Page last updated at 08:20 GMT, Saturday, 21 June 2008 09:20 UK

GM briefing urged rule rethink

Genetically modified tomatoes
Genetically modified crops are a controversial topic

Briefing notes by biotechnology industry members who met Environment Minister Phil Woolas call for a rethink of regulations governing GM crops.

A copy of a briefing paper prepared for the meeting has been passed to the BBC's Today programme.

Previously it had emerged that a call by Mr Woolas for a new debate on GM crops came after he met a body representing the industry.

Mr Woolas suggested that, with prices rising, GM crops could improve yields.

He has said that the government is ready to argue for a greater role for GM crops.

We need the most sophisticated plant breeding techniques available to us and we need our scientists to be able to use these with confidence
Sir David King
Former chief scientific adviser

The briefing paper formed the basis for a presentation to Mr Woolas by members of the Agricultural Biotechnology Council.

This is an umbrella group representing some of the leading companies involved in developing GM crops.

According to BBC correspondent Tom Feilden, the notes make a powerful case for the technology, but the most controversial section deals with the situation in the UK and Europe.

It calls for a rethink on the regulation of GM crop trials, and for a review to streamline and depoliticise the procedures governing the licensing of genetically modified crops across Europe.

Benefit claims

The biotech industry says that GM technology can combat world hunger and poverty by delivering higher yields and reducing the use of pesticides.

Sir David King, the government's former chief scientific adviser, told the Today programme we needed the plant technologies as they would allow us to produce "more crop per drop".

"This means that we need the most sophisticated plant breeding techniques available to us and we need our scientists to be able to use these with confidence, but within a properly regulated system.

"It's the product, case by case, that needs to be regulated."

While the technique now known as GM technology had been invented in Britain, we were now "well behind the curve" in terms of developing products that met the demands of the developing world, he said.

There is more than enough food in the world to feed everyone
Pete Riley
GM Freeze

But green groups and aid agencies have expressed doubts over just how effective the technology is.

An annual report by another industry body, the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), published in February said growing GM plants, such as maize and cotton, produced higher yields and incomes and lowered pesticide use.

But GM Freeze, a coalition of groups including Action Aid, the Soil Association, Unison and Greenpeace, said there was no evidence GM crops boost yields.

Pete Riley, of GM Freeze, said: "There is more than enough food in the world to feed everyone, it's just that the economic system put in place by politicians has failed to ensure that that food reaches the people who need it most, whilst other sectors of the population are becoming obese."




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