Britain wants more GM crops

Farmers have warned that unless they can feed their pigs and poultry on GM soya and maize varieties being grown in North and South America — but which are currently unlicensed for use in Europe — they may be forced to leave the industry.

30 Gm crop waits for political approval

However, a shake-up in the licensing process could take years to achieve, so one option under discussion at the commission is to allow farmers to use non-authorised GM crop varieties with a maximum threshold of GM contamination of 0.5 per cent or 0.9 per cent, as an interim measure. The move could apply to 30 GM crop varieties that have passed the EU’s scientific tests on health and safety but which still await political approval for use within the EU.

Wartime rations and vegetarian diet

The threat to British farming from the restrictions on GM crop varieties in the European Union was underlined in a consultation paper on the nation’s future food security. The document also put forward a possible return to wartime rations and even a vegetarian diet in the event of new food shortages or international events that forced Britain to provide enough food to feed the nation. Improvements to diet and efforts to reduce food waste that ends up in landfill sites and contributes to the country’s carbon emissions are also discussed. A move to persuade supermarkets to offer half-price goods instead of “Buy one Get one Free” promotions is proposed to cut waste and to help to tackle the country’s obesity crisis.

America dropped the EU market

However, it is the potential collapse of Britain’s £6.8 billion a year livestock sector, which relies on imports of GM soya to feed animals, that makes for chilling reading. Pigs and poultry, and to a lesser extent dairy cattle, need soya, GM and conventional crops to provide the necessary protein in their diet. The climate in Britain and most of the EU is not hot enough to grow soya. Growers across the Atlantic are increasingly using new GM varieties, which have yet to receive formal clearance in Brussels, to boost yields. Many have already dropped the EU as an export market and prefer instead to meet the demand for soya and maize in the burgeoning economies of China and India, where people are eating more meat and poultry.

Shippers raised charges

Shipping companies that transport grain to the EU are also now increasingly wary of accepting grain cargos, fearing hefty costs if any crop is contaminated with a non-approved GM variety. This has led farming organisations to raise fears that the trade may be halted altogether. In the EU, any product containing an unlicensed GM crop variety is illegal and must be removed from sale. Cargos are tested by EU officials at ports and any crop found with GM material must be destroyed or returned to the exporting country. Shippers have already raised transportation charges to cover the risks.

Use it or not

Hilary Benn, the Environment Secretary, is urging Brussels to accept a speedier GM authorisation process but has not yet agreed a position on a GM threshold in unlicensed crop varieties. Mr Benn said: “If GM can make a contribution then we have a choice as a society and as a world about whether to make use of that technology, and an increasing number of countries are growing GM products.” The issue is expected to be on the EU agenda in the autumn.

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