Science adviser urges GM rethink

Posted: 27 November 2007

The UK government's chief scientific adviser, Sir David King, has called for a rethink on GM crops in a farewell speech to a group of senior scientists at the Foundation for Science and Technology before leaving his post.

Sir David King
Sir David King
Sir David King. Photo © BBC
Sir David steps down after seven years, having often been in the maelstrom of where science meets politics.

Professor King has always been in favour of GM crops, provided they are shown to be safe. Speaking to BBC News ahead of his speech, he said: "The process of GM technology should not be banned. The products of GM technology should be clearly monitored one by one."

He believes there is a moral case for the UK and the rest of Europe to grow GM crops, and thinks Europe's backing would kick-start a technology that would help the world's poorest in Africa. He says GM crops will be essential to deal with an ever-growing population and diminishing water supplies.

"Have we got the technology to deliver that? Absolutely; it is called GM technology," he said.

But Friends of trhe Earth said that GM crops are not needed to deal with growing populations and climate change.

"Despite 30 years of research, over ten years of commercialisation, and massive financial support from the UK Government, GM crops have failed to deliver the sustainable solutions that are urgently needed," said Friends of the Earth's GM campaigner, Clare Oxborrow.

"GM crops often need more pesticides, provide lower yields and cause widespread contamination. The vast majority of GM crops are grown in monocultures and are used to feed animals, not people. Intensive meat and livestock farming is itself a significant contributor to climate change and biodiversity loss."

Sir David also called on more to be done to deliver a future beyond the Kyoto climate treaty, and says he is "feeling very impatient about this". To prevent long-term disaster, he suggests a global target for atmospheric carbon has to be set. To keep all nations on board, he calls for a "fiscal policy". "We have to create carbon dioxide as a negative tradable commodity - so we need to introduce cap and trade."

He told BBC News that he was disappointed that the UK government had not pushed forward with more power stations in the 2003 Energy White Paper; the government said that it wanted to see if renewables would fill the gap. However, Sir David now says that he knew at the time he did not believe renewables on their own would be enough.