1.Tories and Labour renew backing for GM food crops – The Guardian
2. GM could be an answer in food security debate – Farmers Weekly

See also our update on this item.

NOTE: There's nothing new in the UK political establishment expressing support for all things GM, which is why The Guardian uses the word "renew" in its headline. (item 1)

There's also nothing new in politicians from the UK's two main political parties pandering to the pro-GM farming establishment at the annual Oxford Farming Conference, where big agribiz and the biotech/pesticide lobbies are all too clearly in evidence.

What is perhaps different in the second of these two articles are the words to the conference of the brand director of Sainsbury's.

The fact that the UK is often seen as a bastion of anti-GM sentiment has absolutely nothing to do with the UK's two main political parties, who continue to be guided by GM lobbyists. (Happily, the political leaders of the UK's devolved administrations have shown far more backbone.)

The UK's anti-GM status is down to ordinary people making it clear to UK supermarkets that they do not want GM produce on their shelves. Some supermarkets are clearly more in sympathy with the views of their customers than others. Mark Price, CEO of the supermarket chain Waitrose, for instance, is on record as saying:

"Waitrose continues to maintain our non-GM stance, partly because we know our customers don't want it. The major problem with the technology is that it is a 'one in, all in' deal, and that simply isn't fair on those farmers who want their land to remain GM-free."

By contrast, Sainsbury's brand director, is quoted in the Farmers Weekly report below (item 2) as expressing the company's sadness at UK farming having remained GM free!!

Here's the e-mail address of the Sainsbury's brand director named in the Farmers Weekly report (but spelled incorrectly by FW):
<This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Or you can write to Sainsbury's CEO, Justin King, to point out just how badly their brand director is damaging the Sainsbury's brand!!!
<This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

You might want to ask Justin King whether his brand director really speaks for Sainsbury's when she says of GM in the UK: "We feel sad that we have missed out..." 

You might want to make clear to Justin King how you will view shopping at Sainsbury's if these are indeed the views of his company.

You can also send a letter to Justin King:
The Chairman
Sainsbury's Supermarkets Ltd
33 Holborn

Please also consider writing to your Member of Parliament to remind them about the level of opposition to GM in the UK, and how the Government's Agriculture Minister, Jim Paice, and the Shadow DEFRA secretary Mary Creagh, are failing to reflect this in their naive enthusiasm for GM foods. MPs addresses are available via:

Don't leave it to the GM lobby to do all the talking!
1.Tories and Labour renew backing for GM food crops
Juliette Jowit
The Guardian, 5 January 2012

Controversial genetically modified food crops could help to massively increase food production to meet growing populations and consumption, politicians from both major parties said on Wednesday.

Speaking at the annual Oxford Farming Conference, agriculture minister Jim Paice said the promised benefits of GM varieties which would need less nitrogen fertiliser, pesticides or fresh water than non-GM foods could not be ignored, as demand was rising and pressure on resources and land increasing.

"GM is not the answer to everything, but in the foreseeable future we'll have nitrogen-fixing wheat if that isn't going to be a major development I don't know what is," said Paice. "It's going to be a big challenge for the industry and consumers as to whether they are prepared to welcome that for the major environmental gains against the concerns people have against GM."

With "sustainable intensification" of farming a top conference theme, Paice said the UK wanted the European Union to agree to lift restrictions on trials and sale of GM products, so countries like the UK could "do it's own thing" so "we can use this technology where appropriate".

But he said supermarkets needed to take the lead on introducing GM food for sale more widely. "Whatever the government says about, GM the public will never believe it but perversely they believe very strongly that what goes on a supermarket shelf is good to eat and safe to eat," he said.

Mary Creagh, Labour's shadow environment secretary, used her speech to call for scientists to better explain the benefits of GM, and told the Guardian: "We have to keep an open mind on this. I don't think we should ignore the role science should play in tackling environmental challenges."

To help settle public concern about a few big businesses controlling important new crop varieties, Creagh said there should be more joint public and private funding for research, especially at a European level evoking the multi-lateral collaboration in industries like defence.

"We need a sensible debate about how we meet the challenges of sustainability, about the real potential of novel crops."

Farming leaders have long called for more trials of GM crops in the UK but many trials have been abandoned after direct action by protestors. Currently a three-year trial of potatoes resistant to nematode worms is underway in Yorkshire under strict security, on the condition that they will not be fed to humans or animals.

However, critics say it is not possible to be sure GM crops will not spread into the wider environment from trial sites, and warn that GM supporters have repeatedly over-promised on the benefits of the technology and underplayed the risks.

"US farmers are battling superweeds and superpests as GM technology is proving unsustainable and more weeds and pests become resistant due to growing GM crops," said Helen Wallace, director of GeneWatch UK. "Valuable GM-free markets have been lost to them and conventional and organic farmers have paid a heavy price. Britain will benefit if it maintains and enhances its diverse farming system and keeps its markets GM-free."

The devolved administrations in Wales and Scotland have separately banned GM trials.

Paice also called for the phasing out of mass European subsidies for farmers' landholdings because of the expected rise in demand for food and prices. The changes would apply to at least 80% of British farmers' current subsidies of GBP3.5bn a year, but not to "pillar II" funds for environment and other public programmes.

Farm leaders said some members were keen to see the end of flat subsidies because they believed they support poor farms, while others believed severe cuts were eventually inevitable because of the financial crisis.

Cedric Porter, chairman of this year's conference, said: "The vast majority of farmers still believe there's a very important role for some supports, but the increasing majority need to realise we need to move away from that and their businesses need to focus more on improving quality, improving efficiency, producing more."

UK farm output grew 42% from 2005 to 2010, to more than GBP20bn.
2.GM could be an answer in food security debate
Farmers Weekly, 4 January 2012 

The debate around genetically modified foods being produced in the UK needs to be reopened if the issues of securing food supplies and rising costs are to be addressed.

Shadow DEFRA secretary Mary Creagh said food prices had increased much faster in the UK than other countries over the past 12 months and that GM needed to be looked at as one of the ways of ensuring people could afford nutritional food.

Speaking at the Oxford Farming Conference on Wednesday (4 January), Mrs Creagh said British consumers had indicated they did not want to eat GM food.

"But that debate needs to be reopened," she told delegates. "The biotech industry failed to communicate properly with the country about the potential benefits and that needs to be addressed."

Farm minister Jim Paice said the government wanted to see the regulation around GM to be changed to the technology could be used in Europe where it was appropriate.

"GM is not the answer to everything, but in the near future we will have a nitrogen-fixing wheat available to farmers," he told reporters. 

"It will be a big challenge for the industry and consumers to whether we are going to allow these products which are going to have such major environmental gains."

The ministers' comments came after Sainsbury's brand director said that despite having a policy not to sell GM produce, it was naive to think the technology would not play a role in the future of UK farming.

"The sad thing is lots of progress is being used in other parts of the world and they are using technology the UK hasn’t been part of," she told delegates at the retailer’s fringe event on Tuesday (3 January).

"We feel sad that we have missed out on that research."

Mrs Batchelor said consumer research had shown 70% of British shoppers were confused about GM and want an independent voice to tell them. 

"No retailers will move until that happens," she added. "But in future, who knows?"