It's time for us to think about eating GM food

There appears to be growing consensus that GM is safe and the benefits huge

Related Topics

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson machinegunned out his GM crop manifesto yesterday. To cut a long story short, relaxing a strict EU regime which effectively bans farmers from growing genetically modified crops in Europe would herald a desperately needed “green revolution”, he told an audience in Hertfordshire.

Such a revolution would go a long way to solving the crisis of feeding the world's rapidly growing population by dramatically increasing yields. Furthermore, GM could bring clear health benefits, he said, pointing to golden rice, a grain strain being engineered to provide vitamin A to counter blindness in children.

GM crops are also healthier as they are subjected to greater scrutiny and could be applied beyond food, for example to combat diseases such as ash dieback and in developing new medicines. With health, safety and efficiency ticked off, Paterson finished up by pointing out that there were also environmental benefits to GM, as greater productivity freed up space for "biodiversity, nature and wilderness" and resistant-plants reduced the need for pesticides.

GM may be one of the controversial topics of our times, but few would dispute that the Environment Secretary has laid out a wonderful vision or that the fundamental intention of genetically modified crops is honourable. But can we say with certainty that genetically engineered plants are safe? And this is where the controversy begins: heated debate, scaremongering and seemingly questionable science.

Opponents argue that GM crops could foster stronger pests, diseases and weeds that adapt to engineered plants and that the injected genes could cause problems by "jumping" to other plants. They also say that since the first GM plant was created in the US in 1994 genetic engineering has promised much but delivered little.

Nonetheless, there does appear to be a growing consensus that GM is safe and that the potential benefits are huge. The chief safety argument is that in the two decades since GM was introduced and with 28 countries now cultivating them for consumption by hundreds of millions of people, no-one has been found to have died or fallen ill directly as a result of eating GM. This is in contrast to organic beansprouts, which killed 53 people in Germany in 2011.

As Mr Paterson pointed out yesterday, the European Commission's chief scientist, Professor Anne Glover, has said: "There is no substantiated case of any adverse impact on human health, animal health or environmental health." The EC has done the most comprehensive analysis of the risks of GM foods, examining 130 research projects carried out by 500 groups over 25 years.

But while the lack of illness from GM is comforting, many still have doubts about the potential for the long-term fallout from genetic engineering, especially as it has only become widespread (outside Europe) in the past decade. Given the massive potential benefits of GM and the lack of credible evidence that it has caused problems, we would cautiously back the development of the technology. But the industry is crying out for a really authoritative, comprehensive, independent, credible analysis of the dangers of GM - and it is a sad indictment of the system that we don't already have one.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Labour leader Ed Miliband unveils Labour's pledges carved into a stone plinth in Hastings  

Election 2015: Smash the two-party system! Smash the voting system!

Armando Iannucci
Tactical voting is a necessary evil of the current first-past-the-post system, where voters vote against what they do not want rather than in favour of what they do  

Election 2015: Voting tactically has become more fraught in new political order

Michael Ashcroft
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power