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GM debate

The cost of spurning GM crops is too high

The benefits of the technology far outweigh any risks and we must embrace the opportunities created by it… The term “genetic modification” provokes widespread fears about the corporate control of agriculture, and of the unknown. However, results from 25 years of EU-funded research show that there is “no scientific evidence associating GM plants with higher risks for the environment or for food and feed safety than conventional plants and organisms”. This of course does not prove GM methods are 100% safe, but makes clear there is no evidence to the contrary.
The benefits of GM technology are becoming clearer to all. Insect resistant GM cotton and maize has reduced insecticide applications and lowered mycotoxin levels in the maize we eat. Genetic engineering in microbial research has produced new antibiotics and other natural products. JIC’s purple tomatoes contain elevated levels of health-promoting anthocyanins.

Food insecurity and climate change highlight the challenges of sustainably feeding a growing world population. Further research using GM methods opens new possibilities for raising and stabilising yields, improving resistance to pests and diseases and withstanding abiotic stresses such as drought and cold.

But in Europe, while taxpayers’ money is still paying to develop useful GM crop traits, taxpayers are not benefitting from their deployment. In contrast, Canada, China, the US and South America are blazing ahead with GM and India is not far behind. The latest figures from the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications report 15 million farmers planting GM crops on around 150m hectares in 2010.

Many promising GM traits exist, often discovered by academics, but the commercial risks are too great, the costs too high and the rewards too low for the European private sector to invest in taking them forward.

To get around this problem, I suggest that it is now time to establish a private/public partnership to put GM traits into favoured crops……
Comment by Prof Jonathan Jones, a group leader at the charitably funded Sainsbury Laboratory at the John Innes Centre in Norwich, UK.

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