No GM on menu at food summit

At the World Summit on Food Security in Rome last week, hosted by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization, global leaders, not surprisingly, called for additional aid to improve farming systems and help in mitigating the effects of climate change to solve the world's food crisis. But among all the speeches and discussions, one issue was noticeably absent from the meeting's agenda: genetically modified crops. Image: Flickr/expatwelsh "The FAO appeared eager to avoid any controversy at last we

Nov 24, 2009
Katherine Bagley
At the World Summit on Food Security in Rome last week, hosted by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization, global leaders, not surprisingly, called for additional aid to improve farming systems and help in mitigating the effects of climate change to solve the world's food crisis. But among all the speeches and discussions, one issue was noticeably absent from the meeting's agenda: genetically modified crops.
Image: Flickr/expatwelsh
"The FAO appeared eager to avoid any controversy at last week's summit," said linkurl:Robert Paarlberg,;http://www.wellesley.edu/PublicAffairs/Profile/mr/rpaarlberg.html a political scientist at Harvard University and author of the book, Starved for Science: How biotechnology is being kept out of Africa. "They wanted to convey an image of consensus, so they pushed increased aid levels as an alternative to short-term food aid solutions... while this is a worthy theme to push, technology also needs to be part of this plan." An estimated 1 billion people are currently starving, and GM proponents have suggested that biotechnology, with its promise of higher yields and enhanced nutritional value, could help mitigate this crisis. But the FAO has cautiously avoided discussing GM crops since the massive backlash to their 2004 State of Food and Agriculture (SOFA) report, in which they announced their support of biotechnology as a solution to food insecurity, said Paarlberg. In response to the report, more than 800 individuals from hundreds of non-governmental groups wrote a linkurl:letter;http://www.grain.org/front_files/fao-open-letter-june-2004-final-en.pdf to FAO's director general, Jacques Diouf, expressing their "outrage and disagreement" with the organization's stance on agricultural biotechnology, arguing instead that a more sustainable, organic farming system is the way to improve food security. While many food and policy experts agree agro-ecological farming systems are useful tools in achieving sustainable food security, most still say strategies should incorporate GM crops, particularly if countries plan to meet the 2015 deadlines for the Millennium Development Goals, which include cutting starvation in half. Several African countries, such as South Africa and Kenya, have adopted agricultural biotech strategies to boost both their farming and science economies. But the complete disregard of the issue in Rome last week has some wondering what it will take to persuade still-hesitant heads of state of the benefits of GM crops. "Genetic modification in crops and other organisms will be indispensable tools to address the increasing needs for food security in developed and developing countries," said linkurl:Jose Falck-Zepeda,;http://www.ifpri.org/staffprofile/jose-falck-zepeda a biosafety policy leader for the International Food Policy Research Institute. "I find the lack of specifics -- targets and deadlines, funding amounts, technologies -- [in the meeting's linkurl:declaration];http://www.fao.org/fileadmin/templates/wsfs/Summit/Docs/Final_Declaration/WSFS09_Declaration.pdf troublesome, but not surprising. I don't think many countries are politically ready to make the jump in order to broaden the range of technologies."
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[1st September 2009]*linkurl:Critics decry GM rule in Iraq;http://www.the-scientist.com/news/20051130/01/
[30th November 2005]*linkurl:Genetically modified crops;http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/14424/
[16th February 2004]