Minister hails benefit of GM crops

In his first major speech since taking over as environment secretary at Defra, Owen Paterson has emphasised his support for GM crops.

He told the Oxford Farming Conference earlier this month: "We should not be afraid of making the case to the public about the potential benefits of GM - for example, significantly reducing the use of pesticides and inputs such as diesel.

"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."

Further support for GM at the conference came from a surprising source. Environmental author and campaigner Mark Lynas said: "I want to apologise for having spent several years ripping up GM crops. I'm also sorry that I helped start the anti-GM movement back in the 1990s and that I thereby assisted in demonising an important technological option that can and should be used to benefit the environment."

In response, Soil Association director of innovation Tom MacMillan said "banging on" about GM crops "is a red herring".

He added: "Farmers and the public have been promised the earth on GM yet the results to date have been poor. Lynas, Paterson and other GM enthusiasts must beware of opening floodgates to real problems."

He said a survey by the British Science Association found the share of the public that believes GM food "should be encouraged" dropped from 46 per cent in 2002 to 27 per cent in 2012.

Lynas revealed that he has been sent hate mail as a result of his statements.

Rural concerns - Rewarding farmers' efforts

Acknowledging farmers' concerns about the burden of official inspections, Defra secretary Owen Paterson said: "I start from the position of trusting farmers. I'm determined that we should move towards a system of 'earned recognition'."

He said this would lead to farmers who adhere to high standards being rewarded by less frequent inspections. He also pledged £530m to install broadband in rural areas by 2015 and a further £150m to extend mobile phone coverage.

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