Green light for GM? First official report into genetically modified crops in five years recommends 'safe and sustainable' roll-out in Britain

 

Science Editor

There is no compelling evidence to suggest that GM crops are any more dangerous to humans, animals or the environment than conventionally farmed food and the time has come for Europe to be stripped of its obstructive control of the technology, senior scientists have advised the Prime Minister.

The case to press ahead with introducing GM crops both here and overseas has become overwhelming given the scale of the potential food shortages facing humanity in the coming decades – despite the British public being largely unaware of the impending crisis, they said.

Government science advisers have warned that European rules blocking GM crops are no longer fit for purpose and Britain should be allowed to decide for itself whether genetically modified crops should be grown in the UK given the many benefits that they could bring in terms of sustainable food production.

“We take it for granted that because our supermarket shelves are heaving with food that there are no problems with food security, but there are problems with food security around the world,” Sir Mark Walport, the government’s chief scientist, said yesterday.

“We have limited agricultural land for growing food in the UK, yet we are part of a global food market and there is competition for limited resources and that is likely to increase,” he said

“So the challenge is to get more from existing land in a sustainable way or face the alternative which is that people will go unfed, or we’ll have to bring more wilderness land into cultivation,” he added.

GM technology is one of the tools that could help farmers around the world produce food sustainably for a growing population, but in Europe the technology has been effectively blocked by the EU’s inappropriate regulatory process, Sir Mark said.

“We’re asking for regulations to be fit for purpose – we need appropriate regulation,” he said.

Only one GM plant is currently grown commercially in Europe – a type of GM maize grown mostly in Spain. EU red tape has hampered the introduction of many other GM crops carrying beneficial traits not seen in conventionally-bred varieties, the scientists said.

A report to the Council for Science and Technology, which advises David Cameron on scientific developments, warned that Britain and Europe are falling behind other parts of the world where GM crops have been embraced. It calls for the wholesale reorganisation of the way that the crops are assessed by the EU.

In a letter to the Prime Minster, Sir Mark Walport and Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell, who co-chairs the council with Sir Mark, urge the government to seek the reform of EU rules governing the acceptance of GM crops, or risk seeing the UK being left behind by non-Europeans.

“Debate and decision-making within Europe present a particular challenge. Current EU regulatory and market access problems are hampering the development of crops for EU markets and farmers,” the scientists write.

“The longer the EU continues to oppose GM whilst the rest of the world adopts it, the greater the risk that EU agriculture will become uncompetitive, especially as more GM crops and traits are commercialised successfully elsewhere,” they said.

Professor Sir David Baulcombe of Cambridge University, one of the five leading plant scientists who co-authored the report, called for research and development of GM crops to be stepped up so that they could be grown both in the UK and oversees, notably Africa where increased food production is needed most.

“Most concerns about GM crops have nothing to do with the technology which is as safe as conventional breeding. They are more often related to the way that the technology is applied and whether it is beneficial for small-scale farmers of for the environment,” Sir David said.

“To address these concerns we need to have an evidence-based regulatory process that focuses on traits, independent of the technology that has been used to develop them,” he said.

The Council for Science and Technology’s report said that the current regulatory set-up, which is based on restricting GM technology as a process, should be scrapped in favour of regulations based on the safety of individual products. This could be done by setting up an expert body based in the UK, similar to the National Institute for Health and Clinical Evidence, which governs the use of new drugs within the NHS.

“As there is no evidence for intrinsic environmental or toxicity risks associated with GM crops, it is not appropriate to have a regulatory framework that is based on the premise that GM crops are more hazardous than crop varieties produced by conventional breeding,” the report says.

“We therefore endorse [the European science academies’] proposal that a future regulatory framework should be product- rather than process-based.

"We propose that approval for commercial cultivation of new GM crops is made at a national level, as happens at present with pharmaceuticals,” it says.

Professor Jim Dunwell of Reading University likened the current EU regulations governing GM crops to the red flags that had to be in front of cars a century ago when they were driven on public highways.

“The regulation of the technology is not proportionate. It’s time to remove the red flags. We’re not calling for no regulation at all… we know what the unknowns are, we know which ones to be concerned about and we know what to do to ensure that bad unknowns don’t end up in any varieties that farmers plant. There’s too much regulation,” Professor Dunwell said.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
video
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Up my street: The residents of the elegant Moray Place in Edinburgh's Georgian New Town
tvBBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Extras
indybest
News
Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry has been the teaching profession's favourite teacher
education
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
sport
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sport
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Sport
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

£30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

Application Support Analyst (SQL, Incident Management, SLAs)

£34000 - £37000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Embedded Software / Firmware Engineer

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Pension, Holiday, Flexi-time: Progressive Recruitm...

Developer - WinForms, C#

£280 - £320 per day: Progressive Recruitment: C#, WinForms, Desktop Developmen...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform