UK calls for speedier GMO approvals

(Picture: AP)
(Picture: AP)
Oxford - Britain's Farming and Environment Minister Owen Paterson on Thursday called for an acceleration in the EU’s approval process for genetically modified (GMO) crops which he said offered benefits including less pesticide use.

"I think we need to work with like-minded partners to move the [GMO] legislation along at a European level because it is going grindingly slowly and we are getting further and further behind," he told reporters at the Oxford Farming Conference.

There has been strong public opposition to GMO crops across much of the EU, linked partly to concerns about their safety, which has helped to slow the approval process.

"There are definite gains but there is a big battle to be won with the public," Paterson said.

Mairead McGuinness, a member of the European Parliament's agriculture committee, said that lobbying against GMO crops had become less intense in the last couple of years but said opposition remained significant.

"The view for some time of many in the European Parliament has been that the public don't want it and therefore we are not going to have it," she told reporters.

Paterson, in an earlier speech to the conference, said GMO crops could offer benefits including a potential significant reduction in pesticide and diesel use while he also recognised the need for EU safety checks to reassure the public.

"This is not a frightening new spooky technology, this is something that is well established in very large parts of the world," he told reporters, adding that in 2011, GMO crops were grown by 16 million farmers in 29 countries.

Paterson also cited benefits from GMO crops such as golden rice which he said could have the potential to stop 400 000 to 500 000 young people going blind.

Golden rice has been genetically modified to help combat Vitamin A deficiency which affects millions of children and pregnant women and can cause irreversible blindness.

Environmental group Friends of the Earth, however, said in a statement issued in response to Paterson's comments that GMO crops did not provide the solution to food challenges.

"They [GMO crops] are largely being developed to benefit multinational biotech firms that are gaining control of the seed industry, not to feed poor people in developing countries," senior food and farming campaigner Clare Oxborrow said.

"World food production needs a radical overhaul, but this should be based on less intensive practices that increase agricultural diversity, deliver resilience to the impacts of climate change and benefit local communities."

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