Give consumers choice on GM foods, urges Norfolk MP

Consumers must be given the right to choose to buy GM foods, according to Norfolk MP George Freeman.

And there must be a full public debate about this technology and Europe's role in helping to meet the global challenge of feeding another two billion people within a generation.

The Mid-Norfolk MP said that consumers should also have the freedom of choice in their shopping baskets to buy healthy and functional foods grown using GM technology.

'The consumer should have choice, but what is wrong with going into a supermarket and having on one side the organic carrots grown locally, here in Norfolk, over there the carrots grown more intensively at a lower cost, and over here the rather more expensive cholesterol-reducing carrots that have been grown and bred specifically for a group with particular dietary, nutritional and health care needs?'

It was time to reopen the debate on GM and its potential, said Mr Freeman, who is chairman of the all party parliamentary agricultural group on science and technology.

'We have to produce twice as much food from half as much land with half as much pesticide, water and energy,' he added.

'The question for Britain and Europe is whether we want to participate and bring our expertise, insight and science to bear, or sit on our hands and become irrelevant,' Mr Freeman told MPs in an end-of-session Commons debate at Westminster Hall. 'Norwich is something of a centre of excellence globally in this sector and I am passionate about its potential to do good here in the UK, including in Norfolk, and across the world.'

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He said that the Foresight Report, published by the government's chief scientific adviser, Sir John Bedington, in January was a clarion call to respond to the predicted rise in world population to nine billion by 2050.

Every tool had to be available.

'I am not for a minute suggesting that GM is the magic bullet, or the only technology, or even the most important technology to consider. However, it is one vital technology in the toolkit.'

Mr Freeman, who had a 15-year career in biomedical health research before election as MP in 2001, said: 'It is worth remembering that commercial GM crops have been grown and eaten since 1994.

'In 2010, the hectarage of GM crops worldwide was 148 million hectares across 29 countries, 48pc of which was in developing countries. Some 15 million farmers, 90pc of whom are small and resource-poor, are already actively involved in growing GM crops.'

The developing world was driving adoption of the technology. Global GM cropping, by area, accounted for 77pc of soybean, 26pc of maize, 49pc of cotton and 21pc of canola (oilseed rape) production. After the USA's 66.7 million ha, the next 10 big adopters were Brazil, Argentina, India, Canada, China, Paraguay, Pakistan, South Africa, Uruguay and Bolivia. About 10pc of the world's arable area, equivalent to the total size of France, Germany and Spain, was growing GM crops, MPs were told. 'The technology is being adopted globally whether we like it or not. It is bizarre that in this country we are getting into a situation in which it is almost impossible to debate the technology, and in which the EU appears to be encouraging a national framework that countries can opt into or out of purely on the basis of emotional and political rationales.'

He said that anti-GM campaigners in Norfolk this weekend against the blight-resistant potato were already using irrational language. 'Rather than ripping up plants, attacking and destroying experiments and hysterically screaming down those who want to discuss the issue, we must engage in an open and rational debate.'

A groundbreaking three-year field trial into a GM blight resistant potato was taking place at the John Innes Centre, led by Jonathan Jones, he said.

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