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Can These GMO Foods Save the World? (Slideshow)

Can These GMO Foods Save the World? (Slideshow)



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Maybe not, but they certainly have potential

Golden Rice

This breed of rice has been genetically engineered to synthesize beta-carotene, a precursor to vitamin A. Vitamin A deficiencies result in blindness, dwarfism, and death for hundreds of thousands of children every year, and replacing regular rice with golden rice can provide them with this vital nutrient.

Bt Soy, Corn, and Cotton

iStockPhoto/ Thinkstock

A soil bacterium called Bacillis thuringiensis (or Bt) produces a natural pesticide, and this gene is currently being injected into the DNA of many different types of crops, including corn, soy, and cotton, preventing the need for dangerous and expensive pesticides. The GE (genetically engineered) corn protects against earworm damage, which is one of the most costly crop pests in North America, and also lowers the level of mycotoxigenic fungi, which have been linked to cancer in humans.

Flavr-Savr Tomato

iStockPhoto/ Thinkstock

The first genetically modified food, the Flavr-Savr Tomato, reduced by about 20 percent the cost of producing canned tomatoes. Researchers were able to reduce the formation of the enzyme that results in fruit softening, leading to a tomato that remained firm much longer than its non-GM cousins. The Flavr-Savr, as we reported in our GMO section, was a commercial failure, and is no longer grown.

AquaBounty Salmon

iStockPhoto/ Thinkstock

The salmon produced by this Massachusetts-based company have been engineered to reach market weight in about half the time as non-GM fish, 18 months instead of 30, and cost about 20 percent less to produce. The shortened time also can take the pressure off of wild stocks by allowing for a lot more salmon to be produced in the same amount of time. The company has been working to receive approval to sell this fish to the general public for more than 20 years.

Arctic Apples

iStockPhoto/ Thinkstock

This product is admittedly more cool than world-changing: an apple that doesn’t turn brown once it’s cut or bitten into. This results in fewer apples being thrown away once they begin to brown, and more antioxidants, which burn up once the apple begins to brown. They’re still not on the market, however, pending government review.

Drought-Tolerant Corn

iStockPhoto/ Thinkstock

This one has some obvious benefits: researches have been able to engineer a breed of corn that can survive long periods of water deprivation. A couple different varieties are on the market and already in use, and the one sold by Monsanto, called DroughtGard, added the same gene that bacteria use to continue growing in cold environments.

Blight-Resistant Potatoes

Liquidlibrary/ Thinkstock

Late blight has long been the bane of potato farmers’ existence; the fungus-like pathogen was responsible for the Irish potato harvest being decimated in the 1800s. Ireland’s agricultural agency, Teagasc, has been hard at work developing a potato that’s been genetically modified to resist blight, and once it’s tested and approved, it could do away with the plague that destroys about a fifth of the world’s annual potato harvest.

Virus-Resistant Papaya

iStockPhoto/ Thinkstock

Papaya ringspot virus has historically seriously lowered yields of papaya crops, and throughout the 1990s researchers worked to develop a cultivar that was resistant to it. In 1999 the first virus-resistant papayas were grown in Hawaii (they elicit an immune-like response to the virus), and today they’re approved for consumption in both the U.S. and Canada.

Insect-Resistant Eggplant

iStockPhoto/ Thinkstock

The Bt bacteria has also been effectively worked into the DNA of eggplant, which sees up to 40 percent of yearly crop loss due to a pest called the “fruit and shoot borer.” The natural insecticide has been found to be non-toxic to fish, chickens, rabbits, goats, rats, and cattle.

Virus-Resistant Squash

iStockPhoto/ Thinkstock

The second GE crop to be cleared by U.S. regulators (after papaya), a breed of squash called Freedom II was engineered to be resistant to two viruses. Today six varieties of virus-resistant squash and zucchini are being sold in the U.S.


Genetically-Modified Salmon: Coming Soon To A Plate Near You?

Last week, I -- along with my colleague Scott McAnsh -- went to Federal Court to argue that the government violated the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA) when it approved a plan to manufacture genetically-modified salmon eggs and grow them out in Canada.

AquaBounty Inc. sought and was granted approval to manufacture genetically-modified AquAdvantage salmon eggs at a facility in Prince Edward Island, ship those eggs to Panama for grow-out, and then sell the salmon as food in North America. In 2013, the Ministers of Environment and Health went a step further and allowed not only that particular proposal to proceed but also permitted any person to manufacture the eggs at any contained facility in the country meeting certain requirements and also allowed the eggs to be grown out here.

