Royal Society accepts GM not only answer
The Telegraph, 21 October 2009
For now, at least,the hype is muted. Yesterday's Royal Society report takes care not to repeat the claims, put forward by some proponents of the technology that genetic modification can itself end world hunger. Indeed it condemns such simplistic stances, noting that past debates "have failed to acknowledge that there is no technological panacea".
That is welcome for, as Prof James Specht of the University of Nebraska has pointed out, the "hype-to-reality ratio" has at times reached "infinity". Instead the Royal Society, which has long supported GM crops and foods, backs a mixture of traditional farming techniques and new technology, merely asking that none "should be ruled out".Such an approach, if maintained, should open the door to a much more constructive debate, forcing even the most radical environmentalists to spell arguments out rather than pull crops up.
Some, like the Prince of Wales, oppose genetic modification on principle, as an interference in God's business. The rest of us need to weigh up costs and benefits. So far these tip the scales against the technology. GM crops, and how they are grown, do seem to do more environmental damage. Their possible effects on health remain open: too few good studies have been done to settle the matter either way. And so far the benefits have mainly accrued to the biotechnology companies that have developed and marketed them.
Nor have they so far shown much sign of feeding the world. Contrary to widespread belief, they do not generally increase crop yields, and may actually cut them. And because the world's poorest farmers who make up most of the world's underfed cannot afford to buy them, they tend to get driven the wall, so that hunger is increased not reduced. But GM may help in future especially as climate change takes hold by producing varieties that can survive droughts or floods.
Environmentalists will retort that other non-GM techniques will do the job better. But that is precisely the kind of debate we should now be having.