(Adds response from Friends of the Earth)
OXFORD, England, Jan 3 (Reuters) - Britain's farming and
environment minister Owen Paterson on Thursday called for an
acceleration in the European Union's approval process for
genetically modified (GMO) crops which he said offered benefits
including less pesticide use.
"I think we need to work with like-minded partners to move
the (GMO) legislation along at a European level because it is
going grindingly slowly and we are getting further and further
behind," he told reporters at the Oxford Farming Conference.
There has been strong public opposition to GMO crops across
much of the European Union, linked partly to concerns about
their safety, which has helped to slow the approval process.
"There are definite gains but there is a big battle to be
won with the public," Paterson said.
Mairead McGuinness, a member of the European Parliament's
agriculture committee, said that lobbying against GMO crops had
become less intense in the last couple of years but said
opposition remained significant.
"The view for some time of many in the European Parliament
has been that the public don't want it and therefore we are not
going to have it," she told reporters.
Paterson, in an earlier speech to the conference, said GMO
crops could offer benefits including a potential significant
reduction in pesticide and diesel use while he also recognised
the need for EU safety checks to reassure the public.
"This is not a frightening new spooky technology, this is
something that is well established in very large parts of the
world," he told reporters, adding that in 2011, GMO crops were
grown by 16 million farmers in 29 countries.
Paterson also cited benefits from GMO crops such as golden
rice which he said could have the potential to stop 400,000 to
500,000 young people going blind.
Golden rice has been genetically modified to help combat
Vitamin A deficiency which affects millions of children and
pregnant women and can cause irreversible blindness.
Environmental group Friends of the Earth, however, said in a
statement issued in response to Paterson's comments that GMO
crops did not provide the solution to food challenges.
"They (GMO crops) are largely being developed to benefit
multinational biotech firms that are gaining control of the seed
industry, not to feed poor people in developing countries,"
senior food and farming campaigner Clare Oxborrow said.
"World food production needs a radical overhaul, but this
should be based on less intensive practices that increase
agricultural diversity, deliver resilience to the impacts of
climate change and benefit local communities."
(Reporting by Nigel Hunt; editing by David Cowell and Jason