8 March 1996

Opening doors onto

a worldwide market

KENT farmer Oliver Doubleday has a shopping list of how biotechnology could improve his ability to compete in the world cereal and fruit markets.

At the moment cutting costs or increasing yields is the only way to improve his efficiency. But Dr Doubleday told the conference that he hoped biotechnology could in future help him resist environmental hazards including drought or frost.

He also hoped scientists could develop crops resistant to insects, bacteria and fungi, to allow him to reduce his reliance on chemical controls. And for his fruit enterprise, Dr Doubleday believed texture, taste, and shelf-life were all good candidates for research.

But work to develop herbicide resistant plants was "a mixed blessing," because he could not see consumers accepting that these plants offered them any benefits. The public was also concerned that genetically modified seeds might "go walkabout," he added.

Responding to the shopping list, Prof Ben Miflin, director of the Institute of Arable Crops Research at Rothamsted, said many of Dr Doubledays requirements from biotechnology were being stifled by the EU regulatory process.

"We are in a state of frozen inactivity in the UK and Europe because of over-regulation. So Oliver may have to whistle in the wind for his wishes."

He warned that it was the US and Canada who were leading the way. Over 10 modified crops had been approved for sale in those countries, but only one, tobacco, had been cleared for sale in Europe.