Beddington GM comments provoke anger

THE anti-GM lobby has criticised the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser for suggesting biotechnology has a key role to play in meeting the food security challenge.

Speaking at the Oxford Farming Conference, Professor John Beddington said ‘a new and greener revolution’ was required to feed an extra 3 billion people by 2040, while also coping with climate change and dwindling energy and water resources.

“Techniques and technologies from many disciplines, ranging from biotechnology and engineering to newer fields such as nanotechnology, will be needed,” he said.

He said that over the last 50 years, 75 per cent of the increase in global output was due to yield increases but it is no longer possible to rely on this with current technologies as yield growth rates are now slowing.

His comments were condemned by the Soil Association. “GM is not going to feed a growing world population sustainably, now or in the future,” Emma Hockridge, the association’s policy manager said.

“We need far-reaching changes to our food and farming systems, rather than GM technology, which, despite millions in public and private research expenditure, has consistently failed to deliver food security.

She said the scientific emphasis should be on research into Marker Assisted Selection (MAS), which she said was now leading the way in new crop developments. She said this was ‘enormously important and should be supported’.

“We also need to highlight the contribution that agro-ecological and organic farming, with its lower-oil and chemical inputs, can make - as well as encouraging citizens to adopt sustainable diets that change with the seasons and to support local production. These actions will provide greater resilience for our food supplies than outmoded techno-fixes,” she said.

The organisers of the rival ‘Real Farming Conference’ in Oxford also weighed in, describing Prof Beddington’s comments as ‘dangerously deluded’.

“Finally the Government has recognised that we’re now in trouble and are desperately pinning their hopes on untried GM technology to save us. But scientists who truly understand agriculture know that this can’t solve our food supply problems,” said science writer Colin Tudge,

“The real answer is to redesign agriculture from first principles. But this time our prime objective must be feeding people, not making profits for large business corporations as now.”

Readers' comments (4)

  • If as Professor John Beddington says, "over the last 50 years, 75 per cent of the increase in global output was due to yield increases", it would be interesting to know the proportions of those increases that were attributable to more efficient use of inputs and how much simply to more inputs. I suspect mostly to the latter. Implied by all the proponents of GM technology is the idea that in a world where those inputs are going to become increasingly scarce and expensive, this technology will give us something for nothing. And we've all heard that story before, haven't we.

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  • The real problem is that the companies paying for GM research are the same ones selling the inputs (pesticides, fertilizers etc.), so they're unlikely to fund anything that will truly reduce inputs and damage their profits.

    It's naive to dismiss GM out of hand and imply that it must be evil and useless by definition - it may well solve the worlds food and energy crisis and also help save valuable habitats. But this will only happen if the research is paid for by public money and thorough tests are conducted to ensure safety.

    What is happening at the moment is GM research is in the hands of those whose focus is profits and increasing their already massive dominance over agriculture, and definitely not on public interest work such as reducing inputs and delaying release until all tests have assured us that strains are safe.

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  • Where do the anti-lobby come from?
    How do they propose to feed the extra 3 billion mouths by 2040, with global warming a real threat and less hectares of available land, as well as peaked yields,showing signs of reducing?????

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  • The only solution is to limit population growth. That is what no one will talk about. If it is not food running out, it will be land, water or other resources. Population control is needed NOW before it is too late.

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