Anyone who has studied the science of genetic modification of food crops knows full well that they pose no threat to human health or wellbeing. Likewise, they also know that they have the potential to make a major contribution to increasing world food supplies. Most vitally, they could represent a means of increasing the food supply and reducing infant mortality in sub Saharan Africa. It is therefore highly encouraging to those who have long understood these facts that a one-time vociferous critic of GM crop development has made a detailed statement of why Greenpeace and other opponents are so profoundly misguided on this issue.
Mark Lynas, author of several highly rated books and other works on climate change and related environmental issues, told the Oxford Farming conference that the too successful anti-GM crop campaign was and is an “explicitly anti-science movement”. Stressing that he was once a leading member of that movement, he has subsequently come to realise that it is “about deep-seated fears of scientific powers being used secretly for unnatural ends. What we didn’t realise at the time was that the real Frankenstein’s monster was not GM technology, but our reaction against it”.
The so-called Franken foods of the green obsessionists are now widely grown in all parts of the world –except of course in Europe – and have provided probably more than 3 trillion meals without any discernible harm to their consumers. What’s more, GM technology has allowed these foods to be grown with less pesticides, less fertiliser and less energy input.
Lynas argues that if we are to meet the challenge of feeding an extra 2 bullion mouths by 2050 without much extra land, but with the handicaps of climate change and possible energy shortages, this can only be achieved through increased agricultural productivity. The warning given fifteen years ago by the late Norman Borlaug –prime mover of the Green Revolution which saved hundreds of thousands from starvation and malnutrition - that “If the naysayers do manage to stop agricultural biotechnology, they might actually precipitate the famines and the crisis of global biodiversity they have been predicting for nearly 40 years” is even more relevant today.
Anti-GM campaigning has not only blocked beneficial application of the technologies to food production in many parts of the world, but has rendered the process of official approval of new crop technologies too long-winded and prohibitively expensive. Ironically, this means that only the large corporations which are the major objective of the green lobby’s visceral hatred, will be the only organisations who can afford this process. Much of the important scientific work on biotechnical crop improvements has been carried out by much smaller government and privately funded research organisations. This has not however spared them from the mindless crop-slashing activities of the green campaigners.
A typical example of this irrational activity was the attempt by green activists to destroy experimental wheat plots at the UK’s government-funded Rothamsted Research Station. This is an aphid-resistant GM wheat which would need no pesticides to combat this serious pest. Fortunately, this particular attack did not succeed. Which is just as well, because the plants in this trial are known to be able to provide a yield increase of 30 per cent, not only without pesticide but with no increase in fertiliser or other inputs. Along with higher protein rice varieties, crops capable of withstanding African and Asian droughts and reducing the environmental cost of food production, these are all being developed outside the activities of the multinational agri-business giants.
Current scientific evidence suggests that global productivity for the major food crops is falling to levels inadequate to deal with rising demand. Only increased productivity will meet the challenge of rising population and dietary change – the major conclusion of my latest book.
This point was made time and again by Norman Borlaug: “The world has the technology — either available or well advanced in the research pipeline — to feed on a sustainable basis a population of 10 billion people. The more pertinent question today is whether farmers and ranchers will be permitted to use this new technology? While the affluent nations can certainly afford to adopt ultra low-risk positions, and pay more for food produced by the so-called ‘organic’ methods, the one billion chronically undernourished people of the low income, food-deficit nations cannot.”<15/01/2013>