Owen Paterson backs GM food, saying fears are 'humbug'

Environment Secretary's backing for GM food paves way for relaxed controls in Britain

LAST UPDATED AT 13:22 ON Mon 10 Dec 2012

CONCERNS about genetically modified foods are "complete nonsense", says Environment Secretary Owen Paterson. The technology offers "real environmental benefits" and must be encouraged if Britain is to cut its dependency on food imports.

In comments likely to enrage opponents of the controversial technology, Paterson gave GM food production a firm tick today in an interview with The Daily Telegraph, which notes:

"Emphatically we should be looking at GM … I’m very clear it would be a good thing," said Paterson, who decried the depiction of GM products as 'Frankenstein foods' by opponents of the technology. "There are real benefits, and what you’ve got to do is sell the real environmental benefits."

Some senior ministers privately believe that the ability of GM technology to increase crop yields and prevent disease makes it essential to breaking Britain’s reliance on imports.

The government recently ran "a low-key consultation exercise" about new 'agri-tech' measures which sought views on options including the increased use of GM crops, reports says Telegraph. A formal ministerial response is due next year, but insiders say the exercise is likely to lead to an increase in the use of the technology.

The government has permitted limited trials for GM crops and some GM products are present in imported foods. But most supermarkets do not use them in their own brands because of public fears they cause environmental harm and are bad for people's health, says the Daily Mail.

Paterson says such fears are "humbug"  and British consumers are already eating GM food regularly. About 160 million hectares of GM crops are being cultivated worldwide and most meat served in London restaurants comes from animals fed in part on GM crops, he said.

His comments got a quick reaction on Twitter where a user called Ryeatly wrote: "Yet another example of a government being totally at odds with the views of the people."

But The Guardian points out that public hostility to GM foods has softened in the past decade. A survey published in March found a quarter of Britons are now unconcerned by GM food, compared with 17 per cent nearly a decade ago, when supermarkets debated whether to introduce GM products following widespread public opposition and attacks on GM test fields in the 1990s.

The number of people "concerned" about GM has also fallen by five per cent, according to the survey commissioned by the British Science Association. 

Some Liberal Democrat ministers are reported to be open to the idea of loosening rules on GM, says The Independent. But the prospect may not go down well with the party's grassroots members, who have previously been hostile to the technology.   · 

For further concise, balanced comment and analysis on the week's news, try The Week magazine. Subscribe today and get 6 issues completely free.