The government should show leadership over the issue of genetically modified crops and be more prepared to explain the potential benefits of modern technology, the NFU has warned.
NFU president Peter Kendall said there were too many senior politicians who did not grasp the realities of biotechnology in modern agriculture, but made sweeping comments about how the technology was not needed.
The recent decision by BASF to move its genetically modified plant development operations away from Europe was “profoundly worrying” for UK agriculture, said Mr Kendall during an address to the University of Reading’s Agricultural Club conference (30 Jan).
The level of negativity around the use of biotechnology in Europe meant that the company had decided to move it operations to the United States, he said.
This meant not only a loss of jobs, but that future investment would be made in crop types that were not specific to the European climate and conditions.
“We are living a lie on GM and the press gets away with demonising the technology,” said Mr Kendall.
“We have to explain that drought tolerant potatoes aren’t going to poison people. When you see because of negative debate that BASF are taking their investments to the States then I think that is profoundly worrying.”
Unless attitudes changed then there was a risk that farmers were left “20 years off the pace” and consumers could still ended up eating GM products imported from abroad, he suggested.
“Are we going to produce chickens in this country that are non-GM, but buy them in from Asia because they are 20% cheaper and they are fed on GM [feed]?”
Mr Kendall’s warning came just days after the government’s chief scientific adviser said GM crops could play an important role in helping prevent a future global food crisis.
Sir John Beddington said he saw no safety reasons for opposing GM crops, provided they were rigorously checked for their impact on health and the environment.