Europe must catch up with rest of world on GM, expert says

Europe must catch up on research into genetic modification of food, according to a leading expert who has dismissed many media horror stories as groundless.

Dr Colin Merritt, a scientist at Monsanto, told visitors to the Royal Show that molecular genetics had become the core for plant breeding, and advances in genetic modification were huge.

Scientists could now screen thousands of seeds at a time, he said, and pinpointing gene characteristics had moved on from one in a trillion to one in a few.

"Asking if GM is the answer to feeding the world is like asking are wind farms the answer to energy problems," he said. "They are part of the solution."

He added there was no evidence of anything worrying "lurking in the cupboard" and nothing to support scare stories in the media.

He said GM technology had enabled researchers to transfer a gene from seaweed that fish harvested into a vegetable oil, while GM technology in US soybeans offered better pest and weed control to improve yields by a fifth. In addition, a drought-protection gene in maize pushed up yields by a fifth and was being trialled in a project called Water Efficient Maize for Africa.

"Research has not been going at the pace we would like in Europe," Merritt said. "But opinion is moving towards the positive despite a small hard core of resistance.

"Half the farmers say they approve of biotechnology, but a worrying number are still not sure. We have lots to do to get more research going in the UK and Europe."

Merritt's speech followed the launch of a new EU review into whether GM crops could help reduce the cost of food.


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