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MPs have called for more GM crop trials in the UK

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MPs call for an end to GM crop protests

Ecologist

22nd July, 2009

MP's report leaves environmentalists facing a dilemma, should they allow GM crop trials or not?

Calls from a highly respected group of MPs for GM crop trials has created a dilemma for environmentalists - do they allow them to go-ahead or risk being accused of burying their heads in the sand?

In a wide-ranging report, 'Securing food supplies up to 2050: the challenges for the UK', MPs from the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs committee (Efra) called for an end to the protests against trials of GM crops in the UK.

MPs said although there were 'risks and uncertainties' with GM technology there should still be more research into its use in the UK.

'At the moment we have a situation where some of the concerns that are rightly being raised by people are not being addressed,' said Efra chairman Michael Jack. 'Defra should help broker more trials to allow a proper discussion of the technology with more facts.'

But campaigners said trials would create the risk of contamination. 'Any trials can't promise there won't be cross pollination during harvest,' said a Soil Association spokeswoman.

The report from MPs also dismissed the idea of a wholesale shift to organic farming in the UK, saying there were some non-organic techniques that could allow more sustainable food production.

The Soil Association said a recent independent report it had commissioned showed the positive impact that organic farming could have concluding that, 'it is, perhaps, mainstream agriculture in waiting.'

Food availability

As well as GM technology, the report also made strong recommendations on food prices and production and the controversial issue of land-grabbing.

MPs said that the recent fall in food prices 'must not be regarded as a sign that Governments can withdraw their attention from food again.' They called for a greater focus on increasing domestic production in the UK to meet growing world demands. However, they said projections that food production would need to double by 2050 to feed a growing world population were too vague.

Policymakers, they said, needed a 'clear and accessible breakdown of this projection, where and at what rate the population increases are likely to take place and how demand is likely to change and the implication on different food commodities'.

Looking abroad, MPs recognised the potential for increasing agricultural production in Brazil in particular was strong - with a reported area seven times the size of the UK available for agricultural production.

However, MPs expressed concern that not only could Brazil's infrastructure not cope with a major growth in agriculture but also that it could not be achieved with out an increase in foreign investment and control. The Brazilian Agribusiness Association told MPs many farm businesses had already been sold to international companies such as Cargill and Bunge.

Land-grabbing

MPs criticised Defra for not taking seriously the issue of land-grabbing whereby overseas investors buy up large tracks of land. In giving evidence to MPs earlier this year, Defra secretary of state Hilary Benn had said land-grabbing could not be regulated. MPs said it distorted world trade and was a new and worrying form of 'food colonialism'.

'It may bring some employment and benefit local infrastructure but it is an arrangement of vastly unequal power and offers few guarantees for local people,' said Mr Jack.

Defra is still considering its response to the report but said it would be publishing its own proposals for assessing the environmental and social impacts of food production next month.

Useful links
The report in full

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