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Getting an appetite for biotechnology

Jorgo Chatzimarkakis
VIEWPOINT
Jorgo Chatzimarkakis

A growing population and climate change is going to make it difficult to meet the demand for food in the coming years, says German MEP Jorgo Chatzimarkakis. In this week's Green Room, he argues that we must embrace the solutions offered by biotechnology if we are going to feed the planet.

Herbicide resistant maize (Image: SPL)
Crops for the food production... and GM crops for industrial use should be strictly separated
In 2050, according to estimates, there will be nine billion mouths to feed around the world who will demand high quality, nutritious food.

Yet we will not be able to sustain a growing population if we do not amend our methods of agricultural production to reflect the new challenges before us.

We should stop our ideological debates and start thinking about how to strengthen the security and sustainability of global food production.

The application of advanced genetic science in breeding new crop varieties, including genetic modification methods, cannot alone address these massive challenges but it can be a significant part of the solution.

One way to enhance global food production is the use of Marked Assisted Selection (MAS), which allows the improvement of crops through "smart breeding".

This involves the crossbreeding of plants of similar families, rather than their genetic modification through the integration of foreign genes.

The application of genetic modification methods would be an additional alternative in the development of energy-rich and environmentally safe biomass for industrial use.

However, crops for the food production based on the MAS technique and GM crops for industrial use should be strictly separated.

Unfortunately, in Europe, we are lacking an open and balanced debate on the contribution that modern agriculture technologies could make to help farmers face today's challenges.

Lightening the load

The EU has set ambitious targets to tackle climate change, setting its member states the goal of cutting emissions by 20% (possibly 30%) from 1990 levels by 2020.

Farmer ploughing a field (Getty Images)
GM crops used today have been produced to reduce the need for tillage or ploughing, allowing farmers to adopt conservation or 'no-till' farming practices

Agricultural practices - such as ploughing, deforestation, cattle and fertiliser use - currently account for about 25% of greenhouse gas emissions, making it more important than ever to curb emissions from this sector.

Agricultural biotechnology can help by reducing the production of greenhouse gases, helping crops adapt to varied and often adverse environments, and by helping to increase yields while using fewer hectares of land and other inputs.

For example, GM insect resistant crops have been developed so that farmers can apply significantly fewer insecticide treatments.

This consequently leads to a reduction of fuel used by farmers when they spray pesticides on their fields, which means a saving in carbon dioxide emissions.

Additionally, GM crops used today have been produced to reduce the need for tillage or ploughing, allowing farmers to adopt conservation or "no-till" farming practices.

This has positive consequences in terms of mitigation:

  • tractor fuel use for tillage is reduced
  • soil quality is enhanced and levels of soil erosion are cut
  • less tillage keeps carbon in the soil, leading to lower emissions
  • The application of genetic technology to make plants better equipped to deal with a changing and difficult climate is one of the most exciting and important areas of advance in biotechnology.

    A man carrying a sack of rice
    Developing nations are already struggling to grow enough food

    Water shortages are already costing billions of dollars a year in crop shortfalls around the world, and are likely to grow more costly.

    The preservation of our water resources is key as climate change increases the risk of water shortages and desertification.

    GM crops have already been developed to be better adapted to warmer conditions.

    Herbicide-tolerant soya, maize, cotton and oilseed rape have allowed farmers to reduce the amount of ploughing required before planting their crop, thereby reducing water dissipation.

    They also help to reduce fossil fuel use, carbon emissions and soil erosion. New varieties of drought resistant crops, or crops which can be grown on marginal lands, also offer new opportunities to some of the world's poorest regions.

    Research into drought tolerant crops, such as "water efficient maize" produced by the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), a public-private research partnership based in Nairobi, suggests that yields can be maintained in water depleted situations.

    There are also a number of projects being developed to optimise the nitrogen use of a crop, a vital requirement in many parts of the world where nitrogen fertilisers are in short supply.

    Recognising that the production of fertilisers is energy demanding, these traits will be as beneficial to Europe, as they are to Africa.

    Reasoned debate

    In its annual study, the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA) found that 13.3 million farmers in 25 countries planted 125 million hectares of biotech crops during 2008.

    Dried out river bed (Getty Images)
    Climate change is projected to result in more extreme weather events

    It is clear that, when given the choice, farmers choose to benefit from the potential that GM offers.

