Shropshire MP backs European ruling which could see GM crops in UK sooner

The prospect of GM fruit and vegetables on our supermarket shelves has moved a step closer following a landmark ruling by the European Parliament.

Shropshire MP backs European ruling which could see GM crops in UK sooner

Euro MPs voted yesterday to let government ministers decide whether or not to allow the production of genetically modified crops, opening the door to the prospect of GM tomatoes or potatoes eventually finding there way into our shops.

Although Euro MPs and ministers have agreed to give states more flexibility, EU scientists will still play a key role in authorisations.

The move follows months of gentle persuasion by North Shropshire MP and former environment secretary Owen Paterson, who formed an alliance with the Spanish to convince both supporters and sceptics alike that such decisions should be made by individual countries. Mr Paterson welcomed the news, having warned that Britain risked becoming "the museum of world farming" if it did not embrace the technology.

At the moment, EU regulations effectively prevent the commercial production of GM crops in Britain, although research centres at Rothamstead in Hertfordshire and Norwich have been growing them as part of their work for some years.

However, imported meat from livestock which has been fed with GM crops has long been available in supermarkets, so it does not take a huge leap in imagination to see them on the shelves in years to come. While the new ruling opens up the possibility of English farmers being able to grow GM crops, it is unlikely that any such move will take place in Wales.

The Welsh and Scottish administrations have already voiced strong opposition to GM crops, and are unlikely to use their powers to approve their growth. Mr Paterson said momentum for a change in the law came after he was approached by representatives of the Spanish government following a speech he gave at Rothamstead in 2012.

Spain, the only European country growing GM maize, wanted to try a new variety, but the process for getting EU approval took up to 10 years, leading to Mr Paterson and his Spanish counterparts press for a change in the law. They convinced that the governments of the GM-sceptic countries, such as Greece and Austria, that it was in their interests to retain control of their own laws.

Mr Paterson said countries such as the USA and South Africa had long been experiencing the benefits of GM technology, and British agriculture risked being left behind.

"In the John Innes centre in Norwich, and Rothamstead, we have got two of the best research centres in the world, but they are being held back by policy," said Mr Paterson.

"I want to see Britain becoming a world leader in agriculture."

He added that making crops more resistant to pesticides meant that there would be less need to use chemicals, and he said products such as 'golden rice' which were rich in vitamin A had the potential to tackle blindness in developing countries.

However, Peter Melchett of the Soil Association, which campaigns for organic farming, is against the introduction of GM crops. He said: "The biggest risk is that England gets the reputation of being a GM country. It could damage exports from England and if you get a reputation for being an unreliable supplier, people look elsewhere."

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