In court, we argued that in doing so the federal government contravened the statutory requirements and purposes of CEPA: To promote transparency and promote sustainable development through precautionary decision-making. We also argued that the government did not adhere to its legal duty to notify the public when it waived information requirements as part of its risk assessment of this organism.

Our clients, Ecology Action Centre and Living Oceans Society, are especially concerned that the manufacture of genetically-modified salmon in Canada poses serious environmental risks. For instance, in the event that genetically-modified salmon escape into the wild, they may pose a serious threat to endangered Atlantic salmon populations. There are a lot of unknowns about the extent of this risk because the government waived the requirement for Aquabounty to provide test data regarding the invasiveness and toxicity of the organism.

Putting AquAdvantage salmon on the market as food would require go-ahead from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration or Health Canada -- neither of which had been granted when our case was heard. That changed two days later when the FDA officially approved AquAdvantage salmon as food in the U.S.

Outcry and opposition was swift, particularly in reaction to news that the FDA will not require genetically-modified salmon to be labelled. Major retailers like Target, Costco, and Whole Foods have already said they do not plan sell genetically-modified salmon.

And although our clients' lawsuit doesn't deal with the issue of human consumption of AquAdvantage salmon in Canada, the FDA's approval has implications for the environment north of the border.

First, it may increase the likelihood that Health Canada will approve AquAdvantage salmon for human consumption. The agency has confirmed that it is reviewing AquaBounty's application to sell the genetically-modified fish in Canada.

Second, although the FDA's' approval is tied specifically to the two identified facilities in PEI and Panama, if the Canadian government follows the FDA's lead and allows this genetically-modified salmon to be sold for food in Canada, it remains to be seen whether it would similarly be restricted to the PEI facility only or if it would open the door to manufacture and grow-out across the country in light of the range of activities in relation to the organism approved following the Ministers' CEPA toxicity assessment.

For now, we await a decision from the Court on our clients' case. A win in this case would be an important victory for wild Atlantic salmon and confirm the government's responsibilities under CEPA when it assesses new products of biotechnology. Given that technology in this area is rapidly advancing we can expect that more biotechnology will be manufactured or imported into Canada. That's why it's important that government get its decision-making right from the beginning.

In the meantime, we look forward to seeing the new federal government follow-through on its promises to follow the advice of scientists and promote transparent and open decision-making -- as this will affect future toxicity assessments under CEPA, including with respect to risks to the environment posed by products of biotechnology.

This piece was written by Ecojustice lawyer Kaitlyn Mitchell. As Canada's only national environmental law charity, Ecojustice is building the case for a better earth. Learn more by getting updates on the most pressing environmental issues delivered straight to your inbox by subscribing here.


Can GM save the world?

Can GM crops save the world? It's not a question most people would expect me to be asking.

I trained as a scientist I was studying for a PhD in entomology when I started the farm, and I'm fascinated by genetic technology.

It could be an incredibly powerful tool if it's used properly. But on the other hand I think how we produce our food is really important, and I run my farm according to the principles I believe in.

All our animals are raised outdoors, we don't use any chemical pesticides or fertilisers and we try to work with nature as much as possible.

So I've spent the last six months travelling around the world to investigate GM crops. I wanted to find out if they had a role to play in our agricultural systems or whether the environmental and health concerns make it too risky.

The first thing I found was that much of the rest of the world does not share Europe's concerns about GM technology.

GM crops were planted on over 100 million hectares last year - that's about 10% of the world's crops which are now genetically modified. And it really seems to be working for the farmers.

Jimmy Doherty spent six months investigating GM crops

I visited Argentina where they've adopted GM technology in a big way.

Every year they plant an area larger than Britain with GM soya beans.

The beans are much more profitable to grow than conventional beans and they have become the country's biggest export. They almost single-handedly rescued Argentina from economic meltdown when they were introduced in the late 1990s.

But there have been downsides. The GM production system works best when grown on a large scale and many smaller farmers have been squeezed off their land by the expansion of the mega-farms and huge areas of natural forest are being cleared to make way for more soya.

In the US, GM technology has become even more widespread.

In Pennsylvania I met Amish farmers whose lifestyle hasn't changed for decades. But even though they still use horse-drawn machinery to tend their fields, they also grow GM crops.

They grow a variety of corn that produces its own insecticide. It means their crops suffer from much lower levels of insect damage and they have to spray much less pesticide. And that has got to be a good thing for the farmers and for the environment.

