‘Induction over the history of science suggests that the best theories we have today will prove more or less untrue at the latest by tomorrow afternoon.’ Fodor, J. ‘Why Pigs don’t have wings,’ London Review of Books, 18th Oct 2007

Friday, 27 June 2008

GM crops will not solve world food crisis

The Guardian is reporting on comments by a leading biotech company boss, Martin Taylor who is chairman of Syngenta. He commented that the current industry is focused on farming in rich countries. This means that it would take 20 years to develop crops designed to address the problem in the developing world.


This would appear to contradict statements from UK and EU politicians who have claimed that GM crops may be able to solve the current problems of food shortages and excessive prices of basic foods.

Phil Woolas, Environment Minister commented recently in The Independent that "There is a growing question of whether GM crops can help the developing world out of the current food crisis. It is a question that we as a nation need to ask ourselves. Many people concerned about poverty in the developing world and the environment are wrestling with this issue." The European Commission has also recently released briefing documents that comment that GM crops can "play an important role in mitigating the effects of the food 'crisis'".

The claims for GM crops is that they can reduce losses due to pests and boost crop yields, although there are potential risk as well and the evidence is equivical. A major report by UN experts said GM crops offer limited benefits over natural crops in feeding the world's poor. The report is from the influential International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD). It noted that "Assessment of the technology lags behind its development, information is anecdotal and contradictory, and uncertainty about possible benefits and damage is unavoidable." Incidentally the GM industry, which helped to fund the report, pulled out before it was published.

Bob Watson, who is director of the UN assessment, and also chief scientist to the UK environment department Defra, said on the report's publication: "The short answer to whether transgenic crops can feed the world is 'no'. But they could contribute. We must understand their costs and benefits."

Martin Taylor, for his contribution, admitted at an agricultural conference in London this week that the main driver for GM was profit. As it is so expensive to win regulatory approval for GM crops, the industry has been forced to focus on "blockbuster" varieties, which could be sold to western farmers but had "hardly any environmental benefits".

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