    The vast majority of farmers benefitting from GM technology are resource poor, frequently with small plots of land and limited technology to assist their farming.

    In the past year, countries such as Egypt and Burkina Faso have embraced GM technology in recognition of the benefits they provide to both productivity and sustainability.

    But we should not forget the sensitivity of the issue for European consumers. We therefore need strict transparency and control in order to allow consumers choice.

    However, only one GM crop has been approved for cultivation in Europe in the past 10 years.

    As the challenges we face become more acute, there has never been a better time for a genuine discussion about the benefits of biotechnology, smart breeding and GM crops for industrial use.

    Dr Jorgo Chatzimarkakis is a German MEP and a member of the European Parliament's Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development

    The Green Room is a series of opinion articles on environmental topics running weekly on the BBC News website


    Do you agree with Dr Jorgo Chatzimarkakis? Does biotechnology have a key role to play in terms of helping the world feed itself? Will the advances help improve food security for billions of people? Or do we just need to become more efficient in the way we produce food?

    GM has a very important role to play for drought resistant food crops in increasingly water-stressed nations but attitudes to GM food in Europe may prejudice adoption in Africa and elsewhere. Also, with the forthcoming oil crunch next decade, the cost of fertilizers, pesticides, energy for irrigation and tractor fuel may become prohibitive for many farmers and result in fast-rising food prices at a time of exponential population growth. However, the doctor seems to be proposing that, in Europe, GM is used separately for industrial purposes but not food production which sends a mixed message. Also, the initiatives mentioned in the article can help curtail the exponential increase in deforestation and other destructive environmental/social impacts due to unsustainable growth of palm and soya cultivation - these alternative methods need to be explored, using a rigorous scientific risk-assessment based approach, and implemented urgently.
    Richard Coles, Maidstone, England

    Surely the most sustainable form of food production and future food security would be organic farming. GM crops, despite agribusiness's claims, do not increase crop outputs. This has been highlighted in South Africa and particularly in India where poor farmers have been left destitute by the moneys paid to GM seed salesmen. GM crops lock a farmer into increasing amounts of capital to pay for seeds and fertilisers. The suicide rate of Indian farmers and is stark reality of the failure of the GM experiment. No research into the long term health risks of eating GM food has been undertaken. This is biotechnology's serious shortfall.

    Organic (or natural) farming takes into account the resource thresholds that teh world is experiancing. It uses less water through natural and clever water methods, natural fertilisers in teh form of compost from animals or food waste, employs more people thus providing employment and income to the masses that will inhabit the earth, and finally organic food provides healthy nutritious diets.
    Adam Green, Cape Town, South Africa

    i'm studying agriculture. and the way i see it, how much more efficient way can we adopt. i agree biotech is the answer but learning about the enviornment and the soil is also a key to succeed in food security problem.
    mohsin, faisalabad, pakistan

    If there's not enough food to feed 9 billion people, then there won't be that number on the planet. All that will happen is that the death rates will increase and there will be a number of food wars. Perhaps the lack of diversity in food crops that would naturally follow universal adoption of GM will lead to those crops being catastrophically wiped out by whatever manages to adapt to the constraints we try to impose on nature. Given that there is apparently something like 1% interspecies genetic exchange between plants, how long before the weeds are also herbicide resistant?
    Peter T , Surbiton UK

    Mr. Chatzimarkakis repeats the promises of the GM industry. And he does it in such a way that I cannot discern his words from a public relations campaign. I find it really disappointing to read this from a member of the European parliament. In his statement, he does not consider any downsides of the GM seed business at all. Instead he only speaks of benefits, or the promises of benefits. Then he labels all GM critics ideologists. Is this all you have to say, Mr. Chatzimarkakis?

    About the real-world ecological risks of genetically manipulated crops - not a single word.

    About the diversity of crop varieties, biodiversity, agricultural ecosystems - neither.

    About high-yield organic farming techniques - neither.

    About ecology and ecological sustainability - neither.

    About the dependence or independence of third-world countries on the few big, extremely powerful GM suppliers and their annual package of GM seeds and GM seed-specific pesticides (let's not forget about them) - not a single word.

    About economic setbacks to GM users in the third world - neither.

    About major causes of hunger like incompetent politics in some developing countries, the lack of family planning, the big ecological footprints of us Westerners, and the agriculture politics and trade politics of the West - not a single word.

