NOTE: This news comes hard on the heels of the call by Jeanette Fitzsimons in New Zealand for precious science funding not to be "poured down the black hole of GM crops". As we said then, policy makers need to look past their uncritical enthusiasm for GM crops at the real evidence on the best solutions to the complex problems the world faces.
This is what the evidence shows:
*GM has failed to substantially increase the productivity of food and feed crop.
*Traditional (non-GM) breeding is delivering on yields and on disease-resistant, drought-tolerant, flood resistant and salt tolerant 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. http://www.twnside.org.sg/title2/susagri/susagri064.htm
*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 has no public mandate and which has proven far from effective 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, both hi-tech and low-tech. Money should also be going into infrastructure improvements that could make a huge difference for small producers in the developing world.
Biotech snake oil: a quack cure for hunger
Genetic engineering a crop of hyperbole
IAASTD Report: GM crops not the solution to World Hunger
Organic farming 'could feed Africa' report http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/organic-farming-could-feed-africa -968641.html
UK to spend GBP100m on supporting GM crops for world's poor
The Guardian, 20 July 2009
*White paper shows government plans major rise in investment in research, as report calls for moratorium and questions approach
Britain is planning to quietly spend up to GBP100m on support for genetically modified crops for the world's poor despite not having allowed any of the controversial foods to be grown commercially at home.
A new white paper shows the government is committed to dramatically increasing spending on high-tech agriculture in the next five years, much of which will be on GM crop research. Biofortified crops, containing added vitamins, will receive GBP80m of development money, GBP60m will go on researching drought-resistant maize for Africa and a further GBP24m will be spent on pest resistance. In addition, support for an international network of GM crop research stations, in collaboration with GM companies, will be doubled. A further tranche of UK aid will go to a research initiative backed by the GM crop firm Syngenta, which is developing a strain of rice modified to increase vitamin A.
The white paper avoids the terms "genetically modified". But scientists and development experts are clear that much of the money will be spent on GM. The government has in the past revealed its strong support of high-tech food for Africa as a way to reduce poverty and also gain acceptance for GM foods in Britain.
Last year the then science minister, Ian Pearson, said: "If GM can demonstrably provide benefits for sub-Saharan Africa ”¦ the public will want to support [it]."
However, the decision to increase aid spending on GM food for developing countries rather than to direct money to help farmers increase yields by conventional methods has dismayed environmentalists. In a paper to be published tomorrow, GM Freeze, set up by Friends of the Earth and others, calls for a moratorium on GM, arguing that Britain's investment is sending African farming "down a blind alley".