Former cabinet minister Chris Smith, now chair of the Environment Agency, addressed farmers at the annual conference of National Farmers’ Union, saying that “climate change will create new demands on land and environmental resources–and could provide opportunities for novel crops and systems.”
Intense lobbying by food companies, the growing significance of climate change, recent international food crises and shortages and a major independent Royal Society report have all helped to give the government the authority to put GM back on the national agenda. The controversial technology was the focus of intense campaigns including destruction of GM crop trials by environmentalists in the 1990s, and last month came under renewed attack from academics and organic food campaigners at the Oxford Real Farming Conference.
Lord Smith will say: “We can already see wildlife following climate change – the mayfly is now found some 40 miles further north than before and warmer winters and wetter summers are thought to be a major factor in the rapid decline of pollinating insects with UK bee populations, in particular, falling by 10-15% over the last two years.
“The reliance on seasonal weather patterns means that farming will follow climate change too. My own personal view is that we probably need to be readier to explore GM options, coupled of course with proper environmental safeguards, in adapting to the changes that the climate will bring.”
The GM industry now involves 14 million farmers in 25 countries who are growing 134m hectares of GM crops around the world. This is a 7% increase compared with last year.