    The world's hugest scandal is hunger. The biggest business is food supply. Yes, we need a public debate about all reasons and all cures to hunger, but a fact-based and clear one. All interests must be named. And the subject is really complicated. Few journalists and few members of any parliament have a complete grasp of it. To me, MEP Chatzimarkakis' statement looks sorely incomplete and biased.
    Klaus Becker, Frankfurt, Germany

    No, I don't.If western world is genuinly concerned about welfare of people in developing countries then they should write off their national debt to start with.There is a number of things we can do before we hit the panick button and start talking about not being able to feed the world.Educate people for example.How much of our food ends up being thrown away, we are talking about millions of tonnes every year.Obesity is also a serious problem in western world and it is going to get worse before it gets better.I read somewhere that by 2020, every second child in UK is going to be overweight.Eat more healthy and exercise more.Also, lets have some serious talk about limiting the growth of the population, especially in developing countries where families are simply not capable of feeding their too many children any longer.

    Haven't we tried messing around with nature in this country already, everybody remembers the consequences.We should leave the nature as God intended it.There is no way I will ever trust Monsanto or a company like that.You should read about their tactics of fear and intimidation employed against USA farmers.There is a very good reason why we have such balance in the nature.Once it gets dusturbed, may the Lord have mercy on us all.Who is going to be held accountable when things start getting wrong? Millions of bees suddenly dying for no reason for example. GM food will never ever end up on my dinner table,under any circumstances.
    Mario, London

    We would be fools to ignore the benefits that biotech can provide for us. GM paranoia, while relevant with regards to safety of products and ensuring that any effect on local environments is minimalised, is ultimately restricting debate considerably. The fact is that there are now, and will be in the future, biotech solutions to agriculture issues; but they need to be discussed, and approached by ALL involved with an open mind.
    Chris, London

    Within the UK where the agricultural sector is all but deceased, wouldn't a surge of new employment, UK produced food and ability to cater for our own population increases be a good thing. Not to mention the possibilities of renewed business through the exportation of goods from the UK.

    I think we as Europeans need to stop being so sensitive and squeamish at the thought of GM foods. And like all other aspects of our lives ranging from our medications through to our mp3 players accept that change and progression can only improve our standard of living.
    Elliott Rogers, Croydon

    There a lot of assertions in this piece, without any specifics. Which GM crops have been developed for use with low tillage? Who by and where are they being used?

    The author says "The vast majority of farmers benefitting from GM technology are resource poor, frequently with small plots of land and limited technology to assist their farming."

    As far as I know, the vast majority of GM crops are grown in the US in the largest of farms. Which crops are grown by these poor people?
    Robert Irving, Cirencester, UK

    The more I think about this issue the more I am convinced that we need to incorporate Genetic modification in order to feed the world population in the coming decades. Unlike any time in the history of our planet, we are faced with a situation where people are living longer, healthier and population is growing at an alarming rate in some parts of the world. So I say use lets use everything we have got in our power to feed everyone in this planet. Using old conventional methods of agriculture need a big make over to accommodate for the new technology. A farmer in a typical African country will use a cattle for his/her land, which is not only labor intensive but its also ineffective as it only produces less than one-third of the potential out-put. Large scale agriculture is CRITICAL for Africa to feed itself.
    Daniel , Washington DC

    Surely the real issue here is not farming practices, but unsustainable population growth.
    Kevin Campbell, Shanghai, China

    Its really a good artical and very usefull in countries like Bangladesh India Pakistan Afghanistan and African countries.
    asef kazi,

    Increasing agricultural productivity is essential not only to meet the requirements of an expanding population, but to slow down and eventially reverse deforestation. GM crops are one of a number of intitatives that are reqired to achieve this. Others are better water management, more fertilizes, especially organic ones, nitrogen fixing plants, but above all a concerted effort to slow down and reverse population growth.
    kopenshaw, Vienna, Virginia, USA

    Infact i do agree with Dr. Chatzimarkakis's as in these econical times where mostly everything is failing and our demand for fossil fuel is over the supply provided our only hope to get out of this global economical crisis. The advances in biotechnology towards the agricultural sector should improve the available food towards the world people especially those in suffering countries. This technology can also allow our demand for energy to be supplied. this will as a result reduce the global economic crisis of the world today as well as provide jobs for qualified individuals.

