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expert reaction to Council for Science and Technology’s new report on GM

The Council for Science and Technology, the body that advises the Prime Minister on science policy issues, have produced a 50 page report that records the progress of the first generation of crops, the potential applications coming through the pipeline and the regulatory challenges, as well as a series of recommendations that would allow the safe use of GM varieties for the benefit of the farmer, consumer and the environment.

 

Prof Chris Pollock, Aberystwyth University, said:

“I strongly welcome this report as a valuable contribution to the discussions on the future potential for crop biotechnology.  I believe that it is well-grounded in scientific evidence and that it has identified both opportunities and challenges.  I particularly welcome the unequivocal statement that the technology per se is not intrinsically hazardous, and the conclusions from this that the regulatory systems surrounding GM need reform and should concentrate on product rather than process.  I believe that we need to think much more carefully about the management of novel agricultural practices in general if we are to succeed in increasing production without harming human health and the environment.  This report is an important contribution to that debate.”

 

Prof Huw Jones, Head of Cereal Transformation Lab, Rothamsted Research, said:

“Crop varieties with novel traits, such as herbicide-tolerance, change the agricultural practices of those growers that choose to use them and need an appropriate risk/benefit analysis. This applies whether this trait is enabled by GM or other means. The current legislation covering the cultivation and consumption of GMOs in the EU needs up-dating to reflect scientific advances and to remove future uncertainty about what genetic changes are included and what are not. I also support the call for the authorisation of GM crops to be founded on a strictly evidence-based analysis of risks rather than the generous helping of politics that currently accompanies these decisions.”

 

Prof Joe Perry, University of Greenwich, said:

“The recommendation to maintain the current EU-wide risk assessment advice provided by the European Food Safety Authority is to be welcomed.  The regulatory process within the EU is indeed the most stringent in the world; this should not be criticised as it gives confidence to consumers that food and environmental safety considerations are taken seriously and are assessed thoroughly.  The amount of data required from industry in this process is in my view not disproportionate.  The major delays or constraints to the cultivation of GM crops within the EU arise less from regulation, but more from political inertia, after a safety assessment has been delivered to the European Commission.”

 

Prof Jackie Hunter, BBSRC Chief Executive, said:

“Providing sufficient nutritious food for a growing global population is one of the most serious challenges facing the world. Science alone will not solve this but without the help of new scientific tools and technologies we will struggle to feed future generations.

 Against a backdrop of pressure on land use, population growth and disruption from climate change to farming practices we need to ensure we are exploring and encouraging the broadest spectrum of innovations. There needs to be an environment where the most appropriate approaches can be developed and evaluated and GM needs to be part of this. Regulatory systems and processes also need to change to allow European citizens and farmers to have the choice to take advantage of benefits from new crops as rapidly and as safely as possible.

 As the single biggest public investor in UK food and agriculture research and funder of some of the most recognisable institutions in plant and crop science, BBSRC welcomes this report. We will be engaging with the recommendations of this report and work with our partners, evaluating how all approaches can be supported for the greatest public good.”

 

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