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This morning, Environment Minister Owen Paterson gave a speech addressing the potential role GM technology could play in reducing both hunger and environmental degradation.

Mr Paterson spoke of the significant economic, environmental and international development benefits of GM, and the risks for Europe of not adopting the technology.

The Society of Biology and its special interest group the UK Plant Sciences Federation welcome the speech.

Dr Mark Downs, chief executive of the Society of Biology, says: "If we reject GM technology we risk losing this great opportunity of a better future for ourselves and for the many people who do not have enough nutritious food to achieve their full potential. Malnutrition not only kills, it kills potential. It accounts for almost half of deaths under five, and stunts the growth of 165 million children worldwide. We must use all the means available to prevent this and to ensure that problems don't worsen as populations increase and climate change drives food insecurity. We need to be able to produce nutritious food in challenging environments without damaging the environment or people; GM offers a potential route to achieve this.

"Plants and animals modified to express desirable traits must be considered on their own merits and not on the basis of the technology used to create them.

"The challenges of feeding a growing population whilst minimising environmental damage mean we cannot afford to put a blanket ban on genetic modification techniques. These technologies have the potential to improve performance and reduce environmental damage and it would be a mistake to close these doors.

"We welcome Mr Paterson's call for a constructive and evidence-based debate, and hope that the producers and consumers of food, including scientists, politicians, the media and the commercial sector will engage afresh with this topic. The approval and regulatory processes for food must be thorough and transparent, and must weigh the potential benefits of new varieties for consumers, producers and the environment, against reasonable risk.

"The UK has world-class expertise in plant science, but if we are to become leaders in GM and other agricultural technologies we require sustained investment in research and skills. We hope Mr Paterson's clear commitment to agriculture will be reflected in the upcoming Spending Review."