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Today, a new report on genetically modified (GM) crops was released by the Council for Science and Technology (CST). It states that GM crops have now been shown to be safe, and calls for more UK field trials and a change to the regulatory process.

The report, commissioned by the Prime Minister, considers the developments in the science of GM crops since the Royal Society published its report ‘Reaping the Benefits – Sustainable Intensification of Global Agriculture’ in 2009. The 2009 report concluded that GM crops (alongside other methods) have an important role to play in global agriculture.

The CST report supports the development of ‘public good’ GM varieties in the UK, and suggests that a new UK regulator similar to NICE (the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) should be set up.

The report calls for a reassessment of the way the UK regulates GM crops, moving from a process-based to a product-based framework. The current system is based on the premise that GM crops are more hazardous than crop varieties produced by conventional plant breeding, but the report sets out that this is not supported by evidence.

In response to the report, Professor Huw Jones FSB from Rothamsted Research said:
“Crop varieties with novel traits, such as herbicide-tolerance, change the agricultural practices of those growers that choose to use them and need an appropriate risk/benefit analysis. This applies whether this trait is enabled by GM or other means.

“The current legislation covering the cultivation and consumption of GMOs in the EU needs up-dating to reflect scientific advances and to remove future uncertainty about what genetic changes are included and what are not. I also support the call for the authorisation of GM crops to be founded on a strictly evidence-based analysis of risks rather than the generous helping of politics that currently accompanies these decisions.”

The UK Plant Science Federation, a special interest group of the Society of Biology last year produced a position statement on plant biotechnology.

The precautionary principle (a ‘better safe than sorry’ approach) is often applied to GM, and on 1st April the Society of Biology is holding a Policy Lates debate on how to ensure its effective use.