Don't waste science cash on GM
Policy makers need to look past their uncritical enthusiasm for GM crops at the real evidence on the best solutions to the complex problems we face. While traditional breeding continues to steadily increase crop yields as it has done for decades, the data shows GM has failed to substantially increase the productivity of food and feed crops.
Traditional (non-GM) breeding is also delivering on disease-resistant, drought-tolerant and flood resistant crops while GM continues to lag well behind with all of these. Studies also show low-cost ecologically based farming methods have doubled yields of some crops in Africa. And modern genomic methods, such as marker-assisted selection (MAS), which involve few of the risks of GM, also hold promise.
So why waste precious public funding on a risky technology that hasn't proven very effective, when so many desirable alternatives are available? Opting for GM not only wastes scarce resources but further stunts research investment into far more productive technologies and methods.
Policy makers need to check out Jeanette Fitzsimons's recent re-assessment of genetic modification in the light of the latest evidence - Genetic Modification Revisited - in her speech to the NZ Institute of Agricultural and Horticultural Science:
Don't waste science cash on GM, Fitzsimons says
Paul Gorman, science reporter
The Southland Times (New Zealand), 16 July 2009
Precious science dollars should not be wasted on genetic modification (GM) research, Green Party MP Jeanette Fitzsimons says.
The Government is hardening its approach to Crown research institutes (CRIs) and their requirement to make a profit and pay a dividend.
The eight CRIs have been told not to assume that not returning a dividend to the Crown, as they have been able to do in recent years, will be tolerated.
Fitzsimons, the Green Party's GM spokeswoman, said New Zealand science funding was limited and it should not be "poured down the black hole of GM crops, as it has been in this country now for well over a decade".
"One of the problems we have got with science funding ... is nearly all the public funding available requires industry to put in 50 per cent.
"You can find plenty willing to put in 50 per cent to a GM project because they will then hold patents, but it's hard to get funding for researching, say, better agricultural processes, which will not give anyone a patent.
"If there's money to be made out of science, the private sector will do it.
"You have public sector funding because you have research at a level where you can't guarantee you will make money out of it.
"If you do that for CRIs, I don't object to them making some money for the public purse when appropriate, but I don't think that should be mandatory," she said.
At a forum on GM this month, Fitzsimons said genetic science had produced "wonderful diagnostic techniques, marked-assisted breeding, and laboratory manufacture of medicines by micro-organisms.
"There is more to be done in those fields. But the best way I can describe genetic engineering of crops and animals is as a clever and expensive technology looking desperately for a use - a smart solution looking for a programme."
There was no evidence GM food crops would help feed the world, she said.
However, William Rolleston, chairman of biotech industry lobby group Life Sciences Network, said the message in favour of GM was "pretty clear".
"There is a lot of genetically modified crop production going on around the world and countries are spending serious dollars on the future in terms of using genetic modification.
"It has been taken up pretty widely where it is allowed."
There had been a lot of talk about "how onerous and unnecessary" regulations around GM research were, he said.
The recent breaches by Plant and Food Research at Lincoln in a GM-brassica trial were not as bad as some might think, Rolleston said. "You have to ask yourself, 'what risk was actually posed by those plants?'."