Farming News - Goldsmith takes aim at Defra secretary over GM

Goldsmith takes aim at Defra secretary over GM

25 Oct 2013


Zac Goldsmith MP has perpetuated the ongoing spat between himself and environment secretary Owen Paterson, by challenging Paterson' s views on  genetically modified crops.


Zac Goldsmith

Earlier in the month, during a fringe event at the conservative party conference, prominent 'green tory' and MP for Richmond Goldsmith sniped at the Defra secretary's views on climate change. He joked that Paterson's response to the UN IPCC report on climate change, which was rejected as "colonial," "arrogant" and "irresponsible" by climate scientists, represented "a huge step forward" for the environment secretary, adding, "as far as I knew he didn't think [global] warming was happening – this is remarkable progress."


Goldsmith then said, "We stand a much better chance of dealing with these issues with someone in that post who understands and accepts our responsibility for climate change."


Writing in The Guardian on Thursday, Goldsmith attacked Paterson again, this time over his support for GM crops, specifically his assertions that GM-sceptics are "wicked", which Paterson made in an interview with The Independent. 


The environment secretary was repeating claims he first made during a speech at Rothamsted Research Institute, home to a controversial field trial of GM wheat, earlier in the year. He pledged to pressure EU leaders into accepting more GM crops for commercialisation in Europe, and spoke of their potential to benefit UK businesses and contribute to tackling food insecurity and malnutrition elsewhere.


However, Paterson was accused of misleading the public and overstating the case for GM in the wake of his speech, particularly on the subject of golden rice, which has been engineered to contain higher levels of vitamin A but has yet to pass beyond field trials and has proven deeply controversial in the Philippines where trials are being carried out.


Goldsmith challenged the Defra secretary's assumptions about the success of GM, pointing out that, although the crops are grown on over 170 million hectares worldwide, just two traits (pest resistance and herbicide tolerance) account for almost all of the commercially planted GM crops. He added that research published this year has shown conventional crop breeding has succeeded where GM has so far failed in delivering higher yields (EU average yields have risen above averages in areas where GM is widely grown, such as the US Midwest), drought tolerance and greater disease resistance.


He called Paterson "minister for GM hype" and said his is "such an absurd position [on GM] that were it not for his government position, it wouldn't merit a response." Goldsmith concluded, "GM has been widely commercialised for nearly 20 years; more than enough time to prove itself... In truth, the reason GM never took off as predicted is because all those promises of cheap pest control, and crops that tolerate flood, salt and extreme weather, simply haven't materialised. "


Mr Goldsmith's public criticism of the environment secretary comes at a time of heightened tension for the Conservatives, as rifts are appearing in the coalition over senior Tories' willingness to curtail policies benefitting the environment (including Prime Minister David Cameron's proposals to "roll back" green levies earlier this week).