    As a 17 year old college student i will aim to pursue a career in this path of biotechnology to help with this global crisis.
    Denell Florius, St. Lucia - Caribbean

    This is the issue of our time. Do we change from an ecosystem influenced to meet the wants and needs of a population value(x) of homo sapiens sapiens, or change the population value of homo sapiens sapiens (x) and/or their wants and/or their needs to retain a sustainable ecosystems where nature can continue to unfold with much reduced influence because of homo sapiens sapiens activities? I vote for the later.
    Tracy John Gillott, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

    I think the key issue for global food security is the high consumption of meat in developed countries, and increasingly also in some emerging markets. Hundreds of kilogrammes of cereal are required for one kilogramme of meat. Hence, I would say that meat should become more expensive, possibly also via the byway of global emissions taxes. I think that GM crops risk irreparably disrupting ecosystems when characteristics of GM organisms spread to wild ones. The risk is not worth it, if we can solve the problem by reducing meat consumption, especially since only a moderate consumption of meat is healthy anyway.
    Daniel, Salzburg, Austria

    I totaly agree with what has been said i come from New Zealand and everywhere you go there is only farms with large good crops and i have noticed since i moved that the land does not have the same quality as home and so action does need to be taken to ensure a good quality suply of food for the EU and beyond. sorry for spelling and gramer only 15.
    Jamin, Andorra

    This article has ignored so many of the issues regarding GMO crops. If they are so great, why is it that companies that produce these foods try so hard to prevent GMO labeling, even though the public demands it? I'll tell you why, Jorgo, because the effect on our health is untested, and there has already been cases of health related issues with consumption of GMO's which included blindness. Also, herbicidal resistant crops such as Round-Up Ready Canola (Rapeseed) does not require less herbicides or pesticides. There has also been issues with yields and nitrogen fixation of these crops, so before going of and writing how great these crops are, people like Jorgo should go an actually talk to farmers in the US and Canada that have had problems, instead of listing off information you can get off a Monsanto broucher.
    Harm Demon, Vancouver, Canada

    Reading the MEP's commentary, i was surprised to note that he hasn't properly understood the rootcause/s of the problem.... GM products are solutions given by shortsighted individuals.. we must look into the exploitation of our planet, how we can stopit and of course the time has come to take a deep look at the preference for non vegetarian food...
    Raghavendra Pote, Stuttgart Germany

    "In 2050, according to estimates, there will be nine billion mouths to feed around the world who will demand high quality, nutritious food."

    … and what brought about this massive growth of humans on this planet? The various kinds of technology that Mr. Chatzimarkakis purposes, amongst the already technology enablers that have created and are continuing to add massive numbers of humans to an already stressed ecosystem.

    The present population is depended on non-renewable resource that technology again has helped to extract, deplete and process. Mr. Chatzimarkakis thinking is just another think trap of these technology enablers and is leading to a vast calamity that he thinks can be fixed by the very process that got us to this place in the first place.

    Technology fixes are just that, a fix, not a solution. The solution is a reduction of population by our collective choice or by the collapse of our ecosystem because of the destructive nature of our sheer numbers.

    Simple as that.
    frank patton, Windsor, CA, USA

    There is absolutely no evidence that GM crops are more productive than normal crop production,in fact they are probably the opposite.There are innovative methods of production like perme-culture which can produce up to five times normal crop production.Whoever controls the worlds food production controls the world.
    damon, manchester

    Does Dr Jorgo Chatzimarkakis work for monsanto or is he just getting paid off by them?

    Bio crops have statistically been problematic for the environment, people and have no record of producing a better yeild.

    This is just another case of a bought "expert" pushing his paid for agenda.

    SHAME ON YOU BBC
    youth, seatle/ usa

    Why do we always tackle the population problem by trying to make more food ? The more sensible solution is to reduce the population . This will reduce pressure on many things including the environment , food , water , fuel etc. Many the past decades major famines a rapidly increasing population has been a major factor. We are quick to provide medicines etc to developing countries but not education to go with it. What is also missing in the report is that a large factor in the current food shortage is down ther failure of certain of varties of crops and that the diversity that allowed farmers to survive such times has greatly been reduced and so the effect is far worse. We need there to be a proper free market for food not the current dominance by mult nats some of whom want terminator seeds to be allowed that will help more than using tech that needs to be properly tested and researched in labs.
    Saturday, London

    It is agriculture that is the main source of greenhouse gases - not cars, trains, buses, but agriculture. Rather than try to work out how to increase agriculture yields, a far better solution would be to work out how NOT to have a population of 9 billion by the year 2050.

