MPs urge Government caution on GM crops
Farmers Guardian, 14 May 2012
An influential committee of MPs has called the Government to refrain from licensing genetically modified (GM) crops until their benefits have been proved.
The Environmental Audit Committee challenged the Government's promotion of the 'sustainable intensification' model of food production 'the need to produce more from less' – in a report on Sustainable Food, published over the weekend.
This included questioning its support for GM technology. The committee said it received some evidence arguing that GM crops could be 'part of the solution for a sustainable food system'.
But it also heard other evidence that food shortage problems could be 'better addressed through other means', for example by tackling the 30 per cent food grown globally that is lost or wasted.
The MPs call on the Government to establish an independent body to 'research, evaluate and report on the potential impacts on the environment of GM crops, and their impacts on farming and on the global food system'.
The report said the initial focus of such research should be on the scope for, and risks of, the co-existence of GM crops with conventional and organic farming regimes.
Committee chair, Labour MP Joan Walley said: "Until there is clear public acceptance of GM and it is proven to be beneficial, the Government should not license its commercial use in the UK nor promote its use overseas."
The Committee's report claims the current Government has no overarching food strategy in place.
It said Defra's 'Green Food Project' due to be published in June examines only part of the food system, while the Government's focus on sustainable intensification 'risks ignoring the wider social and health implications of how we grow, trade and consume food in the UK'.
The MPs challenge the Government to define what 'sustainable intensification' means in practice, particularly for the UK. They insist it 'must be more than simply increasing yields' but should emphasise 'sustainable' and take account of social and environmental impacts of the food system.
The report adds that the UK does not currently have the basic science base to deliver more sustainable food production practices and that relying on markets to identify the relevant research is likely to fail. "The Government must take a more active role in directing research to ensure we have the science base to deliver food security and sustainability," the report says.
It argues that the Government needs to develop a 'joined-up strategy to change the UK’s unhealthy and environmentally damaging food system as fears mount about global food security'.
· Food skills, such as cooking and gardening, should be part of the curriculum in all schools;
· Stricter advertising limits protect children from junk food marketing on all media including the internet;
· New national planning policy guidance for Local Authorities should ensure communities have access to healthy food and land to grow their own produce;
· Government Buying Standards for food must be improved on meat and dairy and extended to cover hospitals, prisons and schools;
· The Office of Fair Trading’s remit should be amended so supermarkets are not blocked from cooperating on sustainability initiatives;
· Government should examine the scope for simple and consistent labelling on the sustainability of food products.
Ms Walley said: "Our food system is failing. The Government is understandably sceptical about anything that seems like nanny-statism, but the evidence is clear intervention is needed to tackle obesity and fix our food system."
"In many cases, reducing environmental impacts and getting people to eat more healthily can be achieved in tandem."