Tory MP says pro-GM Environment Secretary Owen Paterson is ‘industry puppet’
Richmond Park MP accused fellow party member of ‘nonsensical’ claims about GM benefits of GM technology.
Tory MP Zac Goldsmith has made a vociferous attack on Owen Paterson, the Environment Secretary, over his campaign to bring genetically modified (GM) crops to Britain.
The Richmond Park MP accused his fellow party member of making “nonsensical” claims about the benefits of GM technology, claiming that Mr Paterson is a puppet of the industry and does not understand the dangers genetically modified crops pose to the ecosystem.
Speaking to The Independent, Mr Goldsmith said the environment secretary’s recent speech to formally launch his campaign to grow GM crops in Britain was “nonsense”.
“Any half-way decent GM enthusiast with a scientific background would have blushed during much of the speech Owen Paterson made. You have to wonder about the government’s gung-ho attitude to GM – you can’t stuff pollen back into a tin,” he said.
Mr Goldsmith is particularly concerned by a section of Mr Paterson’s speech in which he implied that 7 million children in the developing world have died or gone blind in the past 15 years due to a lack of vitamin A that could have been avoided if attempts to develop “golden rice” – a grain modified to boost Vitamin A – had not been consistently been “thwarted”.
Mr Paterson also used his speech to criticise Europe’s prevailing opposition to GM – where restrictions are so tight it amounts to a ban – arguing that this attitude is deterring developing countries who could benefit from the technology because they wrongly interpret Europe’s resistance as a sign that it’s dangerous.
“Owen Paterson’s comments about golden rice and children going blind were nonsense. No serious GM campaigner would ever make those claims for which there is no factual basis at all. It undermines his credibility on this issue and makes the government look very silly. If you want to solve vitamin deficiency there are many cheaper ways to do it…it doesn’t add up on any grounds, it’s just nonsense” Mr Goldsmith said.
The multi-millionaire MP, who sits on the government’s Environment Audit Committee, also questioned Mr Paterson’s suitability for his role as environment secretary.
“I think he’s falling into a trap over GM and I don’t think he understands the issue. He’s swallowed the industry line hook, line and sinker without talking to anyone with a different view. When designing policy that’s a dangerous thing and I’m concerned big business is framing the debate for the government.”
“The story so far suggests that GM is predominantly about the industry getting greater control over the food chain, rather than alleviating poverty or environmental concerns,” he added.
Mr Paterson wants the European Union to relax restrictions on growing GM plants and to make Britain an industry leader. GM crops are created by taking genes with beneficial qualities from other organisms and injecting them into the plant. But the technology is highly controversial with little scientific consensus about its dangers or effectiveness. Advocates argue that engineered crops have the potential to grow faster, increase yields, survive harsher weather conditions, cut costs, make Britain less reliant on imports and boost health by producing extra nutrients. Opponents are concerned that adopting GM crops could foster stronger pests, diseases and weeds that evolve to adapt to engineered plants and that the injected “rogue” genes could cause problems by spreading to other plants.