Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are good for the poor and hungry, say seven national and international academies of science including the National Academy of Sciences in the USA, the Royal Society in the UK, the Chinese Academy, the academies of India, Brazil and Mexico, and the Third World Academy of Sciences, in a report published on 12 July.
In a carefully argued 17-page document, the academies conclude "it is critical that the potential benefits of GM technology become available to developing countries." Public-sector efforts could create transgenic maize, rice, wheat, cassava, yams, sorghum, plantains and sweet potatoes, which would be more stable in storage and more nutritious, benefiting poor farmers and improving their access to food "through employment-intensive production" of staples.
These balanced phrases clearly take account of widespread suspicions that commercial biotechnology research will not benefit the poor, and criticisms of the 'green revolution' of the past three decades — the creation of high-yielding varieties of wheat and rice by conventional breeding — which arguably created surpluses for richer farmers but pushed poorer ones off the land.
The report also recommends that "Private corporations and research institutions should make arrangements to share GM technology, now held under strict patents and licensing agreements, with responsible scientists for use for hunger alleviation."
Recognising the concerns of Western communities, the academies also recommend "concerted, organised efforts... to investigate potential environmental effects, both positive and negative, of GM technologies... against the background of effects from conventional agricultural technologies already in use."