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A modified salvation

Owen Paterson, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs secretary, has said that GM food should be grown and sold widely in Britain. This is the cue for the floodgates to open for nonsensical and ill-informed warnings about the ‘hazards’ posed by genetically modified organisms. Even the heir to the throne has previously joined this ignorant chorus.

GM organisms will probably enable us to produce crops which fertilize themselves and protect themselves from pests. That will reduce the spread of fertilizers and pesticides. GM technology will probably give us crops that are saline tolerant, drought resistant, and which can thrive on marginal land. This reduces the incentive to clear rainforest land for agriculture.  GM organisms will enable the growth of crops that fight disease and malnutrition, and do a whole lot more besides. Far from constituting a menace, they will probably turn out to be the salvation of humankind, enabling us to feed increased populations while making a smaller impact on the planet.

But don’t expect any of this to stop the waling of environmental lobbies seeking to raise new funds on the back of new alarms….


One Response

  1. We’re ALREADY growing genetically-modified crops, have been for the last few thousand years in fact. Wheat and barley are hexaploid, and incorporate the genomes of three different ancestor species of grass (which is why cereal geneticists always seem so harried; cereal genomes are very complicated indeed).

    Potatoes have been very extensively bred using pretty much every plant breeding technique in the book; go google the International Potato Gene Bank in Lima, Peru if you don’t believe me on this one.

    The same is true of most modern food plants; using genetic engineering techniques merely allows us to speed up the gene insertion process, and do in a handful of years what would take over a human lifetime using classical breeding methods (and yes, research projects have been going on this long!).

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