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
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Graphic Designer / Marketing Assistant

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As a Junior Graphic Designer / ...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Finance Assistant - Automotive

£15500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the South East's leading Motor Re...

Recruitment Genius: General Maintenance Person - Automotive

£16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the South East's leading Motor Re...

Recruitment Genius: Receptionist / Meeter-Greeter - Automotive

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the South East's leading Motor Re...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen