Memorandum submitted by the Agricultural
Biotechnology Council (SFS 41)
1. When given access to the right
farmers are well placed to supply high quality, affordable food that fully
meets consumer aspirations and can contribute to food security - an issue of increasing
importance towards the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century.
2. The judicious use of
biotechnology in agriculture is reducing the carbon footprint and environmental
impact of farming, and must therefore be seen as a tool in the fight against
climate change. New traits close to commercialisation will also mitigate
changes by climate proofing food crops.
3. Enhancing the nutritional
content of food is a priority; reducing the propensity for trans fats in food
is already a commercial reality and new products such as omega-3 in soybeans
are nearing the market.
The Agricultural Biotechnology Council (abc) welcomes
the opportunity to provide evidence on the challenges of securing food supplies here in the UK.
abc is the umbrella group for the agricultural
biotechnology industry in the UK.
The companies involved include BASF, Bayer CropScience, Dow Agrosciences,
Pioneer (Du Pont), Monsanto and Syngenta. Our aim is to provide factual
information about genetically modified (GM) crops in the UK and around
the world and the important role of GM technology in delivering high quality
affordable food in a way that minimises the environmental footprint of
abc would like to respond to the specific themes of the EFRA inquiry as
What trends are likely to emerge on the demand side of the food system
in the UK, in terms of consumer taste and habits, and what will be their main
effect? What use could be made of local
UK consumers expect to have access to safe,
high quality, affordable food that is readily available and which has been
produced in an "environmentally-friendly" fashion. UK farmers have been able to
satisfy shifting consumer demands by investing in the latest technologies and
in turn increasing productivity and reducing environmental and financial costs.
UK consumers have greatly benefited
from this: the proportion of monthly outgoing spent on food has decreased markedly
over the last 50 years and new diet and life-style choices, such as organic or
local sourcing, have been catered for.
recently, the spectre of food security has risen again. As global population
dynamics put pressure on the global agriculture supply chain, inevitably prices
have risen steeply. Today, food processors and therefore retailers and
consumers are faced with unstable and therefore unpredictable commodity prices
and as a result many commentators and policy-makers have looked for a solution
to the problem. Unfortunately, there is no one solution to food security or
food inflation; no silver bullet and no quick fix. The approach to protecting the UK food supply must
be integrated and reflective of the complexity of the food security issue. Investment in methodologies to increase
agricultural productivity and reduce waste is the key to the future of food
supply and Plant Biotechnology, including GM crops, can help form part of the
solution by protecting yields and increasing productivity, thereby helping to
stabilise food supplies and reduce the rising prices of milk, meat and other
addition, GM crops have a part to play in reducing the environmental and carbon
footprint of agriculture, and in the near future, by climate proofing of
agriculture with crops that can survive drought and require significantly less
recent IGD report on consumer attitudes suggests that a majority of consumers are
beginning to recognise the benefits of GM crops: 52% of those polled believed
that GM can be used to increase productivity and feed a growing world
population, with only 13% disagreeing with that view; likewise, 47% of
consumers thought that GM can help to protect crops against disease and extreme
weather, whereas 12% were not convinced.
are also looking harder at the nutritional content of their food and are
increasingly health conscious. Biotechnology
has a clear role in improving the nutritional quality and reducing the allergen
content of foods. For example, the
provision of vegetable oils with a better fatty acid profile is close to
realisation commercially, as are GM varieties of oilseed rape and soybeans are
in development with an increased polyunsaturated content.
problem with such a profile, however is that they tend to be unstable when used
in processed food; attempts to stabilise them lead to the production of
trans-fats, which are associated with health problems. Oilseed rape and soybean
crops have therefore been developed (using biotechnology even if the product is
not genetically modified) with an oil profile with a near zero-trans fat
potential (low linolenic acid), and have been for sale in the US and Canada for the first time this
year. Even more exciting is the development of plants containing long chain
omega-3 oil profiles. Nutritionists agree that oils that are high in
polyunsaturates are healthier than others, especially if they contain omega-3
fatty acids, and traditionally the only source of these are fish oils. Research teams around the world, however,
have succeeded in enriching vegetable oils with this essential fatty acid and soybeans
with such a profile will be first to the market and are nearing
What role should Defra play both in ensuring that the strengths of the UK food system
are maintained and in addressing the weaknesses that have been identified? What
leadership and assistance should Defra provide to the food industry?
