Minister plugs for GM crops as UK launches food debate

Britain must do a ''radical rethink'' on how it produces and consumes its food. It must find ways to grow more food while using less water, energy and fertilisers, a government task force headed by environment secretary Hilary Benn said yesterday.

Launching a national debate on food security, the senior minister said in a statement that last year's sharp rise in the cost of food and oil, and a severe drought in Australia, showed the urgent need to develop a food security plan.

The government's consultation on how the food sector should look in 2030 will examine the whole supply chain, from farming and distribution to retail and disposal. The findings will be published later this year.

"Last year the world had a wake-up call with the sudden oil and food price rises," Benn said. ''We need a radical rethink of how we produce and consume our food.''

Farmers would have to adopt new methods to grow bigger crops while being more careful with increasingly valuable commodities such as water, fertilisers, and fuel for machinery, Benn said. "Globally we need to cut emissions and adapt to the changing climate that will alter what we can grow and where we can grow it," he added.

In an interview with BBC on Sunday, Benn made suggestions that could prove debatable, including a strong pitch for genetically modified crops. He suggested that suggested that GM farming could help to increase Britain's crop production.