The Amish use horse-drawn machinery but also grow GM crops

But there are other concerns about the environmental effects of GM crops. My biggest fear is that the genetically modified genes may spread into other non-GM crops.

We know that this gene-flow does happen, and if it were to occur on a wide scale, it would mean that you couldn't guarantee any crops were truly GM free.

That would be bad news for conventional and organic farmers who don't want to grow GM crops, and for anyone who doesn't want to eat GM food.

Although I've seen no evidence that eating GM crops is bad for you I do believe that you should have the choice to avoid GM if you want to.

On balance, I'd say we don't really need the GM crops we have at the moment.

The only people who really seem to benefit are the farmers who grow the crops and seed companies who provide the seeds, while there are environmental risks that affect us all.

But I don't think that we should turn our backs on GM either.

It is still a young technology and I think its real use may lie in the future.

Imagine if GM could be used to create crops that produced higher yields, or were resistant to drought or could even fix their own nitrogen and produce their own fertiliser.

While that's a possibility, we need to proceed with research into GM. We need to make sure it's safe - but we may really need it in the future.

At the moment we are facing a food crisis. The world's population is increasing.

Arable land is being used to produce biofuels, the increased demand for meat, particularly in India and China, is raising demand for animal feed. Climate change. All these factors are putting our food supply under pressure.

Most estimates suggest we need to double the amount of food we produce in the next 50 years.

The biggest challenges will lie in Africa - where agricultural productivity has been falling and 30% of the population is permanently under-nourished.

If anywhere needs to benefit from farming technology, it is here. No-one is saying GM is the total solution to all these problems. But if there is a chance it can provide some of the answers, then we need to pursue it.

Horizon: Jimmy's GM Food Fight will be broadcast on BBC Two on 25 November at 9pm

Jimmy Doherty is a farmer and scientist whose rare breed pig farm was featured in the BBC Two series Jimmy's Farm


The Tiny State Of Vermont Is Forcing GMO Labeling Nationwide

When Vermont passed a law in 2014 that required all genetically engineered food sold in the state to be labeled by July 1, 2016, it likely had no idea it would force disclosure beyond its own borders.

With the deadline to comply fast-approaching, several major food producers have announced plans to voluntarily label products containing genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, not only in the small New England state, but nationwide.

"Food companies are being forced to make decisions on how to comply and having to spend millions of dollars," trade organization Grocery Manufacturers Association said in a statement this month. "One small state’s law is setting labeling standards for consumers across the country."

Unless Congressional lawmakers or a federal court intervenes, Vermont, with a population of around 600,000 -- the second smallest in the country -- will be responsible for a major and controversial food industry shift.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Senate blocked an industry-backed bill that would have preempted state laws, specifically Vermont's, by establishing voluntary standards for labeling genetically modified foods.

While labeling advocates maintain that mandatory requirements are about a person's right to know what's in his or her food, the industry argues such labels would be expensive and confusing for consumers.

The Coalition for Safe and Affordable Food, which is among those groups that has fought to stop mandatory labeling, estimates that labeling requirements could raise the cost of food for families by up to $1,050 per year.

"The Senate is in danger of ceding control of labeling for a nation of 300 million to a state of only 600,000 people," coalition spokeswoman Claire Parker told Reuters.

In 2015 alone, food and agricultural companies spent $101 million lobbying against labeling, according to Environmental Working Group. Roughly 10 percent of that reportedly came from the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which continues to put up a fight in federal court to stop the Vermont measure from becoming law.

GMA said in a statement emailed to The Huffington Post that the industry as a whole would continue to push for "passage of the federal bill that would protect consumers, farmers and small businesses from a costly patchwork of state labeling laws," even as individual member companies are "deciding how they will comply with the Vermont law."

Some big companies have already decided to comply with the Vermont law on a national scale. General Mills, Mars, Kellogg and ConAgra Foods are among that manufacturers that will add GMO labels to their packaging.

Jeff Harmening, executive vice president and chief operating officer of General Mills, said a statement that while the company continues to support a national standard, the Vermont law requires that it start labeling certain products or face significant fines of $1,000 per day for each product.

"We can't label our products for only one state without significantly driving up costs for our consumers and we simply will not do that," he said.

Mars spokesman Edward Hoover said in a statement emailed to HuffPost that the company is working to amend the labeling of all relevant U.S. products, and that its decision to do so is "in response to consumer desire to know when GM ingredients are being used in products."

Hoover wouldn't say how much the undertaking would cost the company, but if the photograph below is any indication, we could expect to see messages like "partially produced with genetic engineering" on a lot more of our every day products.


Jane Goodall Questions the Safety of GMOs

I am a lucky gal! Who even gets to meet Jane Goodall (of the gorilla fame) to hear about the issues that remain on her mind now in her 80s? What an opportunity to try to understand the big planet picture from the perspective of a legendary octogenarian earth lover. Perhaps one of the original tree huggers who was smirked about at first and embraced later as a visionary dedicated to the protection of our wild.

She readily admits that she isn't "that kind of scientist" when she agrees to discuss one of the biggest ecological issues of our time, the use and proliferation of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). In her home of the United Kingdom, many of the crops that North America is embracing are still banned, and with good reason she says. Some 64 countries around the world, including China, Australia, Japan, and the European Union, there are significant restrictions or outright bans on the production and sale of GMOs -- but not in Canada or the United States.

It is a pivotal time for us as more crops gain approval and find their way into our food system under the title of GRAS or (Generally Recognized as Safe). Ms. Goodall is touring with American lawyer Steven M. Drucker who wrote a book called Altered Genes, Twisted Truth. A book so dense with footnotes, quotes and back up appendices that any layperson would think that he anticipates some backlash requiring defense.

This book is a legal look at the political path that the approval of such products has taken. Mr. Drucker maintains a fairly extreme view that you have been duped about the safety of GMOs at the expense of your health in dramatic ways. In a Watergate "follow the money" kind of way, he does lay out a convincing conspiracy theory, but, reasonable case. His entire premise, one which many including Ms. Goodall agree upon, is that the label of GRAS was falsely given as there wasn't evidence at the time to establish such a claim of safety. In his book he quotes numerous scientists (including one at Agriculture Canada) who had originally stated that GMOs were safe and have now reversed their opinion. And, in the ensuing 20 years that the evidence against its safety has grown but the classification has not been repealed. Pretty scary stuff.

From my perspective, the guy has a point. I personally choose to avoid genetically modified foods to whatever degree that I can just to be on the safe side of the fence. At a minimum, I believe that we have the right to know if they are in our foods and that GMOs should be legislated to be labelled. If you want to avoid them, you should be able to. I think Ms. Goodall pushed me over the fence when she made this cogent point:

"Those who create these organisms spend a lot of time, money and energy to prove these seeds are very different from traditional seeds in order to achieve the (money making) patent. And then they turn around to convince the public that they are exactly the same as traditional seeds and are therefore safe for consumption. Isn't that crazy?"

Yes, to my mind it is. Either it is the same or it is different.

Unfortunately, due to the proliferation of GMO seeds and crops there is no longer such a thing as "GMO free." Winds and bees carry pollen for miles and cross-contaminate GMO crops with conventional and organic varieties. The term "GMO Free" would therefore be misleading and inaccurate when it comes to genetically modified ingredients like corn, soy, sugar beets and canola. This is why many companies like one of my favourite brands (and clients) is Nature's Path who use the term "non-GMO."

Nature's Path co-founder, Arran Stephens made a promise to produce only products that were organic before organic had standards and GMOs even existed. I asked him some questions to help me make simple sense of the topic and make reasonable recommendations. Stephens explains,

"We have a duty to always leave the earth better than we found it for this generation and the ones to come, which is why we've been making organic, non-GMO food for 30 years. As a lifelong ethical vegetarian, I was concerned whether the food I was feeding my family might contain something that might violate our principles. Many Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and others also found this manipulation of the food supply offensive to their practices and beliefs. At that time, I felt that GMOs would present the greatest-ever threat to organic agriculture and the planet. Today, more than 95 per cent of North American grown corn, soy and canola is genetically modified, which makes it challenging to source non-GMO and organic varieties."

This company is solving that problem by purchasing organic farmland in Saskatchewan and Montana, educating the consumer and farmers alike and investing in the University of British Columbia's Centre for Sustainable Food Systems. It is on behalf of organizations and initiatives like this that my skin crawls when people hurl blind blame at "Big Food" for ruining our planet. Though independent and family-owned, this group can be considered "Big Food" and they are making a lot of great waves.

So what can the average, mainstream eater do?

While this whole debate wastes precious (and perhaps dangerous) time getting sorted out. I want to know what to DO about it to protect yours and my health. What we can do to protect the planet, its pollinating bees and birds out of respect for Ms. Goodall who fought a lifetime to support the gorillas. What goes around comes around was her point at the outset. We only have one planet.


