The Guardian UK
By John Vidal, environment editor
July 19, 2009

White paper shows government plans major rise in investment in research, as report calls for moratorium and questions approach

Britain is planning to quietly spend up to £100m on support for genetically modified crops for the world’s poor despite not having allowed any of the controversial foods to be grown commercially at home.

A new white paper shows the government is committed to dramatically increasing spending on high-tech agriculture in the next five years, much of which will be on GM crop research. Biofortified crops, containing added vitamins, will receive £80m of development money, £60m will go on researching drought-resistant maize for Africa and a further £24m will be spent on pest resistance. In addition, support for an international network of GM crop research stations, in collaboration with GM companies, will be doubled. A further tranche of UK aid will go to a research initiative backed by the GM crop firm Syngenta, which is developing a strain of rice modified to increase vitamin A.

The white paper avoids the terms "genetically modified". But scientists and development experts are clear that much of the money will be spent on GM. The government has in the past revealed its strong support of high-tech food for Africa as a way to reduce poverty and also gain acceptance for GM foods in Britain.

Last year the then science minister, Ian Pearson, said: "If GM can demonstrably provide benefits for sub-Saharan Africa … the public will want to support [it]."

However, the decision to increase aid spending on GM food for developing countries rather than to direct money to help farmers increase yields by conventional methods has dismayed environmentalists. In a paper to be published tomorrow, GM Freeze, set up by Friends of the Earth and others, calls for a moratorium on GM, arguing that Britain’s investment is sending African farming "down a blind alley".