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SNP Fringe - Growing Tomorrow’s Dinner: Should GM be on the Table?

October 13 2016

Venue: Crowne Plaza Hotel

Organised by: The Royal Society

The event of 13 Oct-16 was hosted by the Royal Society of Edinburgh and chaired by SNP MSP Clare Adamson. It is part of a series of talks on the same theme: Growing Tomorrow’s Dinner: Should GM be on the Table?
Ensuring everyone has enough to eat is one of this century’s global challenges. Promising techniques and technologies including selective breeding and GM technologies can develop crops that can grow in difficult, changing conditions. Scotland’s researchers are well-placed to develop this technology. Yet almost a third of people in the UK feel that the risks of GM crops outweigh the benefits. Is this true? Do we need to take another look at technologies such as GM?

The speakers included:
- Professor Joyce Tait, Director of the Innogen Institute, University of Edinburgh
- Robert Livesey, Vice President, National Farmers Union Scotland
- Pete Ritchie, Executive Director, Nourish Scotland
- Mark Lynas, Author and Environmental Campaigner

The Chair began by explaining that the Scottish Government had a long-standing cautionary approach to Genetic Modification (GM), though it did not have a ban on GM, and research into GM was not banned either. She raised several issues affecting food production, including climate change, population growth and other factors.

Prof Tait discussed her career and her work in the regulation of life sciences. She expressed her belief in some of the benefits of GM and other technologies, and mentioned the benefits of growing GM cotton, which had resulted in an overall reduction in pesticide use.
She also discussed the possibilities of future benefits on the horizon, such as GM potatoes which would be blight-resistant, reducing the need to use fungicidal sprays. GM offered health and nutritional benefits to humans and animals, she said.
Other examples she raised concerned tomatoes with anti-inflammatory elements, and plants with Omega three fatty acids which could be used to feed farmed salmon as an alternative to feeding them with other fish.
She noted the impression that people did not like the idea of GM food. According to surveys, 10-15 per cent of people questioned were intrinsically opposed to GM crops “no matter what”. She said that this was a minority of the public and that this minority had affected GM crop production and the general debate.
The technology had presented no scientific evidence of hazard to the environment, said Prof Tait. She argued that a strict regulatory system in this area meant that big corporations could dominate GM production, but a different approach to regulation could involve Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs) in the development of GM products.
She continued by saying that opposing GM was not a ‘win-win’ scenario, and that opposing GM would result in increasing penalties for Scotland. She said that she believed GM technologies, when applied intelligently, could help create a thriving bio-economy.