GMO Food Labeling Bill Passes In The Senate

(Reuters) - The U.S. Senate on Thursday approved legislation that would for the first time require food to carry labels listing genetically-modified ingredients, which labeling supporters say could create loopholes for some U.S. crops.

The Senate voted 63-30 for the bill that would display GMO contents with words, pictures or a bar code that can be scanned with smartphones. The U.S. Agriculture Department (USDA) would decide which ingredients would be considered genetically modified.

The measure now goes to the House of Representatives, where it is expected to pass.

Drawing praise from farmers, the bill sponsored by Republican Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas and Democrat Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan is the latest attempt to introduce a national standard that would override state laws, including Vermont’s that some say is more stringent, and comes amid growing calls from consumers for greater transparency.

“This bipartisan bill ensures that consumers and families throughout the United States will have access, for the first time ever, to information about their food through a mandatory, nationwide label for food products with GMOs,” Stabenow said in a statement.

A nationwide standard is favored by the food industry, which says state-by-state differences could inflate costs for labeling and distribution. But mandatory GMO labeling of any kind would still be seen as a loss for Big Food, which has spent millions lobbying against it.

Farmers lobbied against the Vermont law, worrying that labeling stigmatizes GMO crops and could hurt demand for food containing those ingredients, but have applauded this law.

Critics like Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont, say the bill’s vague language and allowance for electronic labels for scanning could limit its scope and create confusion.

“When parents go to the store and purchase food, they have the right to know what is in the food their kids are going to be eating,” Sanders said on the floor of the Senate ahead of the vote.

He said at a news conference this week that major food manufacturers have already begun labeling products with GMO ingredients to meet the new law in his home state.

Another opponent of the bill, Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon, said it would institute weak federal requirements making it virtually impossible for consumers to access information about GMOs.

LOOPHOLES

Food ingredients like beet sugar and soybean oil, which can be derived from genetically-engineered crops but contain next to no genetic material by the time they are processed, may not fall under the law’s definition of a bioengineered food, critics say.

GMO corn may also be excluded thanks to ambiguous language, some said.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) raised concerns about the involvement of the USDA in a list of worries sent in a June 27 memo to the Senate Agriculture Committee.

In a letter to Stabenow last week, the USDA’s general counsel tried to quell those worries, saying it would include commercially-grown GMO corn, soybeans, sugar and canola crops.

The vast majority of corn, soybeans and sugar crops in the United States are produced from genetically-engineered seeds. The domestic sugar market has been strained by rising demand for non-GMO ingredients like cane sugar.

The United States is the world’s largest market for foods made with genetically altered ingredients. Many popular processed foods are made with soybeans, corn and other biotech crops whose genetic traits have been manipulated, often to make them resistant to insects and pesticides.

“It’s fair to say that it’s not the ideal bill, but it is certainly the bill that can pass, which is the most important right now,” said American Soybean Association’s (ASA) director of policy communications Patrick Delaney.

The association was part of the Coalition for Safe and Affordable Food, which lobbied for what labeling supporters termed the Deny Americans the Right to Know, or DARK Act, that would have made labeling voluntary. It was blocked by the Senate in March.


The Deadly Opposition to Genetically Modified Food

Photo by David Greedy/Getty Images.

Finally, after a 12-year delay caused by opponents of genetically modified foods, so-called “golden rice” with vitamin A will be grown in the Philippines. Over those 12 years, about 8 million children worldwide died from vitamin A deficiency. Are anti-GM advocates not partly responsible?

Golden rice is the most prominent example in the global controversy over GM foods, which pits a technology with some risks but incredible potential against the resistance of feel-good campaigning. Three billion people depend on rice as their staple food, with 10 percent at risk for vitamin A deficiency, which, according to the World Health Organization, causes 250,000 to 500,000 children to go blind each year. Of these, half die within a year. A study from the British medical journal the Lancet estimates that, in total, vitamin A deficiency kills 668,000 children under the age of 5 each year.

Yet, despite the cost in human lives, anti-GM campaigners—from Greenpeace to Naomi Klein—have derided efforts to use golden rice to avoid vitamin A deficiency. In India, Vandana Shiva, an environmental activist and adviser to the government, called golden rice “a hoax” that is “creating hunger and malnutrition, not solving it.”

The New York Times Magazine reported in 2001 that one would need to “eat 15 pounds of cooked golden rice a day” to get enough vitamin A. What was an exaggeration then is demonstrably wrong now. Two recent studies in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition show that just 50 grams (roughly two ounces) of golden rice can provide 60 percent of the recommended daily intake of vitamin A. They show that golden rice is even better than spinach in providing vitamin A to children.

