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Every restaurant steak comes from cattle given GM feed, claims ministerEnvironment Secretary Owen Paterson said there are 'real environmental benefits' to GM technologyMr Paterson claimed public concerns about genetically modified food were unfounded
00:49 GMT, 11 December 2012
Fears over Frankenstein Foods are ‘humbug’, the new farming minister insisted yesterday, arguing that many Britons happily eat beef from cattle fed on GM crops.
Addressing public concern about the genetically modified food industry’s increasing influence, Owen Paterson said: ‘There isn’t a single piece of meat being served [in a typical London restaurant] where a bullock hasn’t eaten some GM feed. So it’s a complete nonsense.’
But the Environment Secretary’s dismissive response angered campaigners, who pointed out that consumers’ apparent willingness to eat GM-raised beef was simply a result of the food not being labelled as such.
Controversial: Critics fear genetically modified foods can cause environmental harm and damage human health
The row emerged as Downing Street said David Cameron was backing moves to speed up the approval process for controversial new GM crops and food.
Ministers and officials are currently lobbying in Brussels for the European Commission to make it easier for Frankenstein Food giants to cultivate their crops.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: ‘The Government has a position on GM foods which is, provided that it’s used safely and responsibly, it can deliver benefits and help address the challenge of global food security.
‘We have to ensure public safety and take decisions based on the scientific evidence, though in principle we are obviously supportive. If we can speed up a slow system then we should do that.’
Mr Paterson’s support is a victory for the biotech giants, such as Monsanto, which have been lobbying ministers and officials.
Unfounded: Owen Paterson said concern about genetically modified food was 'a complete nonsense'
His stance is all the more remarkable as he was once a champion of organic farming. In 2000 he challenged Labour ministers to ensure proper separation distances around GM crops to avoid contaminating regular crops.
Successive governments, including the Coalition, have gone to great lengths to ensure there is no label to identify food that comes from animals reared on a GM diet.
As a result, shoppers cannot know whether their food has a link to imports of GM feed, such as corn or soya. Currently, the only way to avoid GM is to shop at Marks & Spencer, which has a ban, or to choose organic meat, milk and eggs.
Mr Paterson argued that the cultivation of GM crops would have ‘real environmental benefits’.
He said: ‘Emphatically we should be looking at GM … I’m very clear it would be a good thing. The trouble is all this stuff about “Frankenstein foods” and “putting poisons in foods”.
‘There are real benefits, and what you’ve got to do is sell the real environmental benefits.’
In fact, Britain’s only large-scale GM crop farm trials – carried out ten years ago – found evidence of real harm to wild plants, insects, and, potentially, farmland birds such as the skylark.
US research shows the widespread cultivation of GM crops has brought disaster for many farmers following the emergence of superweeds and superbugs.
In some cases the only way to remove the rampant weeds is with large quantities of highly toxic chemicals, machetes and flamethrowers to burn out their roots.
At the same time, studies continue to raise questions over whether GM crops and food are safe for human health.
Peter Melchett, of the Soil Association, which campaigns against GM, said: ‘Owen Paterson says that people are eating meat from animals fed on GM feed without realising it. That is because the British Government has consistently opposed moves to label to give consumers accurate information, and he should put that right by immediately introducing compulsory labelling of meat and milk from animals fed on GM feed.’
He added: ‘Owen Paterson is wrong to claim that GM crops are good for the environment. The UK Government’s own farm-scale experiment showed that overall the GM crops were worse for British wildlife.
‘US Government figures show that overall pesticide use has increased since GM crops have been grown there, because, as scientists opposed to GM predicted, superweeds and resistant insects have multiplied.’
Pete Riley, of campaign group GM Freeze, said: ‘Mr Paterson has got his facts wrong as well as fundamentally misunderstanding why GM is not grown or sold in the UK.
‘The UK does not grow GM crops because the Government’s own farm-scale trials showed a decade ago that GM harms wildlife already threatened by industrial farming.
‘The evolution of superweeds and superbugs was an inevitable consequence of following a model of food production that still fails to deliver food to people who need it while causing considerable harm to the planet.’