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U.K.’s Paterson Says GM Crops Represent an Opportunity

Genetically modified crops offer “great opportunities” for meeting the world’s growing food demand, while the public needs to be reassured that varieties are safe, according to Owen Paterson, the U.K.’s secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs.

Genetically modified, or GM, crops should go through the “rigorous processes” put in place by the European Union to screen varieties for safety, Paterson said in an e-mailed copy of prepared statements before a speech today at the Oxford Farming Conference. GM crops were grown on 160 million hectares (395 million acres) in 29 countries in 2011, on about 11 percent of the world’s arable land, according to the statement.

“GM needs to be considered in its proper overall context with a balanced understanding of the risks and benefits,” Paterson said. “We should not, however, be afraid of making the case to the public about the potential benefits of GM beyond the food chain, for example, reducing the use of pesticides and inputs such as diesel.”

The U.S. is the world’s biggest grower of GM crops, according to the nonprofit group the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications. Some varieties grown in the North American country, the world’s largest corn and soybean exporter last season, are not approved for cultivation in the EU.

“I believe that GM offers great opportunities but I also recognize that we owe a duty to the public to reassure them that it is a safe and beneficial innovation,” Paterson said.

The U.K. invests more than 410 million pounds ($666 million) annually on research in the agriculture, food and drink sector, Paterson said. The country is 78 percent self-sufficient in food products capable of being grown in the U.K.

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