Britain Sees GM Foods as Answer to Self-Sufficiency


Financial Times (UK) / via AgBioView
By Jim Pickard
August 11, 2009

Genetically modified crops could be part of the solution for making British agriculture more self-sufficient, Hilary Benn, environment minister, said yesterday as the government launched its first review of the nation’s food security.

"We need to produce as much food as we can ourselves," Mr Benn said as he encouraged consumers to eat seasonally grown British vegetables – instead of out-of-season imports – as part of a drive to make the country less dependent on overseas producers.

The UK, which only produces 61 per cent of the food it consumes, had experienced a "wake-up call" in recent years with sudden oil and food price rises, he added.

In comments likely to raise fears over protectionism among the UK’s trading partners, Mr Benn said he would not ban products such as Spanish or African strawberries but hoped that people would choose to eat more seasonal foods.

Imports from other countries could become increasingly vulnerable to climate change or water shortages, he said. "If GM can make a contribution then we have a choice as a society and as a world about whether to make use of that technology, and an increasing number of countries are growing GM products," Mr Benn said.

"And the truth is we will need to think about the way in which we produce our food, the way in which we use water and fertiliser, we will need science, we will need more people to come into farming because it has a bright future."

The global population is expected to hit 9bn by 2050, requiring a 70 per cent rise in food production to prevent widespread hunger .

Yesterday the opposition Conservative party claimed that Britain’s self-sufficiency had declined under the 12 years of Labour government.

"Under Labour Britain has become increasingly dependent on imports of food we could grow ourselves," said Nick Herbert, shadow environment secretary. "It should be a strategic priority of government to increase self-sufficiency in food, yet the government is refusing to take the steps to make this happen."

Mr Herbert said the UK trade gap in food, feed and drink had widened by 52 per cent in real terms between 1998 and 2007 to £15.2bn ($25bn, €19bn).

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