GeneWatch UK PR: Paterson's pro-GM speech raises questions about his role in Government

20th June 2013

 GeneWatch UK today questioned why Environment Secretary Owen Paterson is acting as an ambassador for the GM industry.

 "Why is the UK Environment Secretary wasting taxpayers' time and money doing PR for Monsanto and the other GM companies?" asked Dr Helen Wallace, Director of GeneWatch UK  "Paterson appears to be deaf, dumb and blind when it comes to any science not peddled by big corporations. Only industry-funded research shows any benefits from GM crops, which do not increase yields and are having harmful effects on the environment in North and South America."

 Problems ignored by the Environment Secretary in his speech today include the spread of superweeds resistant to the weedkillers sprayed on herbicide-tolerant GM crops and the resulting increased use of herbicides (1); the development of pests resistant to pest-resistant crops and rise in other types of pests (2); and the likely role of loss of habitat due to blanket spraying with GM crops in the drastic decline of Monarch butterfly populations in the USA (3). This week, a new peer-reviewed study has found non-GM farming in Europe outperforms GM farming in North America (4).

 GeneWatch UK dismissed claims that a new generation of products is being developed that would provide benefits for consumers, such as the GM purple tomato initially developed at the John Innes Centre. GM crops that are tolerant to drought or fix nitrogen have been promised for more than 30 years but have not been delivered, despite more than 14,000 field trials of GM crops in the USA. Complex traits are being delivered more effectively by conventional breeding, helped by advanced technologies such as marker assisted selection (MAS).

 "Funding R&D on GM purple tomatoes is a waste of time and money when there is no market for these products" said Dr Wallace, "People can get the antioxidants they need from eating a range of brightly coloured fruit and vegetables, including purple fruits such as blackberries, without the unnecessary risks and expense of GM crops with unproven benefits. Taxpayers' money should not be used to subsidise the research agenda of the GM industry".

 In his speech Paterson stated that he was not proposing in any way watering down regulation. However, the speech follows a meeting between ministers, research institutes and GM companies last summer, in which an agenda was agreed to invest more in GM and tackle regulatory barriers (5). The Chair of the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment (ACRE), which advises the Government on GM, recently met a Defra minister to propose weakening regulations for GM (6).

 Most of the Environment Secretary's statements have focused on actions that could be taken by other countries, not on what he plans in England. GM Golden rice is an unproven approach to tackling blindness caused by vitamin A deficiency, compared to existing measures such as diversifying diets or using supplements. Its regulatory approval is in any case a matter that will be decided in the Philippines. Scotland and Wales have anti-GM policies and most regulatory changes would require negotiations within the European Union. Crops awaiting approval in the EU that would be suitable for growing in Britain are all genetically engineered by major multinational companies to be tolerant to one or more weedkillers, allowing blanket spraying of the crops which is harmful to the environment (7).

 "The Government should come clean and tell us which parts of GM regulation it wants to do away with: safety tests, environmental regulation, or labels for consumer choice?" said Dr Wallace "If GM is grown in England, how will hard-up consumers afford the added costs to farmers and producers of segregating GM and non-GM food and feed supplies? What safeguards would be put in place for farmers growing non-GM to protect their crops from contamination with GM and the loss of more lucrative GM-free and organic markets?"

 For further information contact:

Dr Helen Wallace, 01298-24300 (office); 07903-311584 (mobile)

 Notes for Editors:

 (1)    Benbrook CM (2012) Impacts of genetically engineered crops on pesticide use in the U.S. -- the first sixteen years. Environmental Sciences Europe 24(1):24. ; BBC report 19th September 2012:  ; GM crops: Farmer to Farmer:  ; Greenpeace "Growing Doubt" video, October 2012:  ; more videos of superweeds on: .

(2)    'Mounting Evidence' of Bug-Resistant Corn Seen by EPA. Bloomberg. 5th September 2012. ; Study shows pests resistant to GM crops. AFP. 13th June 2013. ; Zhao JH, Ho P, Azadi, H (2011) Benefits of Bt cotton counterbalanced by secondary pests? Perceptions of ecological change in China. Environ Monit Assess, 173:985-994.

(3)    Reported on: ; Pleasants JM, Oberhauser KS (2013) Milkweed loss in agricultural fields because of herbicide use: effect on the monarch butterfly population. Insect Conservation and Diversity 6(2):135-144.

(4)    Press release from the University of Canterbury (New Zealand): ; Heinemann et al. (2013) Sustainability and innovation in staple crop production in the US Midwest. International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability. Published online:

(5)    GeneWatch UK and GM Freeze Press Release: Monsanto meets ministers to push return of GM crops to Britain. 25th October 2012.[cid]=492860&als[itemid]=571449

(6)    Meeting between Professor Chris Pollock (Chair of ACRE) and Defra minister Lord de Mauley, 2nd May 2013. A note of the meeting released to GeneWatch UK on 10th June as the result of a Freedom of Information request is available on:

(7)    12 crops are awaiting approval for cultivation in the EU:  . Others are approved or awaiting approval for import as food and feed.

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