Genetically Modified crops could be accepted in Europe within 10 years

Genetically Modified (GM) crops could be accepted across Europe in less than 10 years, despite the UK government’s “shameful” reluctance at present.

That was the prediction of Cranfield University’s Sean Rickard, speaking at the British Potato 2007 conference in Harrogate (28 November).

“Biotechnology is the next big technology driver in the world and the only way we can respond to the challenges of climate change is through GM. It is shameful of our government that we now lag behind the rest of the world.”

But the government had not dismissed the technology completely and public acceptance was increasing, he said. “In the next two or three years consumers will be prepared to experiment with GM. Once consumers and supermarkets stances’ change, things will move very quickly.”

What benefits does GM offer?

  • Plant resistance to allow cropping of marginal land e.g. saline resistance, drought tolerance
  • Reduced chemical inputs and use of more benign products e.g. Roundup-ready crops
  • Include traits to make crops better-able to withstand new pests and diseases e.g. blight resistance, insect resistance (Bt corn) = more consistent yields
  • High starch potato crops – potential to use the crop for biofuel
  • GM could turn commodity crops into value-added
  • Build in various health benefits

The University of London’s Sir Colin Berry agreed. “Hundreds of millions of people worldwide have been eating GM crops for the best part of 15 years now, with no ill effects. Most questions have been answered and we’re ignoring a lot of positive things GM can offer.” The economic cost of not adopting GM technology had already been estimated at £2-3bn, but the UK had also lost much of its scientific expertise in this area to other non-European countries, he said.

Mr Rickard said the general public had an “irrational fear” of GM technology, whipped up by the media, and it was down to the farming industry and scientists to educate people about the benefits it could deliver. This was particularly relevant given a predicted 50% increase in world population by 2050, pressure to find alternatives to oil and the impact climate change could have on global cropping.


Ethical food growth could halt GM acceptance

The growth in ‘ethical food’ such as organic and Fair Trade lines could prove to be a limiting factor in the uptake of GM food by consumers – in the short term at least. Premium markets are worth around £15bn per year and expected to grow to £20bn in five years time, which would outperform the broader grocery market, said IGD chief economist James Walton.

Some 83% of households bought something organic last year and the Fair Trade market alone was worth £250m per year.

“Until recently ethical food tended to be the preserve of hippies and eccentrics, but ethics have become mainstream and consumers are a lot more aware of the effects of their buying decisions.” Much of this had been driven by the media, he said. “Media interest in good eating has never been stronger. Suppliers have real potential to prosper.”James Walton

Crops that required little or no processing, such as dairy, eggs, fruit and vegetables, were most likely to be bought by ‘ethical shoppers’ as there was a clear association with the grower and land, he added.

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