Government's role, from a regulatory perspective, is to ensure that food
entering the market is safe to eat; decisions as to the availability of a
product should be left to market forces. The provision of a healthy
agricultural sector in the UK
is no different. Given the best
available tools on the market, UK
farmers can meet the challenges of changing consumer preferences and climate
change alike. Currently there are no suitable GM crops licensed for use in the UK, despite its
use on 114 million hectares of land by 12 million farmers elsewhere in the
should continue to ensure that UK
farmers have access to the tools they need to increase productivity whilst
reducing the carbon footprint and environmental impact of agriculture. This
will involve leadership at a European level, ensuring that assessment processes
for biotechnological products, including GMOs, are rigorously science based and
that labelling thresholds for GM products are practical and not restrictively
low. abc welcomes Defra's stance taken over these issues recently and hopes
that a leadership position will continue in both outlining the potential
contribution of agricultural biotechnology and countering potentially
prohibitive action from being taken in Europe.
DEFRA must also show leadership in the UK to allow field trials GM crops
to be able to be safely undertaken. Currently, UK Government legislation
requires those conducting GM crop trials to release a six figure grid reference
to disclose the exact location of the trial. This information has to be
published in a national newspaper and is readily available on the DEFRA
website. Whilst the industry supports disclosure of information
transparency, this process is enabling anti groups to actively target those
hosting the trials or in many cases attempt to destroy the trial site itself -
seen most recently in 2007 in the vandalism of GM trials by Leeds University
and at NIAB near Cambridge. Such arrangements deter investment in the UK and many
other European countries remain more practical venues to conduct trials.
This is potentially putting the UK
as risk of being left behind since it is critical to test specific GM traits in
growing conditions, and DEFRA must therefore take a lead in assessing the
effectiveness of the current regulations on disclosure and ensure illegal
anti-GM activity is dealt with appropriately. Through specific regulatory
changes, abc hopes that Defra will incentivise investment in biotechnological
research in the UK
and enable crop trials to proceed, which could help Government to realise its
farming, health and environmental policy objectives.
also that Defra will show Leadership by consistently engaging with all elements
of the food industry and ensuring that Government action is reflective of and
in response to industry's concerns.
Standards Agency is an increasingly well respected and trusted organisation and
its position as a DEFRA agency "independent" of political control is critical
to its good name as a food regulator.
How well does Defra engage with other relevant departments across
Government, and with European and international bodies, on food policy and the
regulatory framework for the food supply chain? Is there a coherent
cross-Government food strategy?
Issues central to the future of UK food policy are multifaceted and
complex and abc therefore welcomes the publication of the Food Matters strategy
and the cross-departmental work being undertaken to realise the Government's
objectives. The fact that a number of
Government Departments, including DH, DfID and DEFRA, are involved in the delivery
of Food Matters highlights that, for the first time, a comprehensive,
food policy is being developed.
Key policy areas relevant to the future of agricultural biotechnology in
require a cross-Governmental approach. For
crop trial regulations to successfully facilitate the trialling of GM crops,
for example, the Home Office, Defra
and BERR are required to be involved, and as agricultural biotechnology
continues to be explored as part of the solution to food security we hope that
this collaborative approach will continue.
How robust is the current UK food system? What are its
main strengths and weaknesses? How well
placed is the UK to make the most of its opportunities in responding to the
challenge of increasing global food production by 50% by 2030 and doubling it by
2050, while ensuring that such production is sustainable?
Plant Biotechnology, including GM, could be a key
contributor to the UK's
ability to respond to the challenge of increased food production and could in
turn contribute to strengthening food security and tackling climate
By protecting yields and increasing productivity GM can
help to stabilise
food supplies and reduce the rising prices of key commodities; GM can play a
role in advancing developing nations' economic progress by increasing yields of
food crops such as maize and cash crops such as cotton; and by reducing the
environmental and carbon footprint of agriculture and by climate proofing of
agriculture with crops that can survive drought and require significantly less fertiliser.
achievable on an international level but for this to
benefit the UK, UK farmers
require access to this technology, which requires a seismic change in the
processing of GM applications stuck in the European regulatory system and an
ability to carry out field trials without fear of vandalism. Europe has always
been a powerhouse of agricultural production, and if this is to continue, the
onus on the UK and Europe to increase agricultural productivity has never