Leading article: Genetically modified food for thought

Share
Related Topics

The prospect of a hungry century looms. On our present course, we are caught in a pincer. Climate change is likely to turn much farmland around the globe into desert. And the growth of the global population will increase demand for food. Yields will fall and prices will rise. That is a recipe for starvation.

Professor Robert Watson, the chief scientific adviser at the Department for the Environment Food and Rural Affairs, argues in an interview with this newspaper today that the policy response of all governments, including our own, to this "nightmare scenario" should be greater support for genetically-modified crop technologies.

The potential benefits to mankind from GM are real. If crops can be genetically modified to be drought-resistant, or to grow on formerly barren land, they could well play an important role in feeding the planet in the coming decades.

The problem is that we are some way from developing such super crops. Instead, the crops which dominate the GM market are herbicide-resistant strains developed by Monsanto and a handful of other pesticide manufacturers. These allow farmers to soak the land in chemicals. If such ultra-intensive farming techniques were to be used in Britain's crowded countryside, it would threaten ecological disaster.

The central failure of our own Government on GM has been its inability to differentiate between the hypothetical technologies which hold out the welcome prospect of bringing marginal land into cultivation, and the existing technologies which destroy natural diversity. It is this ambivalence that has stoked the suspicion of environmentalists, prompting some activists to vandalise scientific GM trials.

If the Government is going to throw its support behind GM technology, ministers need to be explicit about what they are supporting. And they must establish a divide between commercial interests and the needs of the world's food consumers. A programme sponsoring independent research into drought-resistant crop strains, and other socially beneficial innovations, would have a chance of winning public support; a policy of carelessly throwing open Britain's markets to the pesticide giants – quite rightly – would not.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Head of Marketing and Communications - London - up to £80,000

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group Head of Marketing and Communic...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery Nurse required for ...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: L3 Nursery Nurses urgently required...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: We have a number of schools based S...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Noddy Holder must be glad he wrote 'Merry Xmas Everybody' as he'll earn £800,000 this year from royalties.  

Noddy Holder: A true rock ’n’ roll hero, and a role model for sensible people everywhere

Rosie Millard
Ian Paisley used to pick out journalists in his congregation  

The Only Way is Ethics: Ian Paisley is rightly remembered for his intransigence

Will Gore
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam