Advanced genetic techniques for crop improvement: regulation, risk and precaution - Science and Technology Committee Contents

3  The role of advanced genetic techniques in agricultural innovation

National policy on the use of advanced genetic techniques


20. The Government has clearly stated its support for the use of advanced genetic techniques in crop improvement. In a widely reported speech to the National Farmers' Union in February 2013, Owen Patterson MP, then Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, stated that the world was "ploughing ahead and reaping the benefits" of this field of technology and that the Government "must address the paralysis" in the EU regulatory system if Europe was to avoid "being left behind".[67] Mr Patterson's replacement as Secretary of State, Elizabeth Truss MP, has also recently indicated her support, reportedly stating that "GM crops have a role to play here in Britain" and calling on the EU to take a more evidence-based approach to decision-making with regard to cultivation.[68] In an online summary of its policy in this area, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs states that "the protection of human health and the environment are our overriding priorities", but that:

    GM technology could deliver benefits providing it is used safely and responsibly, in particular as one of a range of tools to address the longer term challenges of global food security, climate change, and the need for more sustainable agricultural production.[69]

21. The Government told us that it was "concerned" that there was "a significant opportunity cost" associated with the UK "not embracing this technology", which risked "putting us at a major competitive disadvantage" in the global agricultural market.[70] It estimated that "adopting GM maize, rape and beet varieties could increase UK farm profits by between £28m and £48m annually" and suggested that "if there were a properly functioning EU regime it is possible that one or more of such crops might already be being grown here".[71]


22. The Government told us that "GM policy" was "devolved within the UK, and therefore Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are responsible for issues relating to the release of GM crops in their own territory".[72] The policies of the devolved nations are at significant variance with that of the UK Government. Aileen McLeod MSP, Scotland's Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, told us that the Scottish Government was "fundamentally opposed to the cultivation of GM crops in Scotland".[73] In explaining this position, Ms McLeod pointed out that Scotland's food and drink sector depended "to a large extent on the public's perception of our clean and green image", which she stated "could be adversely affected by growing GM crops in Scotland".[74] She also implied that this position had a scientific basis, as there was "still some debate about the long term effects on the environment from growing GM crops".[75] Mark Durkan MLA, Northern Ireland's Minister of the Environment, stated that he was also "opposed in principle" to the growing of genetically modified crops and "welcomed" the EU's proposal to allow countries to prohibit cultivation in their own territories on grounds other than safety (see paragraphs 83-87).[76] Rebecca Evans AM, Wales' Deputy Minister for Farming and Food, told us that the Welsh Government also took a "restrictive and precautionary approach to GM crop cultivation" because of the need to protect its food and drink sector.[77] However, Ms Evans added that she believed in "keeping an open mind on future GM developments and more advanced genetic techniques" and "would be supportive of new research" into the field.[78]

23. Ms McLeod's claim that there is still some debate about the long term effects of cultivating genetically modified crops does not appear to be supported by the available scientific evidence. The European Academies Science Advisory Council (EASAC), the umbrella organisation for the national science academies of the EU's 28 member states, notes that, after over fifteen years of cultivation, there is "no compelling evidence" that genetically modified crops pose greater risk to humans, animals or the environment than that associated with conventional crops.[79] Given this long history of safe use, the Prime Minister's Council for Science and Technology recently advised that "we should have confidence in the consensus on the scientific evidence which concludes that, when properly controlled, GM products are as safe as their conventional counterparts".[80]

24. This Committee does not scrutinise the policies of the Devolved Administrations but we hope that they note the observations of this report and understand that foods, most especially animal feeds, increasingly contain elements of genetically modified crops despite their inclination not to permit the growth of such crops.

25. While recognising that agricultural policy is a devolved area and respecting the right of the Devolved Administrations to maintain a restrictive approach to the use of advanced genetic crop breeding techniques, we reject the Scottish Government's suggestion that this policy has a scientific basis. We encourage all of the Devolved Administrations to take an evidence-based approach to policy on the use of advanced genetic approaches to crop improvement. Where policies are based on other considerations, this should be made clear: allegations of scientific uncertainty should not be used as a pretence for value-based objections.

The global potential of advanced genetic techniques

26. The Government described genetic modification as one of "a range of tools" that could be used to tackle today's global agricultural challenges.[81] However, not all of our witnesses agreed that this was a tool that should be utilised. Dr Doug Parr, Greenpeace UK, stated that Greenpeace saw "no case" for cultivating genetically modified crops, although it was "perfectly happy" with applications that involved genetically modified organisms being used in a contained environment (for example, in commercial insulin production) and supported other forms of biotechnology, such as marker assisted selection (see box 3).[82] Liz O'Neill, GM Freeze, called for a "moratorium" on the cultivation and import of genetically modified foods and feedstuffs and stated that her organisation "would have difficulty imagining" how first generation products "could be used in a positive way".[83] In contrast, EASAC stated that "GM technology […] must be allowed to take its place among the scientific advances that European plant breeders and farmers can call upon" and argued that, given the magnitude of the agricultural challenges the world is currently facing, "no new technology should be excluded on purely ideological grounds".[84] A 2011 report prepared by the Government's Foresight Unit similarly concluded that new technologies such as advanced genetic techniques "should not be excluded a priori on ethical or moral grounds, though there is a need to respect the views of people who take a contrary view".[85]

27. We do respect that people have every right to such views but restate our earlier observation that those views on ethical or moral grounds should not imply or claim that those objections have any basis in scientific evidence.
Box 3: Marker assisted selection
Plant breeding gradually improves the performance of crop plants through an iterative three stage process: i) genetically distinct parent plants are crossed on the basis of their individual characteristics; ii) the resulting progeny are screened for beneficial trait combinations, and iii) those offspring displaying desired traits are further bred from to eventually form new lines and varieties.[86]

The second stage of this process is often challenging because large numbers of plants may have to be grown for months or years before being screened, often for traits that are not easily identifiable (for example, disease resistance or drought tolerance). However, it is known that certain traits are strongly associated with specific genes or stretches of DNA and it is therefore sometimes possible to monitor the presence of this genetic material as a proxy for the trait itself. Once individuals possessing the desired trait have been identified through this molecular marker, they can be selected for further propagation, accelerating and improving the reliability of more conventional methods of selective breeding. This process is known as marker assisted selection (MAS), or marker assisted breeding.[87]

MAS has led to the development of several novel plant varieties, including salt-, acid- and drought-tolerant rice, disease resistant wheat and high yielding tomatoes.[88] However, it relies on the genetic variation already present in the crop population and is therefore more limited in its potential uses than some other advanced genetic approaches.[89]

28. Several witnesses emphasised the potential value of genetically advanced crops to the developing world and highlighted the global knock-on effects of European opposition to such technologies. Mark Lynas, a self-proclaimed former "anti-GM campaigner", stated that, in some regions of Africa, there was evidence of "increasing malnutrition resulting from the failure of staple crops like banana and cassava due to emerging new viral and bacterial diseases" and explained that "African scientists, as part of international public-sector collaborative efforts, have already developed GM cassava and banana which are resistant to both these diseases".[90] He argued that "the risk to food security in sub-Saharan African countries of not adopting GM technology is surely vastly greater than the risks of adopting it", but stated that "the prospect of any of these crops reaching farmers is slim due to the overpowering anti-GMO sentiment spread by many European-funded activist groups".[91] Mr Lynas highlighted the "chilling effect" that the EU regulatory regime (discussed in chapter 4) had exerted on the use of these technologies in the developing world, as "if a single grain" of genetically modified product were to be found in a shipment to Europe, "the entire trading system could be put at risk".[92] Dr Calestous Juma, Professor of International Development at Harvard Kennedy School, agreed that diplomatic pressure from the EU had led to many African countries taking a "restrictive approach" to genetic modification, despite "evidence from several long-term studies" suggesting that such technologies were "successful at helping smallholder farmers increase their income through costs savings".[93] In its 1999 report, Genetically modified crops: the ethical and social issues, the Nuffield Council on Bioethics concluded that genetic modification did "not differ to such an extent from conventional breeding that it is itself morally objectionable" and stated that "the moral imperative for making GM crops readily and economically available to developing countries who want them" was "compelling".[94]

29. Ms O'Neill was particularly critical of what she called the "silver-bullet mentality that has been part of the promotion of GM" and the claim that "if we just fix this one particular trait, everything will be okay and we will have the crops we need".[95] However, we saw little evidence of this attitude amongst our witnesses. Professor Juma characterised "plant biotechnology" as "one important tool in addressing food insecurity", but neither he nor Mr Lynas suggested that it was a panacea.[96] The Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board stated that "all technologies" that could increase efficiency and provide potential economic, environmental or consumer benefits "should be fully appraised and evaluated" and Professor Baulcombe explicitly stated that "industrial agriculture by itself" was "not the answer" to today's agricultural challenges and needed to be considered alongside "traditional and organic" approaches.[97] He added that the idea that genetic modification could be a "silver bullet" was "completely dead now" and was therefore "not a valid objection to GM".[98] Industry representatives were particularly keen to dispel claims that they over-estimated the potential value of these techniques. Dr Julian Little, Chair of the Agricultural Biotechnology Council, stated that it was "very important that we put on record that we do not believe GM will be the silver bullet for all problems out there".[99] Dr Mike Bushell, Principal Scientific Adviser at Syngenta, went further, stating that he did not think that Syngenta had "ever said that GM is a silver bullet or a magic bullet of any sort; it is just a very important part of the farmer's toolkit".[100] The Minister agreed that it was "important" that "GM crops" were "not seen as a silver bullet and the solution to all of our agricultural problems", describing them as simply "one important technology among many whose potential we need to explore".[101]

30. We received no evidence to suggest that genetic modification, or any other single technology, was widely viewed as a potential cure-all for global agricultural problems. It is clear that a diversity of approaches—technological, social, economic and political—will be required to meet the challenge of delivering sustainable and secure global food production. However, advanced genetic approaches do have a role to play. We are convinced by the evidence provided to us that this suite of technologies is a potentially important tool, particularly in the developing world, which should not be rejected unless there is solid scientific evidence those technologies may cause harm.

Steering agricultural innovation

31. Given that multiple approaches are clearly needed in order to tackle global food insecurity, we were concerned by claims made by a small number of witnesses that, by pursuing advanced genetic techniques, society was effectively 'locking out' the alternatives. This argument was made most fully by Professor Andy Stirling, co-Director of the University of Sussex's Social, Technological and Environmental Pathways to Sustainability (STEPS) Centre. In a recent report commissioned by the Government Chief Scientific Adviser, Professor Stirling argued that "a diversity of well understood social, political and economic processes" had the effect of "steering" innovation pathways in particular directions, reinforcing those trajectories "favoured by the most powerful interests" at the expense of others that "may be more widely beneficial".[102] Professor Stirling told us that there was "quite a lot of prima facie evidence" that such processes had led to "a degree of lock-in with GM technology specifically, notwithstanding that there are alternatives showing great promise".[103] Professor Brian Wynne, University of Lancaster, agreed that there was a "big question" over whether advanced genetic approaches could "peacefully co-exist with all the other tools in the toolbox" or whether they would "swallow them up".[104] Peter Melchett, Soil Association, described genetic modification as a "one in, all in technology", adding:

    It is not one tool in the toolbox—it is a tool in the toolbox that, if you start to use it, destroys the other tools and becomes the only one you have available.[105]

32. Professor Stirling proposed a variety of mechanisms through which society could become 'locked in' to particular innovation trajectories; these included individual and institutional resistance to change, societal expectations about which technologies would be adopted in the future, exaggerated claims about a technology's potential value and about the certainty of the evidence underlying such claims.[106] The Nuffield Council on Bioethics, in its 2012 report on emerging biotechnologies,[107] explained the same phenomenon in slightly different terms:

    Central to the explanation of technological 'lock-in' is the idea that specific technological pathways, once embarked upon, become progressively difficult and costly to escape. In economic terms, this is generally attributed to the mutual adaptation of the technology itself and market conditions, learning effects and increasing returns to scale, etc. Technologies may also acquire 'momentum' from the feedback between technology and society through, for example, lifestyle adaptations to particular products.[108]

In light of the potentially serious consequences of such technological 'lock-in', we decided to explore these arguments further.


33. When asked how the process of 'lock in' was operating in the case of genetic modification, Professor Stirling replied:

    There are many different mechanisms—it would take a long time to go through all of them—that are very well understood and explored, but one simple one is resources. Resources are limited: £1 million spent on that option is, by and large, £1 million not spent on another option within a particular sector.[109]

This chimed with an argument made by GM Freeze, that "conventional breeding programmes, conservation of agricultural biodiversity, work to rebuild degraded soils […] and other areas of agricultural development" were "under-resourced and unable to contribute their full potential to the UK economy" because of an excessive focus on genetic techniques.[110] Professor Paul Nightingale, University of Sussex, also stated that "GM research" was "strongly supported by the Government, industry and the Research Councils" and argued that "rejection of GM food by consumers should give pause to reconsider how much support it receives and whether limited resources could be more productively spent on technologies with greater potential for generating goods that consumers will pay for".[111]

34. We tested this argument with Dr Paul Burrows, Executive Director of Corporate Policy and Strategy at the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the largest public funder of UK plant science. The BBSRC's annual budget for 2013-14 was £484 million[112] and, according to Dr Burrows, it invests:

    in plant science—I am rounding the figures—around £70 million of public funding per year, and that primarily goes to universities and research institutes to do basic and strategic research, to understand the basic biology of plants, how they function, how they respond to stress and how they protect themselves against pests and diseases. It is a broad range of basic research which helps us understand plants much better.[113]

Of this £70 million, Dr Burrows estimated that around £4 million per year was spent on research exploring the potential for specific crops to be enhanced using advanced genetic techniques (the types of projects described in box 2).[114] An additional £10 million was spent on research which used genetic engineering as a "very helpful laboratory tool" (as detailed in box 1).[115] When asked whether the BBSRC had made any specific commitment to Government about future levels of funding for research into advanced genetic techniques, Dr Burrows replied in the negative and stated that the BBSRC would be "delighted to fund any of the range of technologies or approaches which will help us achieve productive yet more sustainable agriculture".[116] Professor Sir David Baulcombe, a BBSRC Council member, agreed that the BBSRC was open to "various approaches to developing science-based agriculture" and that the idea that there was "no appetite for funding alternative strategies for developing sustainable agriculture" was "just not true".[117]

35. In its 2009 report, Reaping the benefits, the Royal Society recommended that the UK Research Councils develop "a cross-council 'grand challenge' on global food crop security", which it stated would need to secure "at least £2 billion over 10 years to make a substantial difference".[118] In 2014, the UK Plant Sciences Federation made a similar call, stating that "Government and industry must work together to build capacity by doubling current funding across the spectrum of plant science".[119] According to this report, "more than 90% of UK plant scientists surveyed" also thought that "a better, more coherent strategy for UK research" was needed.[120] Both reports particularly highlighted the need for additional investment in what the Royal Society called "neglected" sciences, such as those related to crop management and agricultural practice,[121] which it considered "vital in meeting the challenge of food security".[122]

36. The Minister stated that the Government had done "a great deal" to specifically address the recommendations of the Royal Society's 2009 report and offered a number of examples, including the establishment of the 2013 UK Strategy for Agricultural Technologies (the 'agri-tech strategy'), a new strategic plan for global food security and a programme of research specifically focused on soil security.[123] George Freeman MP, Minister for Life Sciences, told us that the Government now spent approximately "£400 million a year" on agricultural research, although he acknowledged that, until recently, this investment had been spread between "so many different pots that there was not really any strategic oversight of it".[124] He explained that the agri-tech strategy was intended to provide "a coherent strategy".[125] According to Mr Freeman, this document acknowledged that genetic approaches were "important", but recognised that "so are a range of other technologies that help us deliver more from less", and he told us that the strategy specifically highlighted areas such as "soil science and agronomy".[126] Dr Burrows told us that the UK Research Councils were also "investing more in that space" and that the BBSRC's latest strategic plan included a specific commitment to "do more on taking a systems approach to agriculture".[127] Mr Freeman argued that there was "a real commitment" from Government "to try and make sure that we are not just backing one deep technology", but a range of technologies "that will support more from less as farmers and growers find a use for them".[128] He stressed that the Agri-Tech Catalyst, a new centrally-funded research programme, was "technology blind".[129]

37. We do not consider an annual Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council investment of £4 million—from a total budget of nearly £500 million and a plant science budget of £70 million—to represent an excessive investment in advanced genetic approaches to crop improvement. We are also content that the Government's approach to agricultural research is balanced and does not focus excessively on genetic techniques. We therefore reject the claim that preferential investment in this field has prevented research from progressing in other areas of agricultural research.

38. We found the funding breakdown provided by Dr Burrows very valuable; however, such data is not easily accessible.[130] Research Councils UK does not appear to publish aggregate information about how funding is allocated across different categories of research[131] and the annual Science, Engineering and Technology Statistics, published by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, do not drill down beyond broad "socio-economic objectives", such as energy, health and defence.[132] The need for more detailed funding data was raised in a recent Nuffield Council report on the culture of scientific research in the UK, which highlighted the need for funding bodies to "communicate clearly […] about funding strategies, policies and opportunities, and information about past funding decisions, particularly in areas where there are common misconceptions".[133]

39. Claims of funding bias are difficult to refute on the basis of the information on government research spend that is currently published. We recommend that the Government's annual Science, Engineering and Technology statistics be enhanced to provide greater aggregate detail on the areas of research in which public funds have been invested. We also recommend that each UK Research Council includes an aggregated breakdown—for example, at the level of each strategic 'theme'—in its annual report and provides additional information on past funding decisions in areas where there are common misconceptions, such as plant science.


40. Professor Stirling argued that technological 'lock in' could be "significantly further reinforced" by measures to "appropriate intellectual property".[134] In the case of agriculture, he claimed that "the most important factor typically differentiating GM technologies" from other innovations was their ability to enable "innovating firms to recoup investments by obtaining rents on intellectual property or global supply and value chains".[135] "For instance", he explained:

    transgenic crops are often deliberately engineered for tolerance to particular proprietary broad spectrum herbicides [for example, Monsanto's 'RoundUp' product], thus expanding their sales. Or the inclusion of particular transgenes can make the resulting organisms patentable, and thus more reliable sources of royalties. It is the resulting commercial forces and counterforces that help make the ensuing discussions so regrettably polarized.[136]

Liz O'Neill, GM Freeze, drew a similar distinction between genetically modified and traditionally bred crops, stating that the ability to patent genetically modified crops made a "big difference to the way that the crops and seeds are controlled".[137] She added that "the one absolute position" held by GM Freeze was that "genetic resources are a public good and should not be owned by anybody".[138] Greenpeace publicly takes a similar position, opposing "all patents on plants, animals and humans, as well as patents on their genes" and claiming that "the real reason" for the commercial development of genetically modified crops "has not been to end world hunger but to increase the stranglehold multinational biotech companies already have on food production".[139] The STEPS Centre, of which Professor Stirling is co-director, agreed that intellectual property rights had allowed multinationals to exercise "corporate control" and had helped to steer innovation in the direction of "intensive, monopolistic GM seed-chemical combinations" rather than technologies that "arguably promise wider and more sustainable benefits and lower uncertainties, such as marker assisted selection, open source and participatory breeding".[140]

41. Other witnesses highlighted the benefits of intellectual property rights and argued that their use was not limited to those hoping to make a profit. Dr Mike Bushell, Syngenta, stated that intellectual property was "something [that] society gives people because there is a benefit to society for doing it that way" and the Science Council agreed that "robust intellectual property rights" were "important components of a strong innovation system".[141] According to Dr Bushell, this is particularly true "where you have a very long regulatory time frame and large costs are involved", as is currently the case in the EU GMO regulation, as "if there was no competition-free period to exploit the inventions, nobody would make the investments".[142] Dr Julian Little, Chair of the Agricultural Biotechnology Council, stated that patents were "endemic" within the agricultural sector, but pointed out that they worked "not just for multinationals, but for all sorts of different people", including publicly funded researchers.[143]

42. GM Freeze claimed that, as well as concentrating control of the global seed market, the use of patents and "other forms of control over genetic resources" had "block[ed] independent research" into the potential effects of these technologies.[144] Ms O'Neill stated that "one simply cannot do independent research on GM" because, for example, "Monsanto licensing agreements specifically preclude research on their seed".[145] Professor Michael Bevan, a programme leader at the John Innes Centre, disagreed, telling us that while he had never done any research on Monsanto seeds, he had "certainly worked on seeds and genetic material provided by other companies".[146] He stated that he did not see any inconsistency "in the goals of maximising the impact from research, making data freely available to other researchers and protecting any important and potentially commercialisable discoveries", adding that the patents on most first generation products had "now expired anyway".[147] The Royal Society concluded in its 2009 Reaping the benefits report that intellectual property law could "enable, encourage or constrain" agriculture and that the use of patents, in particular, could have "mixed consequences".[148] It recommended that the Government "review relevant intellectual property systems to ensure that patenting or varietal protection of new seed varieties does not work against poverty alleviation, farmer-led innovation or publicly funded research efforts".[149]

43. We have not been convinced by the argument that the application of intellectual property rights to genetically advanced crops has hindered other innovation trajectories and we have seen little evidence to support claims that patents pose a significant barrier to independent research. However, it is clear that this subject raises strong emotions and we agree with the Royal Society that this is a complex matter that warrants further consideration. We recommend that the Government conduct a review of the intellectual property landscape, specifically in relation to agricultural technologies, and its potential impact on the commercialisation of both conventionally bred and genetically improved crops. We would expect this to be delivered to our successor Committee by the end of 2015.


44. Professor Stirling, commenting on behalf of the STEPS Centre, initially criticised our inquiry for having been framed as though agricultural innovation was "about GM or nothing", arguing this this "compounds the side-lining of innovations that arguably promise wider and more sustainable benefits and lower uncertainties, such as marker assisted selection, open source and participatory breeding".[150] Professor Brian Wynne, University of Lancaster, agreed that framing was often "a big problem" when discussing this subject and was "nearly always narrowed down" in the way described by Professor Stirling.[151] The implications of emerging biotechnologies being framed in this way were considered in a 2012 report by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, which stated that framing was "indispensable to understanding the social meaning of biotechnologies" and stressed "the importance of considering alternative frames in the governance of emerging biotechnology" in order to counteract the "many social processes" operating to "'close down' the plurality of frames that may be applied".[152] In the specific case of genetic modification, however, it is not clear whether the way in which this technology has been framed has primarily shut out alternative options, or whether the polarisation of the debate that it has led to has in fact acted as a barrier to the acceptance of genetic modification itself. According to Dr Jack Stilgoe, University College London, "presupposing any particular solution" to food security issues, "whether or not it is GM", "immediately forces people into a yes or no polarised discussion" and Professor Helen Sang, Society of Biology, stated that this polarisation made it "challenging" for the "pro-GM and the anti-GM" factions to engage in constructive discussion and debate.[153] Síle Lane, Sense about Science, added that describing GM "in isolation, not putting it in the context in which it has been used" had "not been helpful to public understanding of GM" and was part of the reason why "why we are here now having these discussions years and years" after GM products were first developed.[154]

45. We recognise that the debate about innovation in agriculture is often too narrowly framed around the single subject of 'GM' and we agree that this has likely led to an unnecessary polarisation of views. However, we see no compelling evidence that this has 'locked out' alternative innovation options: if anything, it may have had the effect of prejudicing the public against advanced genetic approaches. We discuss the subject of framing further in chapter 6.

Conclusions: Keeping our options open

46. In its 2012 report on emerging biotechnologies, the Nuffield Council made the point that "the technological solutions to human problems that are chosen are not the only ones possible, and may, indeed, not always be the 'best' ones".[155] In order to reduce the risk of sub-optimal choices being made, the Council argued strongly that UK innovation policy needed to "foster diversity of technological research", in part by widening the evaluative frame beyond "the single dimension of economic growth" towards a more inclusive notion of social value.[156] To achieve this, it saw a need for the Government to adopt a "more circumspect approach" to technology policy, in which "commitments to particular technological pathways should be evaluated not only in terms of their expected future impacts but also by comparison to possible alternative pathways", with greater recourse to public engagement and deliberation.[157] In order to facilitate cross-departmental thinking and "avoid focusing on economic growth as the central theme of research policy", the Nuffield Council's report specifically recommended that consideration be given to:

    bringing Government research policy and funding bodies under a senior minister (i.e. of Cabinet rank) free from departmental responsibilities to ensure that research properly reflects all the objectives of Government, rather than those of a particular department.[158]

This recommendation bears resemblance to our own repeated call for the Government Office for Science (GO-Science) to be moved from its current location in the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills to the Cabinet Office—the 'heart' of government and the primary seat of cross-departmental decision-making. As we have previously made clear, it is our view that GO-Science would be able to "more easily fulfil its remit of ensuring that the best scientific evidence is utilised across government" from this central location.[159] According to the Nuffield Council's argument, such a move would also have the benefit of widening the frame within which research policy is set beyond "business" and economics, towards "other, important values".[160] Evidence of the dominance of this economic frame was recently provided by the Government's new science and innovation strategy, which was described as a plan for making the UK "the best place in the world for science and business" (emphasis added) and was titled: "Our Plan for Growth".[161]

47. It is clear from the evidence we have received that fears that the pursuit of advanced genetic approaches to crop improvement inevitably 'locks out' alternative technologies and solutions are ill-founded. Nevertheless, we recognise the need for society to remain open to a variety of innovation trajectories and for policy-makers to look beyond the single dimension of economic growth when considering the potential costs and benefits of any emerging technology.

48. In this respect, we endorse many of the recommendations of the Nuffield Council's recent report on this subject and reiterate our previous conclusion that the Government Office for Science is not best located in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, where its frame of evaluation risks being invariably dominated by economic considerations. In its response to this report, the Government should set out how the Nuffield Council's work on emerging biotechnologies has informed its research policy. We are particularly interested in how it has responded, or intends to respond, to the Council's call for structural reorganisation.

Much of this chapter has focused on the extent to which the pursuit of advanced genetic solutions has inhibited the progress of other agricultural innovations. The next chapter focuses on the ways in which genetic approaches themselves have been impacted by the current EU regulatory environment.

67   Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Owen Patterson speech at the National Farmers Union Annual Conference 2013, published 27 February 2013, accessed 26 January 2015. Back

68   Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Environment Secretary speech at the Oxford farming conference, published 7 January 2015, accessed 26 January 2015; "Britain must be free to grow GM food, says Minister", The Times, 8 January 2015, accessed 26 January 2015. Back

69   Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, 'Policy: Making the food and farming industry more competitive while protecting the environment', Detail: genetic modification,, last updated 14 November 2014, accessed 26 January 2015.  Back

70   GMC051 [Gov] para 16 Back

71   GMC051 [Gov] para 12 Back

72   GMC051 [Gov] para 1 Back

73   GMC062 [Scottish Gov Supp] Back

74   GMC062 [Scottish Gov Supp] para 1 Back

75   GMC062 [Scottish Gov Supp] para 1 Back

76   GMC061 [NI Gov] Back

77   GMC060 [Welsh Gov] Back

78   GMC060 [Welsh Gov] Back

79   European Academies Science Advisory Council, Planting the future: non-technical summary, June 2013, pp.4-5 Back

80   Council for Science and Technology, Letter to the Prime Minister: GM technologies, 21 November 2013, accessed 26 January 2015. Back

81   Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, 'Policy: Making the food and farming industry more competitive while protecting the environment', Detail: genetic modification, last updated 14 November 2014, accessed 26 January 2015. Back

82   Q4 [Dr Parr]; Q6 Back

83   Q3 [Liz O'Neill]; Q26 [Liz O'Neill] Back

84   European Academies Science Advisory Council, Planting the future: non-technical summary, June 2013, p.3  Back

85   Foresight, The Future of Food and Farming: final report, 2011, p.11 Back

86   The Royal Society, Reaping the benefits, October 2009, p.5  Back

87   The Royal Society, Reaping the benefits, October 2009, p.5. See also Bertrand Collard and David J Mackill, "Marker-assisted selection: an approach for precision plant breeding in the twenty-first century", Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B vol 363 (2008), pp 557-572. Doi: 10.1098/rstb.2007.2170 Back

88   Greenpeace, Smart breeding: the next generation, October 2014, annex  Back

89   For further evidence on marker assisted selection see Q4 [Dr Parr]; Q110 [Mr Melchett, Professor Crute]; Q138 [Professor Crute] and Qq218-219 [Professor Stirling, Professor Tait] Back

90   GMC010 [Mark Lynas] paras 3-4 Back

91   GMC010 [Mark Lynas] paras 4-5 Back

92   GMC010 [Mark Lynas] para 6; para 9 Back

93   GMC023 [Dr Calestous Juma] paras 2 and 3.1 Back

94   GMC035 [Nuffield Council]. See also Nuffield Council on Bioethics, Genetically modified crops: the ethical and social issues, May 1999, executive summary Back

95   Q51 [Liz O'Neill] Back

96   GMC023 [Dr Calestous Juma] para 3.1 Back

97   GMC037 [Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board] para 2; Q3 [Professor Baulcombe] Back

98   Q3; Q51 Back

99   Q185 Back

100   Q185 Back

101   Q445 Back

102   Government Office for Science, Innovation: managing risk, not avoiding it, Evidence and Case Studies, 'Chapter 4: Making choices in the face of uncertainty: strengthening innovation democracy', November 2014, p.53 Back

103   Q218 Back

104   Q72 Back

105   Q123 Back

106   Government Office for Science, Innovation: managing risk, not avoiding it, Evidence and Case Studies, 'Chapter 4: Making choices in the face of uncertainty: strengthening innovation democracy', November 2014, p.55 Back

107   Professor Stirling was a member of the working group that produced this report.  Back

108   Nuffield Council on Bioethics, Emerging technologies: technology, choice and the public good, December 2012, para 1.24 Back

109   Q229 Back

110   GMC020 [GM Freeze] 4.2 Back

111   GMC045 [Professor Nightingale] exec summary and para 31  Back

112   Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, 'Spending overview', accessed 28 January 2015 Back

113   Q142 Back

114   Q147 Back

115   Q146. According to the Government. "over the three years to 2010/11, BBSRC spent £146m in total on crop research, of which £13m involved the use or production of GM crops for the purpose of enhancing agricultural traits". GMC051 [Gov] para 19 Back

116   Q149 Back

117   Q51 Back

118   The Royal Society, Reaping the benefits, October 2009, p.x Back

119   UK Plant Science Federation, UK Plant Science: current state and future challenges, January 2014, p.3 Back

120   UK Plant Science Federation, UK Plant Science: current state and future challenges, January 2014, p.16 Back

121   For example, agronomy, soil science and agro-ecology. Back

122   GMC044 [Royal Society] para 4; The Royal Society, Reaping the benefits, October 2009, p.ix Back

123   Q459 Back

124   Q456; Q462 Back

125   Q456 Back

126   Qq462-464 Back

127   Q151 Back

128   Q468 Back

129   Q468 Back

130   A similar breakdown was included in the BBSRC's 2008 position statement on "GM research in crops and other plants" but is not routinely available. For a copy of this statement, see: BBSRC, correspondence to Andrew Miller MP, April 2014. Back

131   In December 2013, Research Councils UK launched a 'Gateway to Research' portal which "affords a new opportunity to easily explore the entire breadth of research across all disciplines and industry sectors". This provides information on individual grants but does not appear to provide easy access to aggregate information and does not appear to categorise research into particular categories. See Research Councils UK, 'Gateway to Research', accessed January 28 2015 Back

132   Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, 'Science, engineering and technology statistics 2013', 11 September 2013, Table 2.4 Back

133   Nuffield Council on Bioethics, The culture of scientific research in the UK, December 2014, p.35 Back

134   Government Office for Science, Innovation: managing risk, not avoiding it, Evidence and Case Studies, 'Chapter 4: Making choices in the face of uncertainty: strengthening innovation democracy', November 2014, p.55. Back

135   Government Office for Science, Innovation: managing risk, not avoiding it, Evidence and Case Studies, 'Chapter 4: Making choices in the face of uncertainty: strengthening innovation democracy', November 2014, p.56. Back

136   Government Office for Science, Innovation: managing risk, not avoiding it, Evidence and Case Studies, 'Chapter 4: Making choices in the face of uncertainty: strengthening innovation democracy', November 2014, p.56. Back

137   Q7 Back

138   Q4 Back

139   Greenpeace, 'Genetic engineering: what's wrong with genetic engineering', accessed 16 January 2015; Greenpeace, 'Global campaigns: Promoting sustainable agriculture', accessed 28 January 2015. Back

140   GMC004 [STEPS] Back

141   Q193 [Dr Bushell]; GMC047 [Science Council] para 4.4 Back

142   Q193 Back

143   Q194 Back

144   GMC020 [GM Freeze] para 5.1 Back

145   Q41. Monsanto was offered the opportunity to respond to this statement but did not do so.  Back

146   Q164 Back

147   Q158 Back

148   GMC044 [Royal Society] para 4; The Royal Society, Reaping the benefits, October 2009, p.5; p.45 Back

149   GMC044 [Royal Society] para 4; The Royal Society, Reaping the benefits, October 2009, p.x Back

150   GMC004 [STEPS]. We stated our reasons for doing so in paragraph 7. Professor Stirling later acknowledged that he had seen the inquiry "move beyond that framing" in ways that he "certainly would welcome". Q262 [Professor Stirling] Back

151   Q61 Back

152   Nuffield Council on Bioethics, Emerging biotechnologies: technology, choice and the public good, December 2012, paras 3.29-3.31 Back

153   Q74 [Dr Stilgoe]; Q157 [Professor Sang] Back

154   Q60 Back

155   Nuffield Council on Bioethics, Emerging biotechnologies: technology, choice and public good, December 2012, para 10.5 Back

156   Nuffield Council on Bioethics, Emerging biotechnologies: technology, choice and public good, December 2012, p.xxiii, chapter 7 overview, para 43. Back

157   Nuffield Council on Bioethics, Emerging biotechnologies: technology, choice and public good, December 2012, para 10.5 Back

158   Nuffield Council on Bioethics, Emerging biotechnologies: technology, choice and public good, December 2012, 7.56 Back

159   Science and Technology Committee, Ninth Report of Session 2013-14, Government horizon scanning, HC 703, para 39 Back

160   Nuffield Council on Bioethics, Emerging biotechnologies: technology, choice and public good, December 2012, 10.17 Back

161   Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, 'Policy paper: Our plan for growth: science and innovation', 17 December 2014, accessed 28 January 2015 Back

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Prepared 26 February 2015