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Tories would stop short of embracing GM foods

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The Conservative Party, which is tipped to win power in the UK next year, would stop short of embracing genetically modified crops despite farm productivity, its top agriculture spokesman has said.

Nick Herbert, the favourite to become UK farm secretary should the Conservatives win next year's elections, said that raising crop yields is the best way to secure supplies ahead as the world approaches a "perfect storm" of population growth, climate change and pressures on arable land.

However, while highlighting the importance of improved equipment, seeds and fertilizer, he stopped short of endorsing a push in genetically modified technologies which hold potential for huge yields increases.

"Science has to take a lead" in establishing the virtues of the technology, Mr Herbert, shadow agriculture secretary, told a City dinner.

The technology is hugely controversial in Europe over concerns for its broader environmental impact.

Indeed, there was little point in farmers growing it until consumers are prepared to buy it, he added, while making a comparison with nuclear power, which has gone from pariah status to widespread acceptance.

'Similar policy stance'

The speech indicated that the political climate for seed companies would change little even if the Conservatives succeeded in ousting Labour, said Icap, the broker which organised the event.

"It would appear that the Conservatives are adopting a similar policy stance to that of the current Labour government on GM," the broker said.

This meant "encouraging trials and research and development but stopping short in lobbying for widespread EU GM adoption".

Current UK agriculture secretary Hilary Benn came suggested in August that GM could have a role in raising UK farming, but also failed to endorse it.

Subsidy cuts ahead

Mr Herbert also said that financial pressures in Brussels, which spends about 40% of its budget on farm support, implied pressure on agriculture subsidies.

The next round of agriculture reform, due in 2013, will likely distance subsidies further from production and decrease their overall levels.


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