Rising food prices due partly to soaring demand in China are increasing pressure on Europe
28 Feb 2008
2) Reuters | Wednesday, 20 February 2008 (reprinted by The Press)
Rising food prices due partly to soaring demand in China are increasing pressure on Europe to boost harvests and could help turn the tide in favour of genetically modified crops despite widespread public opposition.
Opponents have cited concerns that GMO crops could have a negative environmental impact and could even pose a risk to human health. European Union governments have been unable to reach a consensus to speed up authorisations.
GMO crops met a hostile response when first touted in Europe a decade ago after they were dubbed "Frankenstein foods" and it has proved hard for proponents to overcome consumers concerns.
But pressure is growing for acceptance of GMO technology.
"We have to face up to the issue of genetic modification and rise to the challenge of helping to foster a fair and scientific debate on an issue that has typically been clouded by suspicion and a lack of trust," Iain Ferguson, chief executive of Tate & Lyle Plc said on Tuesday.
Ferguson, who is also president of Britain's Food and Drink Federation, told the National Farmers Union annual conference it was increasingly difficult for food companies to be able to make products without genetically modified ingredients.
"I think we sit at a moment of history when GM technology because it has accepted by a large number of crop producing countries which export, that a lot of the international trade is now of GM-derived products and that is a fact of life.
"For those people who are trying to source non-GM through identity preservation in whatever form they are doing it, that is become a tougher and tougher thing to do and it is becoming more expensive," he said.
There has been significant opposition among consumers in Britain and several other European countries to genetically modified crops and few are grown in the European Union, in contrast to the United States, Brazil, Argentina and China.
Demand for food is rising sharply in China, India and several other countries and is expected to continue to increase, boosted by both economic expansion and population growth.
Climate change is also forecast to reduce agricultural production in many areas over the next few years.
"I think the debate about higher prices and being able to meet the demand of people in the world for food is a perfect opportunity to make the case (for GMO crops)," Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation said.
"We may have a window of opportunity here and I would encourage you to exploit that," he told the NFU conference.
Britain's chief scientist said GMO crops should not be shunned as agriculture seeks to respond to rising food demand.
"It seems to me to be insanity to throw away potential solutions of scientific problems and to practical problems that the (farming) industry have," the UK government's chief scientific adviser, John Beddington, said.
Beddington, however, said it was vital to assess any potential harm the crops could do to the environment although he downplayed concern they might damage human health.
Farmers in Britain have been reluctant to support GMO crops openly until they are widely accepted by consumers.
NFU president Peter Kendall, however, told the conference that food production needed to double and possibly treble over the next 40 years and "developing the agricultural potential of this country to its fullest is actually a moral issue".
"It is acutely painful to me to see how we have allowed our science base to run down. Part of the problem is the aversion to new technology and risk that has been fostered by a section of our society," he said.
"The NFU has called for a new and intelligent debate about new technology. We must start that debate now."
Livestock farmers at the conference expressed frustration they were unable to import cheaper GMO feed under EU rules at a time when feed costs are soaring.
Kendall argued that British government papers have said that Britain as a rich country does not face a food security threat and it could trade its way our of trouble.
He, however, questioned the morality on passing the problem on to poorer countries, many of whom face a greater threat from climate change.
Growing concern about the food price inflation has helped spark increased interest in the agricultural sector and leaders of Britain's three leading political parties, including British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, participated in the conference.
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