News
'Free the Nipple' film screening after party with We Are The XX, New York, America - 04 Feb 2014
news
Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished
tvReview: The latest episode was a smidgen less depressing... but it’s hardly a bonza beach party
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
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.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Manager

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity to...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Manager - Production

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Trainee Managers are required to join the UK's...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Manager

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will maximise the effective...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + uncapped commission : SThree: Hello! I know most ...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss
Tony Blair joins a strange and exclusive club of political leaders whose careers have been blighted by the Middle East

Blair has joined a strange and exclusive club

A new tomb has just gone up in the Middle East's graveyard of US and British political reputations, says Patrick Cockburn
Election 2015: Meet the top 12 wacky candidates seeking your vote in May

Election 2015

Meet the top 12 wacky candidates seeking your vote in May
Countdown to the election: Operation Save Danny Alexander shifts into high gear as the SNP target his Commons seat

Operation Save Danny Alexander shifts into high gear

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury didn’t forget his Highland roots in the Budget. But the SNP is after his Commons seat
The US economy is under threat because of its neglected infrastructure

The US is getting frayed at the edges

Public spending on infrastructure is only half of Europe’s, and some say the nation’s very prosperity is threatened, says Rupert Cornwell
Mad Men final episodes: Museum exhibition just part of the hoopla greeting end of 1960s-set TV hit

New Yorkers raise a glass to Mad Men

A museum exhibition is just part of the hoopla greeting the final run of the 1960s-set TV hit
Land speed record: British-built hybrid rocket car aims to be the fastest on Earth

British-built hybrid rocket car aims to be the fastest on Earth

Bloodhound SSC will attempt to set a new standard in South Africa's Kalahari desert