Comment: End in sight for the GM debate?

It felt quite nostalgic to see the GM issue reappear in the national media headlines after this week’s NFU conference.  A presentation from McDonalds’ supply chain manager explained that it is no longer possible to source sufficient commercial beef that hasn’t consumed GM feed ingredients to meet the fast food chain’s requirements, given Europe’s protein deficit.

Cue outraged headlines, including the Daily Mail’s front page lead screaming that ‘Most meat is tainted by GM’. This rather contradicted the advice - buried deep in the article - from both the Food Standards Agency and the World Health Organisation that there is no difference in nutritional or health terms between GM and non-GM foodstuffs.

It is incredible that some sections of the media are still stoking this particular fire over 15 years since the technology was commercialised, with no evidence of harm to human or animal health. Consumers should, and have a clear choice - those who feel strongly on this issue can opt for non-GM products through organic and other premium labels.

Of course it would be better for UK growers and suppliers - and more sustainable - if domestic pulses could replace imported soya, whether GM or not. Securing adequate supplies of home-grown pulses of the right quality has always been the traditional constraint, but policy measures such as the CAP’s three crop rule could help here.

At the same time, rapid advances in gene editing technology are ushering in a new age of genetic manipulations that will make the early GM techniques look very crude. It is possible that these advances will enable us to move on from the polarised GM debate and resultant furore that has dominated the last two decades or so.

And there is also interesting R&D work on insect protein derived from soldier fly larvae as a feed ingredient going on in Holland. Although one dreads to imagine the Daily Mail headline should this arrive on the market...