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DEBATE WILL DISPEL MYTHS

 
09:00 - 02 June 2003
 
 For: Biotech expert Bernard Marantelli argues that the British public
should not be denied freedom of choice

The Agricultural Biotechnology Council (abc) welcomes the impending
launch of GM-Nation , realises that the public require more information,
and expects the dialogue involved in the debate to remove many of the
myths and mystery surrounding GM crops, helping the public to make a
more informed choice.

The abc was established by the biotechnology industry precisely to
respond to public demand for more open and accessible information about
GM crops. The debate about whether to have GM crops is all about a
question of choice, and following its conclusion we hope the public
would not seek to deny the UK the opportunity to realise the benefits of
GM.

Agriculture has always produced separate segregated products for various
consumers with occasional but accepted amounts of mixing. All the
companies involved in the development of GM crops are also suppliers to
the non-GM and organic markets; it is therefore very much in the
industry's interest that co-existence works. GM production is regulated
to fit within this existing system of co-existence, allowing all forms
of production and strict origin-based labelling to further ensure
consumer choice at the supermarket shelf.

In 2002, 58.7 million hectares of GM crops were grown in 16 countries
worldwide. Some 27 per cent of these were grown by 4.5 million
small-scale, resource-poor farmers in nine developing countries who
voluntarily chose the technology. These facts illustrate the flexibility
of GM crops, and the economic, environmental and socio-economic
satisfaction of farmers. Yet surprisingly people still try to claim that
GM crops are not relevant to the developing world.

Although they are not grown commercially in the UK to date, UK field
trials have indicated that the benefits of GM crops observed in other
areas of the world could be replicated in the UK if and when
commercialisation occurs. Researchers led by Mike May at Broom's Barn in
Suffolk concluded that GM sugar beet would benefit UK farmers on average
#150 ha/yr, or #23 million a year to the industry.

These financial benefits are derived from various sources including
targeted pesticide use, reduced tractor hours and fuel savings, and
increased yields. More importantly these savings can make the difference
between profit and loss for individual farmers, and make crop bio-diesel
a reality, helping the UK meet CO2 and other greenhouse gas targets.

GM beet also offers the environmental benefits of weed management
practices that encourage including increased levels of weed and insect
biodiversity and increased ground cover, benefiting skylarks and other
ground-nesting birds.

Industry entered into the voluntary farm scale evaluations (FSEs),
confident that results would replicate agronomic and environmental
benefits observed globally, a belief we still hold. The full results of
these FSEs will be published by the Royal Society, made available to the
public later this year and be considered by the Government before any GM
approvals are issued.

abc and its member companies are committed to co-existence and entered a
trial code of practice to ensure co-existence for 260 trials over three
years of the FSEs. Recent surveys by ADAS and SCIMAC demonstrated that
co-existence practices around GM crops in the FSEs worked. They relied
on practices common to those ensuring co-existence in conventional
agriculture. And not surprisingly the surveys revealed 100 per cent
compliance with critical requirements and high farmer satisfaction.
Importantly, not one instance was reported where the FSEs led to loss of
organic status of any farm or crop - a result industry is confident can
be replicated in commercial reality.

The FSEs confirmed that all forms of farming, whether conventional,
organic, or GM, can and should co-exist.

This belief is reiterated by Dr Franz Fischler, European Commissioner
for Agriculture, who recently said: "Co-existence means that no form of
agriculture, GMO or non-GMO, should be excluded in the EU in the
future... only if farmers are able to produce the different types of
crops in a sustainable way will consumers have a real choice."

Extensive pre-commercial research and six years of consumption by
hundreds of millions of people has failed to produce any evidence of
health risk to humans or animals.

Some people continue to express health concerns, prompting the Royal
Society to challenge them: "We have examined the results of published
research, and have found nothing to indicate that GM foods are
inherently unsafe. If anybody does have convincing evidence, get it out
in the open so that it can be evaluated."

In fact, on occasion GM food is actually healthier - for example,
reductions in mycotoxin levels in GM corn.

GM technology is safe for humans and the environment. Industry
recognises that it is not the only solution to sustainable farming, but
believes it will go a long way to addressing many societal demands and
prove a considerable benefit to UK farming and the environment.

abc welcomes the impending debate GM-Nation?, expects a positive outcome
and a move towards co-existence in UK agriculture that allows freedom of
choice for farmers and consumer and all forms of agriculture.