U.K. farm minister calls on European authorities to speed up approval of GM crops

Owen Paterson says genetic modification isn’t a “frightening, new, spooky 
technology” and brings many benefits, including reduced pesticide and fuel use

Reuters / Britain’s farming and environment minister, Owen Paterson is calling for an acceleration in the European Union’s approval process for genetically modified crops, which he said offered benefits including less pesticide use.

“I think we need to work with like-minded partners to move the (GM) legislation along at a European level because it is going grindingly slowly and we are getting further and further behind,” he said.

There has been strong public opposition to genetically modified crops across much of the European Union, 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 GM 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 doesn’t want it and therefore we are not going to have it,” McGuinness said.

But Paterson said GM crops could offer benefits including a potential significant reduction in pesticide and diesel use.

“This is not a frightening, new, spooky technology, this is something that is well established in very large parts of the world,” said Paterson, noting crops were grown by 16 million farmers in 29 countries in 2011.

Paterson also cited benefits from GM 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 that GM crops don’t provide the solution to food challenges.

“They 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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