Tuesday, October 27, 2009

GM Crops No Panacea for Food Security: U.S. Scientist

Food glorious food -- the topic of how we are going to feed a growing human population faced with disappearing fresh water supplies and agricultural lands is getting lots of play these days.

In this piece, U.S. Scientist, Michael Hansen, says that according to the latest research, genetically modified crops are not the panacea many would think, and that the answer lies in localizing food production and distribution systems:

“If you look carefully at global data, the most engineered crop is soybean. Ninety per cent of US acreage, 98 per cent of Argentina acreage and 60 per cent of Brazil are engineered,” he said.

“Scientific data show that on an average Roundup soybean has 10 per cent lower yield than non-engineered soybean. So if you want to feed more people, genetically-engineered soybean will not be the answer,” he said.

In an exclusive interview with The News recently, Dr Hansen, who is associated with the Consumers Union (USA), a non-profit publisher of consumer reports, said: “There is a global agreement under the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTDI) and it basically answers the question what kind of agriculture will be most useful in feeding the poor of the world. This four-year assessment, involving 400 scientists, concluded that ‘business as usual is not acceptable.’ They say the answer is not high technology such as genetic engineering or nano technology; rather the answer lies with small scale, ecologically rational agriculture that focuses on local food systems, reforms of trade laws and enabling policy environment and paying attention to gender issues.”

Genetically engineered drought tolerant corn and wheat, Hansen warns, show greater yields than normal ones during drought years, but lower yields during years of normal precipitation.  He says that traditional plant breeding approaches yield better results.

Ultimately for conservationists like me, this is a question of producing more food on less land to cut our inputs, impacts, and costs -- economic and ecological.  How will we produce enough food to feed a growing population, while also maintaining the health of the biosphere for our fellow inhabitants of the planet -- and ourselves?

We'll keep you posted on the latest and best solutions...

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