Organic GM alternative considered
Concern was raised over the organic agriculture industry’s ability to cope with the onslaught of climate change while spurning GM technologies, at a high-level debate in the capital last week.
A panel of experts discussed the possibilities for organic food to become “more robust” in front an audience including the government’s chief scientific advisor John Beddington, who last month called for GM crops to ensure global food security.
The panel, in discussing the role of GM in 21st Century Farming at last week’s Westminster Food & Nutrition Forum, suggested that if GM could overcome issues relating to its public image and the vandalism of trials, it could make real progression in replacing fertilisers, which continue to increase in cost and tackling food security.
Dominic Dyer, chief executive of the Crop Protection Association, said: “In the US they are way ahead of the game on organic genetically modified foods and then there was a whole load of opposition.
“That was the last opportunity we had on that front before trench warfare set in. It is my concern that you can have a few organisations that scaremonger and make the governments back off.”
Julian Little, chair of the Agricultural Biotechnology Council, told delegates that GM could be vital with changes to the environment impacting on agriculture. He said: “Drought tolerance will definitely be important. Climate change means there will be insect problems in the UK that we have not had to deal with before.
“There were trials into blight tolerance in potatoes in the UK which were trashed twice, but if we could find a potato that gave true blight tolerance then organic growers would have a real option to continue in a difficult climate.”
But Patrick Holden, director of the Soil Association, hit back at suggestions the lobbying body harness the opportunity. He said: “We looked at the option of GM with interest when it was first debated, but the more we looked at it the more concern grew. The GM debate is a distraction and it is a dangerous issue with the possibility of some of the larger developing companies having a vice-like grip over agriculture. I see no future for GM in the future of UK agriculture and the answers lie in things like plant breeding tactics.”
The debate comes as the Foods Standards Agency embarks on a 12-month consultation exercise looking into the various challenges surrounding GM food.
Dyer added: “A lot of what the Soil Association says is about lifestyles and we are not going to stop people eating meat and creating food shortages tomorrow, so we need to use the world’s resources well. We need to get realistic about the problems we face.”