    If we tinker with agriculture in order to cater(!) for 9 billion people, we are only staving off a far bigger disaster 50 more years down the line - when there's 20 billion people and no room to move, never mind anything to eat.

    Typical, as always, to try and find a solution to a problem we should have seen coming and could have prevented - we ARE intelligent afer all - are we not?
    Jon Slack, Nottingham. UK

    The world currently produces enough food to feed all of its people but still some people starve. To think that GM crops are going to sort out the divide between rich and poor, well fed and malnourished is either naive or a ploy to support the greedy corporations that will profit from the mass adoption of GM. So far GM has not produced greater yields or benifetted soils. GM will only lead to the agri corporations being further in control of our food supply, much to the detriment of Farmers and consumers in Britain and worst still poorer nations.
    Stuart Jones, Manchester

    The world currently produces enough food to feed all of its people but still some people starve. To think that GM crops are going to sort out the divide between rich and poor, well fed and malnourished is either naive or a ploy to support the greedy corporations that will profit from the mass adoption of GM. So far GM has not produced greater yields or benifetted soils. GM will only lead to the agri corporations being further in control of our food supply, much to the detriment of Farmers and consumers in Britain and worst still poorer nations.
    Stuart Jones, Manchester

    The picture painted sounds far too good to be true. Maybe supporters of GM crops should be the guinea pigs with reagrd to GM consumption. If it is the case that we are engineering GM crops for less developed countries then I would rather see the money being spent improving the internal infrastructure and giving education to those farmers to ensure a far more sustainable way of feeding themselves. GM is like a drug, once used you will continually need to keep buying it as the majority are infertile and need to be used in conjucture with the companies own insectide/herbicides etc. Thats what these companies fail to mention.
    lloyd, Chester, UK

    Given a choice between certain mass starvation, and biotech food products (the worst commonly-voiced potential consequence of which is pesticide-resistant weeds), I know which side I'd come down on. Anything less is mass-murder by omission.
    Andrew, Glasgow, UK

    Valuable as their opinions are, I don't think farmers are always the best people to ask about protecting the environment - some of them don't seem to worry about cutting down the rainforest to make cattle ranches, for example...Quite apart from people's fears about the problems that GM food will cause to human health and ecosystems, there is a real risk that the means of growing food - seeds - will become the property of large corporations. I recall the behaviour of Nestle in 'pushing' formula baby milk on to 3rd world mothers who were ill-equipped to resist their sophisticated marketing. So, if 3rd world farmers think GM foods are a good thing, maybe we should ask how balanced is the info that they are receiving on the subject. I don't see that Dr Chatzimarkakis has addressed this anywhere in his piece.
    Vicki , Hertfordshire, England

    Marker Assisted Selection (MAS) is *NOT* genetic modification. No-one opposed to GM is opposed to MAS as MAS involves conventional breeding of plants that are genetically compatible.

    No commercially available GM crops have been created with traits that reduce tillage, improve drought tolerance or any other characteristics that would benefit the devloping world.

    GM crops require more water, more pesticides and more fertilisers than organic equivalents. Most of the claims of this author are demonstrably false and echo the marketing materials of Monsanto, Dow and Syngenta.
    Richard, London

    Dr. Jorgo is very much Right in his statements about food crisis and its solutions.

    But every country and its conditions are diffrent from other so there should be evaluation in detais about each country's soil, its crop pattern and available resources.

    Agri Bio Technology is The Answer to feed not only future Humanity but all other Living Speicies on Our Beloved Mother EARTH !

    There should be a World Academy of Science to find out the Solutions for present and future requirements on EARTH.

    but this World Academy of Science should be spared from any kind of political, religious or racial influences.

    i hope against the hope that intelligencia around the World should Act Immediately otherwise we should be ready to Extict too.
    pravin Patel, Clarendon Hills, Illinois, USA

    The availability of food is not the only resource that will become scarce as the population increases. What about our land mass, and other resources such as clean water and energy supplies. We can not stay in denial about the fact that the human population needs to be controlled in some way. It is foolish to think that we can simply allow our population to carry on increasing. My point is, our problem is not how to produce more food, but how to control our population size so that we do not become the cause of our resource limitation.
    Dr Catherine Tetard-Jones, Newcastle

