Organic sector told to stop scaring consumers over GM

The organic body has been urged not to use scare tactics to turn consumers away from conventionally-produced food.

NFU President Peter Kendall said a sensible debate was needed over using science to help meet global food production targets and that warning people away from all genetically modified produce was unhelpful.

Speaking at the Soil Association conference in Birmingham last week (3 February), Mr Kendall said feeding people had to come first.

“I beg you not to use an argument about scaring people,” he said. “I’m not convinced consumers will swallow all sorts of GMs, but I am convinced the debate about science and smart plant breeding has to be at the centre of it.

Mr Kendall said a revolution in GM technology was helping farmers around the world and UK farmers faced being left at a disadvantage because they could not access GM-free products.

“I don’t condemn the way other people produce food,” he added. “I am not decrying organic systems. We can learn from them – it doesn’t have to be an either or.”

Mr Kendall’s comments came as he rebuffed claims from Soil Association director Patrick Holden that he had “blind faith” in science.

In a lively debate, which included Cambridgeshire arable farmer Oliver Walston, Mr Holden said new models of agriculture were needed to produce more food without fertiliser.

“Unless changes are made to farming in the next 15 years there could be major consequences and, if that generates some fear, then so be it.”

Accusing Mr Walston of being a “fossil fuel junkie”, Mr Holden said the industry could not continue to rely on oil to produce fertiliser, nor on science to come to the rescue.

But Mr Walston branded organic farmers as “nutcases” and said the challenge of sustainability would be met through technology.

“Science has come to the rescue for the last 6000 years,” he said. “All you miserable gits might be right and scientists may say they don’t have an answer this time, but I doubt it.”

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