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9-Misc: Nuffield Council on Bioethics says GM is 'moral imperative'

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TITLE:  Top ethics body says GM is 'moral imperative'
SOURCE: The Times, UK, by Mark Henderson, posted by checkbiotech/Syngenta
DATE:   June 10, 2003

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Top ethics body says GM is 'moral imperative'

The European Union is ignoring a "moral imperative" to promote
genetically modified crops for their great potential for helping the
developing world, Britain's most respected scientific ethics group said today.

Tough EU import and labelling regulations are deterring poor countries
from growing GM produce, even though their farmers stand to gain more
from the technology than any other group, a new report from the Nuffield
Council on Bioethics has found.

While GM crops alone will not solve the problem of world hunger, they can
make an important contribution to fighting poverty and malnutrition, the
independent and influential body said.

The benefits would be greatest for small-scale farmers, whose livelihoods
could be transformed by some transgenic products.

European GM policies, however, are jeopardising the prospects for
improved agriculture in Africa and Asia. Poor countries are reluctant to
approve GM varieties for fear that they will be shut out of European
markets, and groundless health concerns are being repeated in the
developing world as if they were fact.

Sandy Thomas, director of the Nuffield Council and chair of the working
party that prepared the report, said that the European moratorium on GM
was having a negative impact on poor countries.

"We believe EU regulators have not paid enough attention to the impact of
EU regulations on agriculture in developing countries," she said. "We
recommend that the UK Government and non-governmental organisations
should monitor this closely.

"We recognise that we are discussing only part of a much larger picture.
We do not claim that GM crops will eliminate the need for economic,
political or social change, or that they will feed the world. However, we
do believe that GM technology could make a useful contribution, in
appropriate circumstances, to improving agriculture and the livelihood of
poor farmers in developing countries."

A previous Nuffield report, in 1999, found a "moral imperative" for
making GM crops available in developing countries that want them, and the
case for this has strengthened in the past four years. "We have no
hesitation in affirming, and expanding, our previous conclusions," Dr
Thomas said.

A British decision to approve the commercialisation of GM crops would set
a particularly valuable lead for developing countries, said Professor
Michael Lipton of the Poverty Research Unit at Sussex University, another
panel member.

"It is logically possible for Britain and the EU to say that owing to
public opinion we don't wish to go ahead, but nevertheless you should,
but in practice that is a pretty unlikely set of events," he said.

"To impose a further commercial moratorium in the EU and Britain in
particular would send a signal that this sort of research is not welcome.
The impact on developing countries would be devastating."

The report, which was published in draft form today, is to be submitted
to the Government's national debate on the future of GM crops in Britain.
The council, which brings together scientists, ethicists, philosophers
and lawyers to discuss the ethical questions raised by medicine and
biology, is inviting comments ahead of a final version in the autumn.

GM crops that could be particularly useful in the developing world
include "golden rice", enhanced with vitamin A, which has the potential
to prevent thousands if not millions of cases of childhood blindness.

Genetic engineering is also the only way of making bananas resistant to
the Black Sigatoka fungus, which can reduce yields by 70 per cent, and
yields of many other crops could be improved with genes to enhance
tolerance of drought and salty or toxic soils.

Poor countries are being denied the chance to develop these crops by EU
import restrictions, which require that all GM food is strictly traced
and labelled.

This is impractical for most African countries, which are often deterred
from planting GM crops at all as a result. Last year, Zambia refused to
accept GM maize as emergency food aid, for fear that it would make it
impossible to export other produce to the EU. 


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