Genetically modified food is not the answer to the Challenge. It is part of the solution alongside conventional and organic food

Farmers throughout the world have been handed a great challenge. They have been told to double food production in order to feed a global population estimated to hit 9 billion in 2050. If that wasn’t hard enough, they must do it with less availability of land, using less water and with diminishing supplies of fossil fuels. They must also help mitigate climate change and preserve the natural environment.The challenge is no less great on home turf where the UK population is set to increase by 10 million in the next quarter of a century alone. It is in this global and domestic context that British agriculture has a moral duty to respond decisively and immediately to find new methods to increase the sustainable production of food.It was with great interest, then, that I read a recent report from the Royal Society, home to some of the country’s leading scientists, which called for ‘the next Green Revolution’. The next revolution, the report concluded, would be driven by huge investment into the development of improved crop varieties and improved livestock breeding. Crucially, it said our farmers could not meet the global food security challenge without the adoption and advancement of genetically modified (GM) technology. I agree. It is time Europe ditched its GM hang-up before we have more food shortages, before more farmers go out of business and before the price of food goes through the roof. If we wait five or ten years, it could be too late. It is that serious. Take our livestock sector.Europe’s zero-tolerance policy to prohibit feed imports that show any trace of non-authorised GM crops is crippling the livestock industry. With new varieties of GM being planted almost daily around the world, it is virtually impossible to guarantee that any shipment into the EU is totally free of unauthorised GM traces. Already merchants have stopped sending shipments to the EU for fear of being turned back by Europe’s heavy hand and this has pushed the price of feed up. The problem is compounded by Europe’s snail-pace GM approvals process. British livestock farmers’ are almost wholly dependent on soya imports from Brazil and Argentina but because the majority of farmers in South America grow GM crops years before they are approved for import into Europe, our farmers are missing out on vital feed. Meanwhile, Europe will allow the import of meat or meat products that have been fed on the very non-authorised GM feed our farmers are disqualified from using. A recent report from the Food Standards Agency warned the EU stance, if it continues, could triple feed costs, push hundreds of livestock farmers out of business and send food inflation through the roof. This is unacceptable. Europe must ditch its hypocritical stance. Take the crazy Romanian experience. Two years ago Romania wasn’t part of the EU and could grow what it liked.While debate raged in the EU over GM technology, Romania, with its ideal soybean growing conditions, grew tens of thousands of hectares of Monsanto’s Ready Roundup soybean. Romanian farmers were happy.They sprayed far less pesticides on their GM crop which saved money and saved the environment from unnecessary pollution. At the same time their yields doubled, which meant more livestock farmers in Romania could buy the domestically produced, high-protein animal feed.However, when Romania joined the EU in 2007, farmers were prohibited from growing GM soybean.Absurdly, livestock farmers in Romania now import the very same GM soy variety they used to buy from their neighbour but from Latin American farmers. And at a greater cost. Why does Europe adopt this approach? Where nearly ninety per cent of meat eaten in the UK has been fed on GM feed, it certainly doesn’t seem to be in order to protect the consumer. I have never seen any evidence to suggest GM food carries any health issue. Today more than 114 million hectares are planted with GM crops around the world and it is estimated more than 200 billion meals containing biotech ingredients have been eaten by hundreds of millions of people, with no health issue.The European Food Safety Authority has repeatedly backed GM products only to be denied by a blocking majority of member states. Often lead by France, of course. To me the question is no longer about whether we want to embrace GM technology, it is about how long can we live without it. We need to encourage the development of technologies that could bring great advantages to producers and consumers alike.Blight resistant potatoes, drought resistant wheat varieties, nitrogen fixing cereals and oilseed rape rich in Omega 3 are not just pipe dreams, they are serious solutions to serious problems for British farmers. But we will miss out with our current attitude. I am not calling for the floodgates to open – each GM variety needs to be looked at on a case-by-case basis. We need to allow GM crops to be trialled in the UK – without them being destroyed by activists. We need to ensure there will be no health, no cross-contamination and no environmental issues before we adopt the technology. And we need to protect farmers and make sure large biotech companies are properly regulated.Let me be clear – GM is not the answer to the great challenge. But it is part of the answer alongside farmers who grow conventional and organic food. Europe must not cut off its nose to spite its face.