Opponents maintain that there are better ways to deal with vitamin A deficiency. In its latest statement, Greenpeace says that golden rice is “neither needed nor necessary,” and calls instead for supplementation and fortification, which are described as “cost-effective.”

To be sure, handing out vitamin pills or adding vitamin A to staple products can make a difference. But it is not a sustainable solution to vitamin A deficiency. And, while it is cost-effective, recent published estimates indicate that golden rice is much more so.

Supplementation programs costs $4,300 for every life they save in India, whereas fortification programs cost about $2,700 for each life saved. Both are great deals. But golden rice would cost just $100 for every life saved from vitamin A deficiency.

Similarly, it is argued that golden rice will not be adopted, because most Asians eschew brown rice. But brown rice is substantially different in taste and spoils easily in hot climates. Moreover, many Asian dishes are already colored yellow with saffron, annatto, achiote, and turmeric. The people, not Greenpeace, should decide whether they will adopt vitamin A-rich rice for themselves and their children.

Most ironic is the self-fulfilling critique that many activists now use. Greenpeace calls golden rice a “failure,” because it “has been in development for almost 20 years and has still not made any impact on the prevalence of vitamin A deficiency.” But, as Ingo Potrykus, the scientist who developed golden rice, has made clear, that failure is due almost entirely to relentless opposition to GM foods—often by rich, well-meaning Westerners far removed from the risks of actual vitamin A deficiency.

Regulation of goods and services for public health clearly is a good idea but it must always be balanced against potential costs—in this case, the cost of not providing more vitamin A to 8 million children during the past 12 years.

As an illustration, current regulations for GM foods, if applied to non-GM products, would ban the sale of potatoes and tomatoes, which can contain poisonous glycoalkaloids celery, which contains carcinogenic psoralens rhubarb and spinach (oxalic acid) and cassava, which feeds about 500 million people but contains toxic cyanogenic alkaloids. Foodstuffs like soy, wheat, milk, eggs, mollusks, crustaceans, fish, sesame, nuts, peanuts, and kiwi would likewise be banned, because they can cause food allergies.

Here it is worth noting that there have been no documented human health effects from GM foods. But many campaigners have claimed other effects. A common story, still repeated by Shiva, is that GM corn with Bt toxin kills Monarch butterflies. Several peer-reviewed studies, however, have effectively established that “the impact of Bt corn pollen from current commercial hybrids on monarch butterfly populations is negligible.”

Greenpeace and many others claim that GM foods merely enable big companies like Monsanto to wield near-monopoly power. But that puts the cart before the horse: The predominance of big companies partly reflects anti-GM activism, which has made the approval process so long and costly that only rich companies catering to First World farmers can afford to see it through.

Finally, it is often claimed that GM crops simply mean costlier seeds and less money for farmers. But farmers have a choice. More than 5 million cotton farmers in India have flocked to GM cotton, because it yields higher net incomes. Yes, the seeds are more expensive, but the rise in production offsets the additional cost.

Of course, no technology is without flaws, so regulatory oversight is useful. But it is worth maintaining some perspective. In 2010, the European Commission, after considering 25 years of GMO research, concluded that “there is, as of today, no scientific evidence associating GMOs with higher risks for the environment or for food and feed safety than conventional plants and organisms.”

Now, finally, golden rice will come to the Philippines after that, it is expected in Bangladesh and Indonesia. But, for 8 million kids, the wait was too long.

True to form, Greenpeace is already protesting that “the next ‘golden rice’ guinea pigs might be Filipino children.” The 4.4 million Filipino kids with vitamin A deficiency might not mind so much.

This article was originally published by Project Syndicate. For more from Project Syndicate, visit their Web site and follow them on Twitter or Facebook.


Are Genetically Modified Crops the Answer to World Hunger?

Hunger is a major world crisis for which a solution has not yet been found. Since their advent, genetically modified crops have been hailed as the key to solving world hunger.

Biology, Health, Conservation, Social Studies, Economics

Tearless GM Onion

GM crops may be modified to improve yield, enhance nutrition, or better adapt to environmental conditions. They can even be altered to resist pests or eliminate unwanted effects, like this type of onion that doesn't cause people to tear up when chopped.

Photograph by Redux Pictures LLC

Hunger is one of the greatest global challenges of the 21 st century. Despite some improvements within the last two decades, global hunger is again on the rise, with 2016 data indicating that more than 800 million people around the world suffer from malnutrition. Children under five years of age represent 150 million of those affected, and for roughly three million of these children every year, the struggle ends in death. When faced with such staggering statistics, it is natural to wish for one simple solution to prevent these deaths and rid the world of hunger. Use of genetically modified (GM) crops is among the proposed solutions&mdashbut is it truly a viable solution?

