The surprise Coalition interest in genetically modified crops – the so-called “Frankenstein foods” – has been met with resistance from a raft of conservation bodies opposed to their introduction in Britain.
Tony Blair, when Prime Minister, was a major supporter of such crops but trials given the go-ahead by the New Labour government were halted after experimental sites were invaded and their crops destroyed by protesters. Since then, the subject has largely been on the back burner.
However, the new Defra Secretary, Caroline Spelman – much to the surprise of many – has re-opened the debate by calling for a round of talks with interested bodies about the possibility of re-starting the programme.
But it emerged yesterday (June 7) that some of the most vocal conservation groups – Friends of the Earth, the Soil Association and GM Watch – have decided to boycott the talks.
They are also supporting the former vice chairman of the Food Standards Agency, Prof Brian Wynne, who has resigned because he says the agency has become a propaganda vehicle in favour of GM.
Interestingly, Caroline Spelman spent a long career in the arable farming sector before becoming an MP and, with “green” leaning Liberal Democrats as part of the new coalition government, the re-opening of this controversy has surprised many observers.
However, since Tony Blair’s day, many things have changed in global agriculture. There is a growing shortage of basic foodstuffs in many parts of the world and, with the pound weak, food exporting countries are beginning to seek new markets in fast-growing economies like China and India.
Add to that Britain’s fast growing population – due to hit 70 million in a decade or so, mainly due to the impact of mass immigration – securing the nation’s food security has become a major concern for government.