    Yes, and human research over the last decade or so can do much better than the last 3.9 billion years of research that life has been doing. Get off your addiction to careerist sci-fi fantasies and trust what's already here, please. GM and what it represents is simply self-indulgent Cartesian nonsense. Our species is designed to be symbiotic, nothing more. Please stop trying to rationalise GM - your career depends on it, our lives will not. Nature will provide (if allowed to) without microscopic rape. Study Forest Gardening & Permaculture if you dare to. The environment itself becomes the laboratory, with better results too. It'll solve many more problems than the GM white elephant. Fact.
    Fred Brown, Kendal, UK

    Er, no, actually. What we need is recognise that the problem is population growth, not shortage of food.
    Claire, Edinburgh

    Studies show that organic farming will consistently perform better than in changing climate conditions. GM technology is ill-concieved and only successful thus far due its own marketing efforts.
    Diane Woodward,

    Any arguments in favour of GM need to make clear what proceedures there will be to ensure a. the health of human being (there is no guarantee that GM feood is safe and no reasn why there should not be stringent safeguards as we have for medicine b. how are we going to make sure that GM technology is not owned by big corporations. Traditionally in Europe and still in most other parts of the world, seeds from this years crops are sued for next years. currently this is impossible with GM crops, so as a result they a re merely opportunities for large companies (Monsanto, Cargill etc.) to take further highly industrial control of the food chain.

    This is not to the advantage of consumers or small scale producers.

    Furthermore, currently there is more than enough food to feed the whole world, only that it is unequally distributed. In Europe and US, average calories consumption is much much higher than is needed by the human body. If we just identify a technological fix to increase production, and do not deal with the fundamental social innequalities which leads to millions starving while people die of obesity in Europe and US, then we are not addressing the issue adequately.

    Finally, there have been several studies showing that GM crops have lower production levels than ordinary crops. Given this result, how can this author be yet again advocating for the GM lobby. it is very disappointing.
    Christopher Brewster, Birmingham, UK

    No! The world does not need Biotech to feed the human population.

    It needs a curb on population size and to discard the current thinking that wasting millions of tons of food every year is acceptable. It is not acceptable, it is foolish in the extreme.
    Augustus, Cambridge

    I still find it hard to believe that in this day and age, with the challanges we face, we are still not making the most of the science given to us! When we make the choice to turn our noses in respect to this technology we are essentialy taking food away from the mouths of the people that need it the most...

    I think we need a campaign to provide factual information to the public and to start a debate! We no longer have the time to wait!
    Michael Purcell, Windsor

    What we need is not biotechnology but permaculture. Nature already does everything this article says we need biotech to do. It is becuase we have already taken nature out of ahriculture and put technology in that we are in our current situation.
    RR, London

    What a load of tosh. We don't need Frankenstein crops, what we do need is better management of land resources, land reclamation and improved irrigation, particularly in the poorer countries.

    We don't know what impact man mutated crops will have on the environment, and we should not be in a rush to experiment on ourselves in this way!
    Paul, Lichfield, England

    The debate is rational not ideological. Introducing genetically altered crops is currently unpredictable and uncontrollable, and the results could well be catastrophic. The potential costs simply outweigh the potential benefits. In the future, GM crops could bring about an agricultural leap, but, currently, continued study and development in truly controlled environments is necessary. The solution to the hunger crisis is population control and veganism.
    Philip Lohbauer, Columbus, OH USA

    No - it is treating the symptoms not the cause, which is not being said, just to many people.
    Peter Prewett, Tumut

    GM is a promising lead. without it,we'll never get enough food. the question is, did the GM benefits is bigger than its danger? as long as benefits were significant, we have no issue.
    Tankmarshall, Jakarta/Indonesia

    I heartily disagree with Dr Chatzimarkakis. Biotechnology only has a role in helping agribusiness companies corner the market and force people to pay them for food we don't want. They've still not bothered finding a way to prevent GMOs from contaminating nearby fields, and they sue people whose crops are contaminated.

    This whole article is full of straw-man arguments - that only biotech crops can reduce water consumption, fuel use, or fertilizer needs, or that the only way to feed 9 billion people would be to have patented crops planted around the world. It's as if the author is entirely unfamiliar with the US - where GMO crops are grown primarily for cattle feed, ethanol, and food additives - or India - where farmers have been committing suicide at alarming rates by drinking the pesticides they can no longer afford to spray on crops they can no longer afford to buy the seeds of...

