Brown urges EU to accept more GM feed

Gordon Brown has tentatively backed calls for the European Union to relax its rules on importing genetically modified (GM) animal feed.

Speaking at a two-day summit in Brussels, which began yesterday (19 June), Brown proposed a six-point plan for driving down food prices, which included "improving the EU regulatory regime for GM organisms". He also signalled that he would support a debate over whether Britain should grow GM crops commercially to boost production.

Brown's comments come after environment minister Phil Woolas hinted at a government rethink over GM crops in the light of the current global food crisis. Earlier this week, the minister held preliminary talks with the Agricultural Biotechnology Council, an umbrella group formed in 2000 to promote the role of biotechnology in agriculture.

He said: "There is a growing question of whether GM crops can help the developing world out of the current food price crisis. It is a question that we, as a nation, need to ask ourselves. The debate is already under way. Many people concerned about poverty in the developing world and the environment are wrestling with this issue."

The pig industry has repeatedly called for faster approval of GM animal feeds in the light of shortages and rocketing prices.

Andrew Knowles said: "Slow GM approval means that it is getting very hard for pig farmers to get hold of soya in the UK and prices are going up.

"The number one priority for the EU should be overcoming the issues relating to GM animal feeds."

The European Commission is also concerned that Europe could run short of animal feed because of its strict GM licensing conditions and Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, urged EU leaders at the summit to embrace GM products as a possible solution to soaring food prices.

Environmental groups, including Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, have reacted furiously to proposals that GM rules should be relaxed, saying claims that GM crops are necessary to combat world food shortages are an attempt to use the current crisis for commercial gain.

Yesterday the PM's spokesperson tried to reassure critics, saying that while it has always been the government's position that GM crops could offer a range of benefits over the long term, "safety is the top priority" and all GM crops would be considered "on a case-by-case basis, based entirely on science".

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