Less than three months after his appointment as secretary of state for the UK Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), EU sceptic and former international leather trader Owen Paterson told delegates at the Oxford farming conference that the UK public should be actively encouraged to embrace GM crops.
The minister used his public office to promote the same tired statistics that he had used in December to browbeat the Womens’ Institute members when he made the same sales pitch, to the embarrassment of his hosts.
Despite the secretary of state’s fondness of nifty numbers, his grasp of the GM reality is a bit shaky. He told Oxford delegates about the: “…potential benefits of GM beyond the food chain, for example, significantly reducing the use of pesticides…”
Such abject advocacy of private sector biotechnology is disturbing at the best of times. When it comes from a senior member of the UK government there is cause for concern, especially when that public servant will be representing UK voters’ interests in the CAP reform debate. There is still time to register a vote against GMOs until this weekend in a poll on The Guardian website where “No” votes are outrunning “Yes” votes by two to one at the time of writing.
In September, Paterson told Farmers’ Guardian that he was going to Brussels to attend his first meeting of the Council of Ministers and find “…common ground…” However, his table-thumping performance suggests that the word “consensus” is not a term that he uses gladly.