Call for publicly funded research into GM crops

| 20th October 2009
Trials of GM cotton in the USA
The UK should start funding more research into GM crops, says The Royal Society.
Technologies to increase agricultural productivity will allow the UK to help feed the world, says Royal Society report

The Government should provide £2 billion worth of funding to increase food crop production in the UK, says the UK's premier scientific institution.

In a new report published today, 'Reaping the Benefits', The Royal Society says GM crops should be among the technologies developed over the next 20 years and that, 'scientific development holds the key to ensuring future food security'.

'The predictions for climate change are that Northern Europe is going to become one of the major bread baskets of the world,' said report co-author Professor Jules Pretty.

'The capacity for our agriculture to be successful is going to be important for us but increasingly for the world as well.'

Biotech giants

Report chair Professor David Baulcombe said public funds were necessary because much of the research needed would not interest large seed or fertiliser companies.

'If you are growing crops that use less fertiliser, that will not be of interest to a company that manufactures and sells fertilisers. So if the research is to be done it is best to be supported by the public sector, at least in the first instance,' he said.

Immediate support

He said the crop science sector in the UK needed immediate public support.

'There is a tremendous opportunity to apply science to develop sustainable and highly productive agriculture that hasn't previously existed,' said Professor Baulcombe.

'But to do it we need resources. If we start now the fruits of that will start coming out in the fields in 10 years time.

'We would be neglectful if we didn't take hold of the opportunity to feed the world,' he said.

Food waste

However, other organisations are already questioning the necessity for publicly-funded crop science.

'The money might be better spent tackling the social and economic problems that affect whether growing more food makes a jot of difference to food security,' said Food Ethics Council executive director Dr Tom MacMillan.

'The report assumes that feeding people is about growing food, not how it’s distributed and consumed. It fails to face up to the fact that a billion people already go hungry, while many more are buying – and throwing away – more food than they need.

'Instead of asking ‘how can science and technology help secure global food supplies’, we need to ask ‘what can be done – by scientists but also by others – to help the world’s hungry?’ he said.

Green farming

Friends of the Earth agrees with this perspective. It said the Government had already invested millions into GM technology with little benefit.

'Any attempt to combat the global food crisis must also address its root causes - such as industrial livestock production and a narrow focus on increasing yields - an analysis which is missing from the Royal Society report,' said food campaigner Kirtana Chandrasekaran.

'A massive increase in investment is needed in agricultural science - but this should focus on supporting traditional farming methods and providing safe, planet-friendly food.'

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