Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 236 - 239)




  236. Professor Bainbridge, you have chaired or sat on a whole series of bodies with absolutely impossibly long names.
  (Professor Bainbridge) Absolutely, yes.

  237. And actually not very interesting acronyms. We are very grateful to you for coming to talk to us today. I am grateful for your submission which was a very useful and a very dense summary of what you are going to tell us. Could I begin by just saying that if you were sitting here ten years from now and we were asking you to look back ten years and to say what had been the two or three really important, startling and important trends in technology which had really transformed the agricultural scene we would be looking at, and we would be looking at a future agriculture in 2010 onwards, what do you think would be those things which you would identify?
  (Professor Bainbridge) Before I answer that, could I just say that I am here as me as opposed to being the voice of any of the government committees or other agencies that I sit on.

  238. Had you been, you would not have been asked.
  (Professor Bainbridge) Thank you. I think in ten years' time, some of the significant things are that I think we will see more GM. I do not think it will be the only story, but I think consumer acceptance will have moved on and I think we will have got over various issues around segregation, labelling and, most important of all, public education. I think there will still be organic and I think there will still be "conventional" produce, so whereas now you or I could go to the supermarket and we could buy normal food, which is at the moment branded obviously as GM free, or we could choose to buy organic, I think there will be three lines of types of food supply: the standard which may contain GM; the certified and verified GM free, "GM free" meaning only 1 per cent GM, which was the way I think it would be interpreted; and then organic. Obviously the latter two will be a premium, and I think the greater premium will be for the certified GM free as opposed to the organic. I think that is one thing. I think another of the three things that we will see is our countryside will look very different in the sense that it will not only be growing crops and used for animal husbandry as part of the food chain, but we will see far more in the way of industrial crops. In a sense there will be a blending not of the sort of industrial sort of scenery and heritage that I am familiar with in the north-east at all, but in the use of the countryside to grow raw materials, for instance, biodiesels or biofuels, things like that. I think the third thing will be possibly another application of technology and that is very small-scale, what I would call, bioreactors. They will not look like chemical plant or chemical reactors, but they will be small sheds and they will be used, for instance, for integrated processes for treating waste and generating small-scale local energy or treating particular waste, bio-remediation of waste streams, things like that. In the context of what I am talking about today in terms of biotechnology, I think there will be the three changes. Whether we will see all those in ten years or whether it will be 20, I would not like to say.

  239. We have been used in the post-war age to accepting certain things as sort of good things. The international negotiations for trade, the WTO, we see that now being challenged by a growing number of people against modernisation. We have assumed that technology on the whole is a good thing. Do you think we are actually beginning to see a sort of citizens' revolt, as it were, against some of these accepted wisdoms and what is happening right now? Your last answer suggests that if we take care of it, it may just be a hump, as it were, not an obstacle.
  (Professor Bainbridge) I am not so sure that it is a revolt against particular accepted wisdoms, but I think as a result in the context of farming and in the context of the food chain with so many very high-profile problems, consumers are starting to question more and they are starting to demand information and just by supplying information and educating the public about the food chain is not going to make the questions go away. As I know, being an academic and working with students, the most delightful students to teach are the brighter students who challenge every bit of wisdom and I think the more we educate the public, the more communication there is, which is absolutely the right way to go, communication through the scientist and the citizen, if you like, the more questions the citizen will raise and they will question what perhaps today are accepted wisdoms.

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