27 September 1996

Tell the public about biotech

BIOTECHNOLOGY could help UK producers compete in the world market, but consumers must be informed of developments if they are to accept them in the supermarket.

That was the message at an NFU seminar at the Dairy Event.

Milk Development Council chairman John Moffat claimed that among other biotechnology developments, gene mapping showed promising potential for livestock production. The technique could save several generations of selective breeding.

Gene mapping could help locate specific traits that were wanted without the risk of selecting unwanted traits – such as poor fertility – that could occur with selective breeding. Attempts were being made to locate these genes.

"Biotechnology provides a wide range of opportunities essential for UK farmers to compete, but it must be controlled in a way that satisfies public concerns."

Caroline Brown of the Institute of Grocery Distribution said consumer interest in production methods was increasing.

"The problem is consumers are unaware of existing production techniques, so biotechnology can sound alarming," she said. "There is a need for more public information and debate so that they can reach their own conclusions." The better informed consumers were, the more accepting they were about biotechnology.