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Answer yes to feed the world

by Rebecca Nesbit

The question of whether genetic modification can improve food security and reduce environmental consequences of agriculture doesn’t yet have a clear answer, but if we are going to answer it as well as possible there are some questions which both sides of the debate need to answer yes to.

Firstly for the anti-GM folk: is there any evidence that would convince you GM crops are safe? The answer could be ‘yes, but it’s not worth the risks or resources’, but answering no shows an intrinsic desire for GM to fail, presumably because it is ‘unnatural’. To me, biodiversity and feeding people are far more important than upholding a love of natural. If evidence proved a technology works, why deny people its benefits?

Of course, the pro-GM guys must reciprocate with accepting when evidence highlights potential problems with GM. It goes without saying that evidence could be generated which would prove to scientists that a particular type of GM crop could cause environmental problems – that’s why they do experiments.

The next question to scientists is: are there potential problems with GM crops? Many valid issues have been raised, including how to ensure that lots of people benefit from the technology and businesses don’t exploit farmers. There are also potential environmental impacts which need to be scientifically investigated.

And to those who are against GM the question is: are there potential problems with organic farming/ conventional farming? Again, we need to acknowledge that things aren’t clear cut here either, particularly that lower yields mean more land has to be given over to farmland, and that just because a pesticide is ‘natural’ it doesn’t necessarily mean it is good for the environment. For conventional farming an obvious choice of problems is their pesticides.

The above questions can basically be summarised as ‘do you keep an open mind’. But here’s a slightly different one. I would answer yes to and I would like more people to accept it as true (and mostly it is those who oppose GM who reject it):

Do you believe the majority of people speaking out on both sides of the argument are trying to do the right thing for people and the environment, even if they are misguided?

I am lucky enough to have met many people speaking in favour of research into GM – scientists, communicators, and politicians – so I can say with confidence that they are motivated by food security and environmental protection. I don’t see myself as answerable for Monsanto’s sins, of which I believe there have been many, and I hope we have learnt from their mistakes. The key players in the current debate don’t have Monsanto’s money-making motivations.

In terms of the other side of the debate, I have no doubt that the few people I spoke to at Take the Flour Back firmly believe they are doing the right thing. Although organic farmers are set to benefit financially from whipping up the ‘anti-GM’ fuss and promoting organic alongside it, I still believe their motivations are genuine.

The people on either side of the debate are very dedicated to environmental protection; let’s put more effort into working out environmental solutions and less effort into exchanging insults.

Seeing as this is an issue which needs to be full of careful explanations, I should point out that the title was obviously flippant and there is no single answer to feeding the world, though all require open-mindedness. I would really like to hear everyone’s answers to these questions, whether they are yes or no, whether you even have any involvement in the debate so far. I will start with the 1st comment myself:

3 comments to Answer yes to feed the world

  • Rebecca Nesbit

    Q1=yes. Humanity is in a position where feeding the human population and protecting biodiversity can’t be done by ‘natural’ means. The crops we grow are far from natural – their genetics have been altered by generations of farmers and scientists. I only want to discount GM as a solution if it is unsuitable, not based on intrinsic objection.

    There are potential problems with GM, though it is important that we don’t label all GM as bad if we discover than one variety has problems. I won’t list all the concerns for GM, organic or conventional agriculture, but we need to eat so we have to tackle the problems in the most effective way we can.

    Finally, I think both sides of the debate are trying to do good work. It undermines the arguments of GM protestors when they pick on individuals who support GM and claim financial motives. GM scientists like those at Rothamsted are not so good at PR that they appear genuine. They are genuine.

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