GM crops are plants that have been modified, using genetic engineering, to alter their DNA sequences to provide some beneficial trait. For example, genetic engineering can improve crop yield, resulting in greater production of the target crop. Scientists can also engineer pest-resistant crops, helping local farmers better withstand environmental challenges that might otherwise wipe out a whole season of produce. Crops can even be engineered to be more nutritious, providing critical vitamins to populations that struggle to get specific nutrients needed for healthy living.

However, GM seeds are produced primarily by only a few large companies who own the intellectual property for the genetic variations. A transition to GM crops would closely align global food production with the activities of a few key companies. From an economic standpoint, that poses a risk to long-term food security by creating the potential for a single-point failure. If that company failed, then the crop it provides would not be available to the people who depend on that crop.

Moreover, a large proportion of those affected by malnutrition are small farmers in sub-Saharan Africa, where use of GM crops is less common. Since attitudes toward GM crops tend to correlate with education levels and access to information about the technology, there is a concern that sub-Saharan African farmers may be hesitant to adopt GM crops. More generally, public perception of GM foods is plagued by concerns of safety, from the potential for allergic response to the possible transfer of foreign DNA to non-GM plants in the area. None of these concerns are backed by evidence, but they persist nonetheless.

Whether based on legitimate concerns or lack of scientific information and understanding, local rejection of GM crops has the potential to derail efforts to use these crops as a tool against malnutrition. However, there are case stories for success: Adoption of GM cotton in India has improved family income and, as a result, reduced hunger.

While there are these controversies and complexities that pose challenges for the use of GM foods, these are secondary to a larger issue. We already live in a world that produces enough food to feed everyone. Thus, hunger results from inequity, not food shortage. Unequal distribution of quality food among communities suffering from poverty is the primary culprit in today&rsquos world hunger, not abundance or quantity of food stocks. For those suffering from malnutrition, access to quality food depends on a variety of political, environmental, and socioeconomic factors&mdashmost notably, armed conflict and natural disasters.

When viewed through this lens, GM crops may have a role to play in combatting global hunger, but merely increasing crop production or nutritional value (via any method) will not solve the larger problem of inequity in access to food. For example, farmers whose livelihoods depend on production of commercial crops rather than food staples may be able to increase their income by growing GM crops, affording them the financial resources to purchase more or higher-quality food. Moreover, GM crops might better withstand certain natural disasters, such as drought. However, since data shows that political unrest is the primary driver of hunger, it is unclear whether these farmers would be able to sell their products or use their income on nutritional food sources within a country plagued by conflict.

Unfortunately, GM foods are not the cure-all to hunger the world needs. The path to eradicating global hunger is more complex than any one solution and is in fact far more complex than only addressing food quantity or quality. The United Nations Global Goals for Sustainable Development address world hunger in Goal 2: Zero Hunger, which aims to &ldquoend hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.&rdquo This goal lays the foundation to combatting world hunger via a multipronged approach, including political action and reduction of violence, agricultural and technical innovations, efforts to end poverty, and educational initiatives. Luckily, with allies such as the United Nations Children&rsquos Fund (UNICEF) and the World Food Programme, this grand challenge may be achievable&mdashand maybe GM foods will play a role, but they cannot be relied upon as a magical solution.


Nobel scientists: Genetically modified foods save lives

Combines harvesting soybeans, one of the crops most often modified through modern biotechnology (© AP Images)

An open letter signed by more than 100 Nobel Prize winners — that’s one-third of living science laureates — calls on governments around the world to approve genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and exhorts environmental opponents to stop fighting biotechnological innovations.

“How many poor people in the world must die before we consider this a ‘crime against humanity’?” they write as they affirm that genetically modified crops are safe to eat and have the potential to save millions of lives.

The laureates are launching a campaign to support the modern plant-breeding techniques.

“Scientific and regulatory agencies around the world have repeatedly and consistently found crops and foods improved through biotechnology to be as safe as, if not safer than, those derived from any other method of production,” the scientists write.

A recent National Academy of Sciences report concluded these crops have never been shown to cause human illness or environmental harm. Engineered seeds are used on one-eighth of the world’s farmland to grow soybeans, cotton, maize and other crops.

The laureates accuse opponents of fighting to stop the introduction of vitamin A–enriched “golden” rice in the Philippines and elsewhere. That hurts poor people in Southeast Asia and Africa the most.

