GM maize

The debate around genetically modified foods being produced in the UK needs to be reopened if the issues of securing food supplies and rising costs are to be addressed.

Shadow DEFRA secretary Mary Creagh said food prices had increased much faster in the UK than other countries over the past 12 months and that GM needed to be looked at as one of the ways of ensuring people could afford nutritional food.

Speaking at the Oxford Farming Conference on Wednesday (4 January), Mrs Creagh said British consumers had indicated they did not want to eat GM food.

“But that debate needs to be reopened,” she told delegates. “The biotech industry failed to communicate properly with the country about the potential benefits and that needs to be addressed.”

Farm minister Jim Paice said the government wanted to see the regulation around GM to be changed to the technology could be used in Europe where it was appropriate.

“GM is not the answer to everything, but in the near future we will have a nitrogen-fixing wheat available to farmers,” he told reporters.

“It will be a big challenge for the industry and consumers to whether we are going to allow these products which are going to have such major environmental gains.”

The ministers’ comments came after Sainsbury’s brand director said that despite having a policy not to sell GM produce, it was naïve to think the technology would not play a role in the future of UK farming.

“The sad thing is lots of progress is being used in other parts of the world and they are using technology the UK hasn’t been part of,” she told delegates at the retailer’s fringe event on Tuesday (3 January).

“We feel sad that we have missed out on that research.”

Mrs Batchelor said consumer research had shown 70% of British shoppers were confused about GM and want an independent voice to tell them.

“No retailers will move until that happens,” she added. “But in future, who knows?”

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