GM Food and The Bottom Billion

Ian Sample had an odd little bit of argument earlier this week in the Guardian about the role of GM crop politics in feeding the worlds’ hungry. First up to the lectern is Sir David King:

Sir David King, who left the job at the end of last year, says anti-scientific attitudes towards modern agriculture are being exported to Africa and holding back a green revolution that could dramatically improve the continent’s food supply.

Speaking for the defence, Robert Watson:

“You cannot argue that Africa has hunger because it doesn’t have GM today,” said Watson. “We have more food today than ever before but it isn’t getting to the right people. It’s not a food production problem, it’s a rural development problem.”

h/t Tim Haab


  1. But they’re both right…

    most starvation is from distribution problems.

    However, especially given the likely problems we’re going to have with agriculture over the next few centuries, we’re almost certainly going to have to do more (carefully done) GM, especially as cheap nitrogen fertilizer disappears, and as we need to get more drought-resistant crops, etc.

    People need to be careful of GM in various ways, but uncategorical rejection of it shows people don’t understand where their food comes from.

    One might want to look at the opinions of the father of the green revolution, Norman Borlaug:

    More GM = less fertilizer or less pesticide, and sometimes more forest, all good things.

    I especially recommend: “Mendel in the Kitchen: A Scientist’s View of Genetically Modified Food”, by Nina Federoff & Nancy Marie Brown. Nina is a professor of Biology at Penn State, and a NAS member.

    A couple Q’s for people: (p16-21 above)

    a) What do you eat that is natural? (I.e., never modified by humans).
    Read about wheat, which comes from a bunch of weird mutations. And of course, modern corn is incredibly far removed from teosinte. Triticale (what/rye hybrid) is totally unnatural, being crated with colchicine (chemical).

    [Some wild fish and game or more or less still natural. There might be a few plants around, but most human food comes from highly-bred plants and animals.]

    b) How about seedless watermelons? How does that happen?
    (Colchichine again).

    c) Do you eat pasta from Creso durum wheat (esp. popular in Italy)? or beer from Golden Promise Barley? or California Calrose 76 rice?

    Of the hundreds of varieties of bread wheat, ~200 were created using X-rays, gamma rays, neutrons, or various chemicals, and so were the others in that list. (p17).

    For some reason, smashing genes with radiation and selecting mutations ifs fine, but actually *engineering* the same variation cannot be considered. Of course one needs to be careful.

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