GENET archive


8-Misc: OECD conference on GE crops and food (5): Some voices on feeding the world

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TITLE:  Poor nations need genetically modified foods
SOURCE: Reuters, by David Luhnow
DATE:   February 28, 2000

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Poor nations need genetically modified foods

EDINBURGH - Poor countries need genetically modified (GM) crops to 
feed growing populations, but the technology must not be controlled 
by a few multinationals, a GM food conference was told Monday.

Experts from China, which has nearly a quarter of the world's 
population but just seven percent of its arable land, and Mexico 
played down fears about the safety of GM foods and said the new 
technology could boost yields and make food healthier. "All 
technologies have the ability to be misused. It is like using a knife 
intended to cut meat to kill a human. Are we going to ban knives?" 
Francisco Bolivar Zapata, head of the National Academy of Sciences in 
Mexico, told a conference on GM foods. "We need technology, 
especially biotechnology, for the future of mankind," Bolivar Zapata 
told the conference, organized by the Organization for Economic 
Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Growing consumer fears about so-called "Frankenstein foods," 
especially among Europeans, have led to calls by environmental groups 
for a moratorium on field tests of GM crops. But experts said that 
while European consumers can afford to worry about the potential 
health risks of GM foods, the developing world cannot.

There are signs of a decline in the growth rate of farm yields round 
the world, and genetic engineering will be vital in feeding the two 
billion new humans expected on the planet by the year 2020, said 
Gordon Conway, president of the Rockefeller Foundation. GM foods, 
such as a rice enriched with Vitamin A developed by Swiss scientists, 
could help some 800 million people in the developing world who suffer 
from chronic malnutrition, while other so-called functional foods 
could help 400 million women of childbearing age who suffer from iron 
deficiency, Conway said.

A Chinese expert said recent government tests showed that GM crops 
planted a decade ago remained stable and that rats eating GM foods 
showed no signs of illness. "This is a very important technology for 
improving production of food. Maybe in 10 years, we will no longer 
think of this as a new technology but something common," said 
Zhangliang Chen, vice-president of Beijing University.


Experts agreed that most biotechnology is controlled by six giant 
multinational firms, including U.S.-based Monsanto, drugs giant 
Novartis AG, and Anglo-Swedish drug firm Astra-Zeneca Plc. "It is an 
atrocious situation that six corporations control this technology... 
(They) are not attempting to create the kinds of crops that overcome 
drought or overcome barriers to increase food production in the Third 
World," Suman Sahai, president of the Gene Campaign in India, told 
the conference.

Although the large biotechnology companies talk about feeding the 
world, they are focusing on commercial crops in the developed world 
and are forcing farmers in the developing world into a corner with 
patents on GM seeds and crops, experts said. "They are not feeding 
the world, they are never likely to do that.

The poor in the world are only going to be fed by public money. And 
there is a major decline in public money for agriculture research," 
Conway said. Conway suggested partnerships between private firms and 
governments that distribute the benefits of biotechnology to farmers 
in the developing world. 


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