GM crops and the war on poverty

Paul Raven @ 09-07-2009

field of wheatOver at The Guardian, Professor Mark Tester stands up to say that genetically modified crops are an essential component of the struggle to erase world poverty and hunger:

GM crops are not the answer to this shameful global situation, but I argue strongly that they provide another tool, another option to try to address the problem. And I do not think those of us sitting in comfortable wealth have a right to deny people the opportunity to improve their production of food. The technology is just that, a technology. Like nuclear technologies (radiotherapy or nuclear weapons) or mobile phones (communication or bomb triggers), how we use it is the main issue. I hope that the plants we have generated provide a subtle use of GM technology that will allow some positive benefits for the developing world.

He’s quite correct, of course; as we mention here quite often, the morality of a tool comes from the hand that wields it. And therein lies the rub: while GM crops have the potential to improve the lives of those less fortunate than ourselves, they can also be (and allegedly are) used to paint them into an economic corner for the purposes of maximising profits – selling farmers the only seeds that will survive the pesticides which you also manufacture, for example. [image by James Wheare]

I don’t know how it is in the States, but here in the UK GM crops are a hugely sensitive topic with a sharp polarity of opinion that has been amplified by propaganda, celebrity campaigning and emotional button-pushing from both sides of the debate. Such extreme viewpoints actually end up clouding the issue; somewhere in the shades of grey is a way to use genetic modification safely for the benefit of everyone, but until we start meeting each other half way we leave the field wide open for both poverty and profiteering to continue.