GENETICALLY-MODIFIED crops and the benefits they can bring the food chain are closer to market than you think, farmers and millers have been told.

But food chain relationships must improve or the potential benefits will be lost, according to Séan Rickard, senior lecturer at Cranfield University.

Europe would soon overcome its resistance to GM, he told the Home-Grown Cereals Authority milling wheat conference near Cambridge.

“Consumers are humping for new food experiences,” he told delegates on Wednesday (May 5).

“Of course they‘ll accept it (GM) as soon as the press stops telling them it‘s Frankenstein food.”

In a few years, GM would be “rife in Europe” he predicted, but UK growers and processors will be in grave danger of failing to capture their potential value.

The problem, he said, is that there is no collaboration or co-operation that would give the UK cereals industry a competitive advantage.

“Relationships between processor and farmer are adversarial, lack trust and there‘s a complete failure to share information.

“It‘s a terrible indictment of a food chain that should be competitive.”

But Peter Knight, of Smiths Flour Mills, said that millers would continue to resist GM technology for as long as it offers consumers no tangible benefits.

“If the first GM wheat cured cancer, it may be a different story.

“But the fact that GM soya or maize allows farmers to apply more Round-Up is of no interest to the consumer whatsoever.”

Cambridgeshire grower Paul Seabrook added that it was probably in growers‘ interests to stay GM-free until this happens.

“The EU is our biggest customer and rejects GM. The UK is better off looking after this niche market and saying no to GM.”

Whether the UK goes GM or non-GM, a better collaborative network is needed said director general of millers group NABIM, Alex Waugh.

“The same systems are required either way,” he said.