Agricultural technologies, including GM, are not a silver bullet to lower food prices or feed the world's growing population. However, they are one tool which farmers can use to grow more, using chemicals and fuel more sustainabily. They also ahve the potential tackle crop disease, drought, malnutrition and other challenges facing world agriculture.
It is important that consumers in this country have access to transparent, balanced and scientific evidence and information to help them make their own decisions about GM. Owen Paterson's comments, and subsequent media reports, highlight that there is still a lot of confusion amongst consumers over the use of GM in the UK.
There is currently little prospect of GM crops being grown on a large-scale in the UK in the near future. However, the UK is a world-leader in plant science and small field trials of GM crops are a crucial part of this research. Without commercial research and development of this important technology, Britain risks both its economic competitiveness and environmental sustainability. Imports of GM feed will also continue to support the viability of our livestock industry.
It is therefore important to correct a number of common mistakes repeated in this article:
Myth: GM crops do not increase yields and are more expensive than conventional crops
Reality: More than 17 million farmers choose to grow GM crops around the world, more than 90% of whom are in the developing world. They do so for the simple reason that these crops offer better returns, with higher yields and lower costs of things like weedkiller. The additional profit from the growing GM crops is estimated at US$14 billion every year.
Myth: Studies have shown that GM crops are not safe to eat
Reality: GM crops have been commonly used in food elsewhere in the world for over a decade. An estimated 2 trillion meals containing GM ingredients have been eaten without a single substantiated case of ill-health. In 2011, the European Commission released a compendium of 130 research projects, involving 500 independent research groups, over 25 years, concluding that GM crops were just as safe as normal crops.
Myth: GM crop trials have failed, and caused harm to wild plants, insects and birds
Reality: GM crop trials continue around the world, and new GM crops in trials include disease-resistant bananas, flood-resistant rice, and wheat which produces the same chemical as mint to deter aphids. The last trial is being undertaken at the Rothamsted research institute in the UK, under the strict safety guidelines laid down by the government. Unfortunately, scientists and research institutes involved in trials are regularly attacked by anti-science groups determined to suppress their results. There have been around 80 such attacks on academic or government crop research institutes in Europe in recent years. This often makes them nervous about promoting the benefits of their research.
Myth: Polls show that people think that GM foods are unsafe and lack benefits
Reality: Polls actually show that the majority of people are unsure what to think about GM foods, with small proportions of very pro- and very anti-GM consumers. A survey of shoppers concerns by the Food Standards agency in 2012 found that fewer than 20% of people mentioned GM. Another survey by the Institute of Grocery Distributors found that over 90% of UK consumers thought GM crops could help to feed the growing population while tackling crop disease and climate change. Other studies have also shown that most people do not actively avoid GM-labelled foods, but are more interested in their price and quality.
Consumers do need clear information to make their own decisions. Such 'anecdotal' scaremongering is not it. For furher information, please visit the abc website at www.abcinformation.org.
Dr Julian Little
Chair, Agricultural Biotechnology Council
 Source: International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications, www.isaaa.org
 Source: A decade of EU-funded GMO research (2001-2010), European Commission, http://europa.eu IP/10/1688
 Source: IGD - survey of Shopper attitudes to Genetically Modified Foods, www.igd.com
Source: FSA – Biannual public attitudes tracker, May 2012 www.food.gov.uk/