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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 March 2005, 14:59 GMT
UK farms 'want to grow GM crops'
Hands holding rice grain
"Golden rice" was developed for malnourished people
Genetically modified crops could be grown in the UK within 10 years, US biotechnology giant Monsanto has said.

Company president Hugh Grant told the BBC's Farming Today programme his firm's research showed that most UK farmers wanted the chance to grow GM.

Following a five-year national debate, the government said last year GM crops could be grown under strict conditions. But Friends Of The Earth says farmers are sceptical and consumers do not want the crops because of safety fears.

Monsanto, which pioneered GM crops, announced it would close its European seed cereal business in the UK in 2003.

'Health benefits'

Mr Grant told the programme he found the pace of change in Europe frustratingly slow and he rejected the view that UK consumers were worried about the safety of GM products.

He said more than 400 million hectares (one billion acres) of GM crops had been planted around the world and farmers from China to Brazil were literally reaping the benefits.

He also insisted GM technology could be used to produce a range of crops with distinct health benefits.

Monsanto's predictions for GM in the UK are more about marketing hype than reality
Friends Of The Earth

However, Friends Of The Earth said biotechnology firms had been promising such "super crops" for years and had failed to deliver. It insisted more research was needed into the effects of GM food.

Spokeswoman Clare Oxborrow told BBC News: "Monsanto's predictions for GM in the UK are more about marketing hype than reality.

"People have genuine concerns about GM crops - about their impacts on our health, the environment and the fact that they are being promoted by multinational companies more interested in controlling the global food supply and making a profit than providing us with healthy food."

'Business decision'

National Farmers' Union food science advisor Dr Helen Ferrier said most farmers would not be thinking about whether they were going to grow GM crops.

Monsanto pioneered GM crops
Monsanto says UK farmers want the chance to grow GM crops
"Most farmers probably don't think that far ahead," she said. But they might well want to grow them in the future, if it proved to be a "good business decision", she added.

Although consumers were not generally in favour of GM crops, for "moral reasons", she said, the extra choices that could be offered might change that in the future.

"If, for example, a GM food is significantly cheaper, there could be a market for it," she added.

Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett approved the growing of a single variety of GM maize - herbicide-tolerant maize - in March 2004.

However, German company Bayer CropScience, the only firm eligible to grow herbicide-tolerant maize in the UK decided not to proceed with plans to cultivate the plant.

Mrs Beckett's statement followed five years of consultation, farm-scale trials and a major survey which showed 90% of the public were against GM crops.

The next window for the GM crop companies is 2008, when Bayer CropScience will propose commercialisation of oilseed rape and Monsanto and Syngenta will be vying to get GM sugar beet approved.

GM firm to shut its British labs
02 Jul 04 |  Berkshire
UK's tentative go-ahead for GMs
09 Mar 04 |  Science/Nature
Executive backs UK GM crop move
09 Mar 04 |  Scotland
Q&A: GM farm-scale trials
09 Mar 04 |  Science/Nature

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