    Rather than look at the issues mentioned and come up with more elegant solutions (like switching crops, changing diets, or decarbonizing the agricultural systems), the author decides instead that more experimental, unproven, uncontrollable alterations should be made to the already unstable ecosystems that we manipulate to produce food. Neither convincing nor particularly rational in my opinion.
    Steve Morgan, Boulder USA

    I understand the benefits of GM food from a theoretical viewpoint having studied genetics in the past at University. However, in my subsequent studies what I learnt and which is failed to be mentioned here is how the developers of GM crops turn a profit.

    Some examples which are not made clear here in this one sided article are:

    Insect resistant plants do require less insecticide, since the toxin is effectively incorporated into the plant.

    In the case of reducing herbides use to control weeds a more specific toxin in higher doses can can be used, since the crop plant has GM enhanced resistance to the toxin.

    However, in most cases GM plants are made to not produce viable seeds meaning the farmer cannot harvest the seeds for the following year and so must always buy new seeds from the biotechnology seed company. Effectively creating a cycle of debt and dependence.

    Any talk of using GM crops for biomass from fuels is also laudable "pie in the sky" since with limited land and water resources, growing fuel means in developed countries people can still drive their SUVs, but the price of food will continue to rise out of the reach of poor people.
    Peter Ramenjatchek, Perth, Australia

    Dr. Chatzimarkakis mentions the estimate of 9 billion human population by 2050, and clearly outlines many of the serious problems this population will lead to. Why didn't he also plainly state that most of our famine, and water scarcity challenges are directly linked to that increased population?

    Contraceptive distribution needs to be free, universal, and no questions asked...free access to effective contraceptives is crucial to our future, much more so than GM crops.
    Evelyn Haaheim, Lawrence, KS USA

    More power to manipulate our environment in future will reduce the necessity for GM food.
    Mr Clarke, Kettering Northants England

    There's a less costly alternative to that: stop food-subsidizing regions with overpopulation. Feeding this "planet" is only feeding a growing problem. Work should be directed more towards policies that will reduce the number of mouths to feed in the first place, not how to provide for an ever growing population. It has to stop somewhere, and it's better to have control of where it stops rather than create a "bubble" which seems to be the sorry trend these days.
    Chris C, Salt Lake City, USA

    If the problem is how to feed the fast growing population then instead of turning into GM crops as a solution we should consider educating people on the real problem of overpopulation. GM seems far from being the solution, in particular when the GM giant Monsanto seems to be only interested in making profit instead of progess. A quick google search for Monsanto or GM crops results in endeless pages of scandals and risks. For this reason I cannot agree with Dr Jorgo.
    Paulo Mesquitela, Watford, UK

    It's a no brainer to me. The way the world is going and the way that the population is ever expanding, we need all the help we can get. By allowing GM food, we can have a better quality of food which will surely go down with the healthy eaters but we can also increase the quantity of food, therefore lowering the price of it (basic rules of supply and demand) and having more food to pass on to people in the more needy countries. In my honest opinion, I see no reason why we should not adopt GM foods.
    Daniel, Widnes, UK

    The argument that the GM crops are more resistant for diseases is very shalow. We are not sure what future will bring us. maybe the extinction of pest which are responsible for eating crops will change the environmental balance and somthing more dangerous will happen. What we will do if some insects will evoluate and become adoptet to the pesticides??? Why it has not been mentioned that only few international companies are allowed to sell the seeds and they put presure on farmers to not save the seeds of traditional varieties?

    I think that data records about GM are to short to implement it broadly. From the past we had some exeples of implementing "bonzer things" which had to improve different kind of production: DDT, drying wet lands, implementing forgein species ect. Finally I think that problem of GM have to be constantly surveyd. The GM should be cultivated on the smaller scale.
    Mateusz, Lucien/Gostynin

    Hello, I had a comment about the effects that engineering GM crops will have on the adapting bacteria. Would the older bacteria that effects crops that aren't GM eventually adapt and become a different variation?
    Ryan Wilmington, Reno, NV

    There is enough food in the world to feed everyone, the problem is only our fair distribution of it. The feeding the world argument for GM is as ridiculous as saying we must bomb countries to help them live in peace.
    Tim Long, Devon, UK



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