Speaking at the Oxford Farming Conference (London, 3 – 5 January 2013), Rt Hon Owen Paterson, UK Secretary of State for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs stated that GM offers great opportunities and that we owe a duty to the public to reassure them that it is a safe and beneficial innovation.
Below is the text of his. At the bottom if this page, translations and further links are provided.
“The world’s population has grown from 2.5 billion in 1950 to just over 7 billion today. New technologies for food and agriculture are helping us to keep pace with the growing population. Between 1967 and 2007 crop yields increased by 115 per cent but land use only increased by eight per cent. Indur Goklany has calculated that if we tried to support today’s population using the production methods of the 1950s, instead of farming 38 per cent of all land, we would need to use 82 per cent. It has also been estimated that the production of a given quantity of a crop now requires 65 per cent less land than it did in 1961.
It is for these reasons that the UK Government as a whole invests over £410 million annually in research in the agriculture, food and drink sector. I am also working closely with David Willetts, the Science Minister, on the Agri-Tech Strategy. This will look at how best to capitalise on the UK’s world class science and technology base to increase the competitiveness of the agricultural sector, as well as addressing the challenge of food security. We need to be able to translate research into new products, processes and technologies.
When we’re talking about innovation, we should also consider GM. In 2011, 16 million farmers in 29 countries grew GM products on 160 million hectares. That’s 11 per cent of the world’s arable land. To put it in context that’s 6 times larger than the surface area of the UK.
I fully appreciate the strong feelings on both sides of the debate. GM needs to be considered in its proper overall context with a balanced understanding of the risks and benefits. We should not, however, be afraid of making the case to the public about the potential benefits of GM beyond the food chain, for example, significantly reducing the use of pesticides and inputs such as diesel. As well as making the case at home, we also need to go through the rigorous processes that the EU has in place to ensure the safety of GM crops. I believe that GM offers great opportunities but I also recognise that we owe a duty to the public to reassure them that it is a safe and beneficial innovation.”