GM could be key to food security, says Benton

Food production and ecology do not need to be in conflict and we need to think about the risks of not using GM, according to Professor Tim Benton, the UK's Champion for Global Food Security.

Speaking at the NFU 2012 annual conference in Birmingham yesterday (22 Feb), Benton said he was putting his head above the parapet and calling for a better understanding of the concept of sustainable intensification of agriculture.

He told delegates there needed to be better communication with consumers about agriculture, which could bring positives and negatives. He said there were a number of sacred cows around food production and the environment and said things needed to be looked at in a wider context.

He dismissed the idea of going vegetarian to save the planet, but also pointed out that organic was not the answer either. “Organic is often thought of as the route to greening, but organic production means low yield and more land is required.” He pointed out that switching to organic would simply lead to higher yield, and potentially more damaging production being exported.

Eating local food and using farm shops is not necessarily the answer either, he said: “Sometimes it’s better to use the high sunlight in tropical areas to grow produce and ship it than to have heated greenhouses in the UK. When it comes to farm shops, people make lots of small trips, adding food miles, rather than a single trip to one big supermarket.”

He said that GM production needed to be better understood and that our approach to it should be evidence-led. “We need to think about the risks of not using GM, rather than focusing on the risks if we do.”

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