'The directors of Oxfam, Christian Aid, Save the Children and Action Aid have warned that claims that genetically engineered foods will feed the world are "misleading and fail to address the complexities of poverty reduction."'
Biotech is not the answer
By Brent Blackwelder
USA Today, 25 May 2004
Most of us would like to see crops and farming techniques developed to feed the world, reduce pesticide use and provide health benefits. So far, the biotech food crops on the market today have failed to do these things, according to a new report by the United Nations' Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO). However, the report concludes that in the future, if the right investments and regulations were put into place, biotech could help. That's a big "if."
Contrast the report's findings with the views of prominent hunger-relief groups. In Britain, the directors of Oxfam, Christian Aid, Save the Children and Action Aid have warned that claims that genetically engineered foods will feed the world are "misleading and fail to address the complexities of poverty reduction." They are concerned that hunger is not due to a shortage of food, but to a lack of money to buy or grow it. Biotechnology would not change underlying social and economic policies and, therefore, it is unlikely the right investment.
The FAO report says that "there have been no verifiable reports of significant health or environmental harm." But harm is difficult to determine when proper regulations and the funds needed to evaluate these crops are not even available in the United States. Through their lobbying, biotech companies have prevented the Food and Drug Administration from adopting an independent approval process, and the companies have succeeded in getting more than $190 million of taxpayer money a year to subsidize the development of their products. Only 2% of these federal research funds are dedicated to evaluating potential harm.
Genetically engineered foods that inherently require more complex evaluations are not adequately regulated today in the richest country in the world. So it is not clear why the FAO thinks they might be adequately regulated elsewhere.
Ultimately, it is up to the leaders of nations that are facing famine or malnutrition to decide what crops and technologies to embrace. To the extent that people in wealthier nations want to help, we should provide the poor with options that solve these problems without creating new ones.
Brent Blackwelder is president of Friends of the Earth.