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Scientists conducting further research on GM potatoes

Scientists are now conducting further research aimed at identifying multiple resistance genes in genetically modified potatoes that will thwart future blight attacks.

Non-modified plants grown in a series of series of field trials were all infected after being denied protection from chemicals. However, no-one can say at this stage how long the GM strain will hold out against blight, which is notorious for its ability to overcome resistance.

Breeding from wild relatives is laborious and slow and by the time a gene is successfully introduced into a cultivated variety, the late blight pathogen may already have evolved the ability to overcome it.

With new insights into both the pathogen and its potato host, we can use GM technology to tip the evolutionary balance in favour of potatoes and against late blight.

– Lead scientist Professor Jonathan Jones, from The Sainsbury Laboratory

The Irish potato famine of 1845 was a disaster for the poorer people of Ireland who depended on potatoes for food and income.

British genetically modified potato immune to fungus

A new strain of British genetically modified potato appears immune to the devastating fungus responsible for the great Irish famine of 1845, research has shown. Late blight, caused by the organism Phytophthora infestans, remains the potato farmer's greatest enemy to this day.

The fungus was unable to break down the defences of any of the GM potatoes. Credit: Ralf Hirschberger/DPA/Press Association Images

Each year UK farmers spend around £60 million keeping the infection at bay with pesticides. In a bad year, losses and control measures combined can account for half the total cost of growing potatoes.

In the latest of a series of field trials, conducted in 2012, the fungus was unable to break down the defences of any of the GM potatoes.

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Scientists bid to begin field trials into fish oil GM crop

Scientists at Rothamsted Research in Harpenden, Hertfordshire, have worked on the project for 15 years before submitting the bid. Credit: Dominic Lipinski/PA Archive

British scientists have applied to begin field trials of a genetically modified crop containing fish oil nutrients in its seeds in what could be a big boost to the fish farming industry.

An application to conduct the trials at Rothamsted Research agricultural institute has been submitted to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and is expected to begin from April if endorsed.

The scientists are bidding to produce the world's first sustainable plant source of fish oil omega-3 fatty acids by "cutting and pasting" genes taken from marine algae, which could help protect against heart disease.

While the fish farming industry, which consumes 80% of fish oil supplies, stands to benefit from the trials, in the long term the GM-oil could also be included in food products like margarine.

UK must play a 'leading role in feeding the world'

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said he wanted the UK to have a "leading role in feeding the world" by utilising GM crops.

Mr Paterson said the Government will make the UK the "best place" for companies and research providers to carry out their work by breaking down any barriers they may face.

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson pictured at Rothamsted Research in Hertfordshire today. Credit: ITV News

He acknowledged public and environmental fears but insisted that "extensive testing" was in place:

"As with all technologies, public and environmental safety is paramount.

"The truth is that products are subject to extensive testing and development in tightly controlled conditions - progressing from laboratory, to glasshouse, to field trials only when it's safe to do so."

GM crops 'offer a way forward'

Scientists and research companies have welcomed the Environment Secretary Owen Paterson's call for a focus on the benefits of Genetically Modified Crops, saying it "offers a way forward" on a global issue.

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council chief executive Douglas Kell said the technology could be used to "produce enough food for a growing population with fewer inputs".

"A GM approach could offer a way forward and without it we would risk blocking a solution to major global issues. This signal of support helps to keep doors open that could help us in an ever-changing future. "

Genetically modified maize crop grows on a test field in Germany. Credit: Press Association Images

Professor Maurice Moloney from Rothamsted Research said the government's stance would put the UK back into a "leadership position" on the issue of GM crops:

"The Government's initiative puts the UK back into a leadership position in Europe on this issue and will promote a rational approach to the adoption of technologies that our farmers want and need in order to maintain their competitive position in world agriculture."

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GM crops 'not the answer' to our food challenges

The move by Environment Secretary Owen Paterson to reopen the debate surrounding genetically modified foods has been met with mixed response by environmental groups.

Despite decades of research, there are still no miracle crops to tackle the challenges agriculture faces, such as climate change, soil degradation, water shortages and growing demand.

Where GM crops are grown, they are exacerbating the very intensive farming practices that are part of the problem.

Ministers must urgently get behind a different approach to food and farming that delivers real sustainable solutions rather than peddling the snake oil that is GM.

– Friends of the Earth's head of policy, research and science Mike Childs

Owen Patterson's GM dream will make it harder to feed the world. The British Government constantly claim that GM crops are just one tool in the toolbox for the future of farming. In fact, GM is the cuckoo in the nest.

It drives out and destroys the systems that international scientists agree we need to feed the world. We need farming that helps poorer African and Asian farmers produce food, not farming that helps Bayer, Syngenta and Monsanto produce profits.

– Peter Melchett, policy director of organic campaign group Soil Association

Owen Paterson: 'Europe missing out on GM crops'

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson will today say that Europe is "missing out" on GM crops, which is now used on 12% of arable land around the world:

While the rest of the world is ploughing ahead and reaping the benefits of new technologies, Europe risks being left behind. We cannot afford to let that happen.

Mr Paterson will tell representatives from industry, science and the media that GM, if used properly "promises effective ways to protect or increase crop yields":

It can also combat the damaging effects of unpredictable weather and disease on crops.

It has the potential to reduce fertiliser and chemical use, improve the efficiency of agricultural production and reduce post-harvest losses.

What are GM foods?

Genetic modification (GM) is a biotechnology that is being used to make new products, in particular new types of crop plant.

GM foods are foods that have been genetically modified. Credit: PA

In global terms the use of GM crops has increased steadily since the first commercial plantings in North America in the late 1990s.

By 2012 over 17 million farmers in 28 countries were growing GM crops on 170 million hectares, which is more than 12% of the world’s arable land.

No GM crops are being grown commercially in the UK, but imported GM commodities, especially soya, are being used mainly for animal feed, and to a lesser extent in some food products.

Source: DEFRA

Environment Secretary: 'GM crops are safe'

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson will reopen the controversy over genetically modified crops with a speech extolling the benefits of the technology.

Mr Paterson wants to make Britain a centre for GM research and development. Credit: PA

Mr Paterson will say that government, scientists and industry "owe a duty to the British public to reassure them that GM is a safe, proven and beneficial innovation" for farmers and consumers.

He will claim that there are potentially significant economic and environmental benefits to growing GM produce, including increasing yields, protecting crops from disease and reducing the use of pesticides and chemicals.