The World Health Organization estimates that 250 million people suffer from vitamin A deficiency, with babies and children at most risk of death or blindness. According to UNICEF, 1 million to 2 million deaths each year could be prevented if poor families added more vitamin A to their diets.

Randy Schekman, a University of California at Berkeley cell biologist who won the 2013 Nobel Prize in medicine, told the Washington Post, “I find it surprising that groups that are very supportive of science when it comes to global climate change … can be so dismissive of the general views of scientists” on biotechnology in agriculture.

Almost all seeds used by farmers have been tweaked through conventional plant breeding to produce more abundant and insect-resistant crops. The laureates say farmers now should be free to use “all the tools of modern biology, especially seeds improved through biotechnology.”


How science can save the world's poor

M any green activists oppose GM crops on principle. It is difficult to understand what the principle is, since they do not campaign against the production of drugs by genetic modification. Yet the same technique is used to transfer a gene from one species to another to make human insulin for people with diabetes, for instance, as to modify a GM crop.

By what principle is it right to make better drugs to protect us from disease, but not to modify plants to make them resistant to insect pests? Why is there such a violent reaction against the genetic modification of plants?

The strongest argument in favour of developing GM crops is the contribution they can make to reducing world poverty, hunger and disease. As the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, an independent body of experts and lay representatives, declared in 1999: "The moral imperative for making GM crops readily and economically available to developing countries who want them is compelling." The council's recent update of its report confirmed this view. No one argues that all problems can be solved by the wave of a magic GM wand. The question is: can GM crops help? On the evidence we have, it seems they can.

Most new technologies take root slowly and take time to prove their worth. What is remarkable about the application of GM technology to plants is how quickly it has been adopted and how much benefit it has already shown in poorer parts of the world.

Last year GM crops were cultivated over 70m hectares in 18 countries, covering more than twice the area of Britain. Nearly 5 million small farmers in China, India, South Africa, Brazil and Mexico now grow cotton genetically modified to protect it against the boll weevil. In China, this saves farmers as much as $500 per hectare, mainly through a 60-80% reduction in the use of pesticides. In KwaZulu, 92% of cotton farmers, mainly women, now grow GM cotton and some have seen their income nearly double, mainly because savings on pesticides greatly exceed the extra cost of the seeds. In India, when an infestation of pink bollworm devastated the cotton harvest, except where farmers had (illegally) planted GM cotton, farmers marched on Delhi demanding that GM cotton should be licensed, which it was in 2002.

The story of cotton shows actual financial benefit, here and now, mainly to small farmers in the developing world, contrary to the allegation frequently made by some NGOs that agricultural biotechnology only promotes industrial farming. But the greatest contribution of GM technology is to come. China spends over $100m a year on plant science and has developed 141 different types of GM crops, 65 of which are already in field trials. In India, too, biotechnology flourishes. Most research is on staple crops grown by ordinary farmers. A transgenic tomato has been modified to thrive on salty water and eventually salt-resistant crops can be cultivated in large tracts of land now infertile.

Research on GM plants will bring particular benefits to health. Some have already been achieved through the reduced use of pesticides. In South Africa, cases of burns and sickness from agricultural chemicals have fallen from 150 to a dozen a year because GM cotton is sprayed only twice a season instead of more than eight times.

More and greater benefits will come from the development of vaccines, antibodies and other pharmaceutical proteins in plants. Vaccines extracted from GM potatoes, against hepatitis B and against bacteria and viruses causing diarrhoeal diseases, are already under test. Eventually they will be produced in bananas or lettuces or in tomato juice that can be ingested raw. They will not then have to be administered by injection by trained personnel and should also be free from possible contamination with human pathogens.

Yet some NGOs dedicated to helping people in the developing world ignore these potential benefits. They even oppose the development of "golden rice" - which contains pro-vitamin A and, as part of a staple diet, could help redress the vitamin A deficiency associated with the deaths of more than a million children every year, according to the World Health Organisation. This deficiency is also the single most important cause of blindness in about half a million children annually.

Golden rice has not been developed for or by industry it is given free of charge and restriction to subsistence farmers it does not create advantages for rich landowners it does not reduce biodiversity and has no harmful effect on the environment it will benefit the poor and disadvantaged. Yet Greenpeace ridicules it as irrelevant.

Blind opposition to GM crops is the triumph of dogma over reason.

· Lord Taverne is a chair of Sense About Science and author of The March of Unreason, published in November