‘Unethical’ not to use GM crops in countries facing famine

Europe’s chief scientific adviser has claimed it is “unethical” not to use genetically modified crops in developing countries facing famine and malnutrition.

Scottish scientist Anne Glover, who was appointed as chief scientific adviser to European Commission president José Manuel Barroso in 2012, said it is unethical not to use crops produced with GM technology when other approaches have failed.

“When GM technology was in its infancy, many people were concerned about the technology and in particular the fact that we were now able to manipulate plants in a targeted manner compared to the trial-and-error approach we used with conventional plant breeding,” Ms Glover told the EU news service EurActiv.

“Nowadays the situation has changed dramatically. People are still concerned about GM, but most of them are not uneasy with the technology per se, but rather with the business practice in the agrifood sector, which is dominated by multinational companies.

“Unfortunately, this market situation is also an unintended consequence of the regulatory burden in the EU which makes it almost impossible for SMEs to enter the GM business.”

The European Academies of Science Advisory Council (EASAC) recently issued a report advising European countries to reconsider their bans on GMOs. The EASAC report suggests that controversies about the impact of GM crops have often been based on contested science.

Ms Glover noted that most GM companies had, in her view, failed to engage in an honest dialogue with the public to convince them of the benefits of this technology. However, she agreed with the EASAC view that there is no evidence that GM technologies are any riskier than conventional breeding technologies and this has been confirmed by thousands of research projects.

“Food produced with GM technology is very common in other parts of the world, without any evidence that this has been harmful to the people that consumed it or to the environment at large,” said Ms Glover.

“We have a major challenge to feed a world of seven billion, soon nine billion people. GM is a valuable technology to have to help in addressing this. GM provides solutions to famine and malnutrition in less developed parts of the world — such as Vitamin-A enhanced golden rice — so it is unethical not to use the technology when other approaches have failed.”

UK environment minister Owen Paterson recently warned the EU’s agri-food sector that it risks being left behind on GM technology. Currently, the only two GM crops approved for cultivation in Europe are Monsanto’s Mon810 maize and BASF’s Amflora potato.

While the rest of the world is ploughing ahead and reaping the benefits of new technologies, Europe risks being left behind,” said Mr Paterson.

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