GENTECH archive


GM report: Crops 'being modified to benefit rich'

INDEPENDENT (London) May 28

Biotechnology companies were accused yesterday of lining their
shareholders' pockets by producing genetically modified (GM) crops to
benefit rich countries, rather than Third World nations where the
technology could save lives.

A two-year investigation by a panel for the Nuffield Council on Bioethics,
an independent body, concluded that GM foods posed no heightened risk
compared with normal food - but added that the "moral imperative" is
"compelling" for making GM crops that would actually benefit consumers
readily and economically available to developing countries that want them.

Professor Alan Ryan, warden of New College, Oxford, who chaired the panel
for the council, said: "Commercial incentives won't be enough to encourage
the development of crops that the Third World countries need or that their
farmers can afford." Two-thirds of land sown with GM crops is in the
United States, the panel noted.

However, the report was immediately criticised by Christian Aid, which two
weeks ago released its own report, strongly critical of the promises of GM
to the developing world. Andrew Simms, that report's author, said:
"There's more than enough food to feed everybody in the world. Eight out
of ten hungry children in poor countries live surrounded by food surplus."

But Professor Michael Lipton, of the Poverty Research Unit at the
University of Sussex, retorted: "It would be cruel to deny people these
products just because they wouldn't need them in cloud-cuckoo-land. The
pace of land reform, given the political realities, will always be too

Professor Lipton said that 240 million people went hungry or developed
diseases leading to blindness and other debilitating conditions because
they lacked nutritious food. "If you compare the area of GM rice, sorghum
or millet planted - which is less than 5 per cent of the total - with the
area of GM tobacco - which is 10 per cent of the total for that crop -
then you see the problem. It is not particular wickedness of the part of
these companies, it is their response to market forces," he said.

One panel member, Julie Hill of the environmental charity Green Alliance,
backed its assertion that there is no need for a moratorium on the
commercial planting of crops in the United Kingdom. She suggested that
other environmental groups, which have by contrast called for global bans,
were "unfair".

The nine-member panel, which included scientists, the restaurateur Prue
Leith, and Ms Hill, sought to allay public fears, concluding that food
with GM elements on sale in Britain was as safe as any other - although
they did agree that labelling to allow consumer choice was useful in
providing reassurance.

"When you drive a car, it's not entirely safe but you do it of your own
free will," said Professor Ryan. "People shouldn't have risk dumped on
them without their consent."

* Tony Blair accused the media of "extraordinary" reporting of the row
over GM food. The Prime Minister told the Cabinet's weekly meeting that
while positive scientific reports were barely reported, the media gave
huge space to "anything which fed the hysteria", a Downing Street
spokesman said.

GUARDIAN (London) Friday May 28, 1999

'Moral imperative' for GM food to combat world hunger

A team of independent government advisers yesterday declared a "compelling
moral imperative" for research into new genetically modified crops to
combat world hunger and poverty.

The Nuffield Council on Bioethics a science watchdog composed of
scientists, lawyers, philosophers and environmentalists said there were no
grounds for a ban or moratorium on commercial plantings in Britain and new
GM crops would be needed to fight hunger and poverty in the developing

In the next three decades, there could be another 3bn mouths to feed. But
crop yields have ceased to keep pace with population growth, and land
available for cultivation in Africa and Asia is dwindling.

The committee, after 18 months sifting through the issues, said consumers
should have a choice about their food, measures were needed to evaluate
any risks of future GM foods, and there should be government rules to
guide the technology. Research should be conducted by and for the public,
rather than by commercial interests.

The committee made 36 recommendations, including one for an advisory body
to monitor GM foods, a proposition already accepted by the government.

The Nuffield working party included six professors, cookery writer Prue
Leith, green alliance adviser Julie Hill, and Derek Osborn, European
environment agency chairman.

"Nobody could say, of any of the members of the working party, that they
would say this any way," said Nick Ross, the broadcaster who chaired the
committee announcement. "None of them has, in any form, a vested

Alan Ryan, warden of New College, Oxford, and a moral philosopher, said GM
crops were not intrinsically morally suspect. The GM technology did not
violate nature in any way, but the working party recognised that many
people believed GM crops were unnatural, and they should be able to choose
not to buy them. GM crops did not threaten the environment, any more than
non-GM crops.

The panel felt the potential benefits of GM crops had been underplayed. 
Michael Lipton, of the poverty research unit at Sussex university, said
800m people were dangerously underfed. GM rice in China had raised hybrid
yields by 25%; another GM variety incorporated resistance to a major
fungus pest. The Rockefeller Foundation was testing rice enriched with
vitamin A and 200m people in the developing world were seriously deficient
in vitamin A. 

The report came as Tony Blair told his cabinet he found it "extraordinary"
that newspapers and television gave huge coverage to anything which fed
anti-GM food hysteria, but ignored reports like yesterday's.

But Andrew Simms, of Christian Aid, said the council was "out of touch"
and had misunderstood the problem of hunger. "There is more than enough
food to feed everybody in the world."

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