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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.

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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.

African elephants face extinction 'within a decade'

African elephant populations face possible extinction within a decade because of ivory poaching, campaigners have warned.

The WWF said that both black and white rhino are under unprecedented attack for their horn, which is being traded as a lifestyle drug, while wild tiger numbers across Asia have dropped by more than 90% in the last 100 years.

At an event today the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Cambridge will speak alongside Environment Secretary Owen Paterson to guests from countries affected by the illegal wildlife trade.

They will urge for stricter laws against the criminals involved and help for rural communities to find viable alternatives to illegal wildlife trade.

Princes to urge for step up in law enforcement

The Prince of Wales and Prince William will address guests from 26 countries on the 'serious crime' that is the illegal wildlife trade.

Speaking with Environment Secretary Owen Paterson they will call for a global partnership and urgent action to end wildlife crime. They will call for:

  • A reduction in demand for endangered wildlife products in markets around the world
  • A step up in law enforcement against the criminals involved
  • Help for local/rural communities to find viable alternatives to illegal wildlife trade

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Livestock farmer: 'Things are undoubtedly tough'

Tim Jones, a livestock farmer from Worcestershire, told Daybreak that "things are undoubtedly tough" for farmers.

Farmer Tim Jones says things are "tough" at the moment.

He said a harsh winter has been followed by a run of dry weather, which has left livestock farmers like him, "desperately short of grass" for the sheep.

"Input costs have gone up, with animal feed now 18% more expensive than it was 12 months ago", he added.

Wheat crops 'written off' because of bad weather

Food prices are likely to rise after UK farmers reported a poor harvest due to the rainy summer.

Today Environment Secretary Owen Paterson will address farming representatives at a summit which will discuss ways of improving farmers' access to financial support.

  • A decline in winter wheat of around 12%, with some crops written off, the crop will rely on good growing conditions from now on
  • Demand of winter barley and oats has declined, and planting has suffered, winter oats could in stead be replaced by spring oats
  • A quarter of oilseed rape is in a "very poor condition"

Could the British weather be getting wetter?

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson will host a summit for farming representatives, charities and banks to discuss the effects of last year's bad weather on the industry.

Following the second wettest year since records began, farmers have warned that heavy rainfall could affect the price of food.

Long-term averages of 30-year periods show an increase in annual rainfall of about 5% from 1961-1990 to 1981-2010:

  • 1961-1990: 1100.6mm
  • 1971-2000: 1126.1mm
  • 1981-2010: 1154.0mm

Source: Met Office

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