GM crops could help to solve the problem of over-fishing

Our need for high-yield, low-impact foods is sharper than ever


One of the thornier questions we face is how to feed a global population heading towards 10 billion and beyond. Not only are rising temperatures squeezing the amount of viable farmland; industrialised farming techniques are also reaching the limits of sustainability. Pest mutations, denuded soils and a collapse in the number of bees are already taking their toll.

The solution, at least in part, lies with genetic modification. True, the technology got off to a terrible start. The rapacity of agrochemical giants – locking farmers into buying their products by designing crops linked to their own herbicides – only exacerbated underlying concerns about the perils of “Frankenfoods”. But, 20 years on, our need for high-yield, low-impact foods is sharper than ever, and GM has itself evolved.

The latest development at Rothamsted Research in Hertfordshire is a case in point. After 15 years of painstaking work, scientists at what is one of the world’s oldest agricultural research institutions applied this week for permission to start field trials of an enhanced strain of a flax-like oil-seed crop which they hope could ease the strain on, of all things, fish stocks. Leave aside the issue of over-fishing to feed human beings directly. Vast quantities of marine creatures are also pulled from the sea to make feed stock for the fish farms designed to alleviate the pressure. The challenge, then, is to find a non-fish source of the omega-3 oil needed to sustain farmed populations. And to solve the problem, researchers at Rothamsted have made synthetic genes from marine algae (which make omega-3) and inserted them into Camelina sativa to create a seed that is rich in the necessary nutrients but can be grown in bulk.

If successful, the Rothamsted crop offers a way out of one of the tighter bottlenecks in modern food production. Nor does the potential end there. Given that fish oils are directly beneficial to people, a successfully enhanced crop could also have a place in our own diets.

GM still has many ideological opponents. But their case is ever harder to make. The Rothamsted trials could take us a step closer to a world that can sustainably feed itself. As such, they should proceed with all possible expedition.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company has over 40 years ...

Recruitment Genius: Weekend Factory Operatives

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This high quality thread manufacturer is curr...

Recruitment Genius: FP&A Analyst

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A market leading acquirer and m...

Recruitment Genius: Electricians

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fully qualified electricians re...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Daily catch-up: the Labour leadership election hasn’t yet got to grips with why the party lost

John Rentoul
Kennedy campaign for the Lib Dems earlier this year in Bearsden  

Charles Kennedy: A brilliant man whose talents were badly needed

Baroness Williams
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific