Seven Scientific Academies Support GM Crops
The Times (London)
Leading scientists from around the world have backed genetically modified crops. They are needed to feed growing populations and to provide employment in rural areas, a report from seven respected scientific academies, including the Royal Society, says.
The report calls on private companies that have developed GM technology to use their expertise to help the poor, and on governments to maintain publicly funded research in the field.
GM technology can produce crops that will resist pests, grow in salty soils and produce food that is more nutritious, stable in storage and, in principle, health-promoting, the report, Transgenic Plants and World Agriculture, says.
"We do not intend to indicate that it is the only solution to world hunger," Brian Heap, Foreign Secretary of the Royal Society, said, "but it can make a significant contribution."
After rising sharply in the 1970s and 1980s, world cereal production per capita had fallen for the past few years, he said. Although yields were still rising, the rate of increase was slower than in the past.
The report gives a warning that 800 million people - amounting to 18 per cent of the world's population - do not have enough food and six million children under 5 die of malnutrition each year in developing countries.
The problem with GM crops, Professor Heap said, was that they were "market led" and it had been hard for consumers to see any benefit. The multinational corporations involved had concentrated on crops of interest to farmers in rich countries, not those grown in the Third World.
The report says that broadly written patents on the technology may prevent it being used to help those who need it most and urges companies to ensure that the benefits become more widely available. It recommends the establishment of an international advisory committee from the academies that would try to build bridges between the private and public sector. However, it adds that governments should stop reducing the amount they spend on agricultural research.
Scientists from the academies of sciences in Brazil, China, India, Mexico and the United States, the Third World Academy of Sciences in Trieste and the Royal Society produced the report after a year-long study. It says that worries about safety and the possible environmental impacts of GM crops should be countered by research. The environmental effects, if any, should be balanced against the effects of conventional agriculture and care taken to maintain a diversity of crops, conventional and transgenic.
Professor Martin Lipton, a research professor in economics at the University of Sussex, said that there had been a very large reduction in public funding for agricultural research in Africa and Latin America.
"Multinationals find that it pays them to research crops of interest to rich people," he said yesterday. "They are not doing anything wrong. But crops that are very important to poor countries tend to be neglected. That is why public spending is still important."
Novartis, one of the companies involved in GM crops, has announced new guidelines for collaboration with developing countries. It promised to provide the knowledge necessary to help researchers in the Third World.
The company is making its latest GM technology - which allows genes to be put into crops without the need for antibiotic "markers" - available free of charge to the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines and to Malaysia's agricultural research and development institute. It will be used to develop rice and papaya varieties. It is also helping to develop insect-resistant varieties of sweet potato in Vietnam and maize in Africa.
GM technology has many potential applications in the Third World, the report says. Among them are:
"Golden rice" produces a large quantity of betacarotene, a precursor of vitamin A. The iron content of rice has also been increased by GM. Vitamin A deficiency causes half a million children to go blind every year, while iron deficiency causes anaemia in pregnancy, a contributing factor in one fifth of all maternal deaths after childbirth in Africa and Asia.
Mangroves grow in salty water throughout the tropics. The gene that enables them to do this has been transferred to other plants, which can grow in salty soils where other crops would die. Plants can also be made tolerant to high levels of aluminum found in some soils by modifying them so that their roots produce more citric acid.
The Green Revolution was, in part, made possible by dwarfing genes that made wheat grow short and strong, so that it could respond to fertiliser without collapsing and concentrate the plant's energy into producing bigger ears and thus more grain. At the time, these genes were not identified, but now they have been. GM technology could be used to apply them to any plant in which the seeds, rather than the leaf, is the part that is eaten.
Disease and pest-resistant crops produced by GM include papayas resistant to ringspot virus, rice resistant to yellow mottle virus and potatoes and rice resistant to blight.
By EMMA ROSS
LONDON (AP) -- To combat world hunger, rich nations must boost funding for research into genetically modified crops and poor farmers must be protected from corporate control of the technology, a group of science academies said Tuesday.
In an unprecedented report by seven independent academies from both the developed and developing world, experts agreed that genetic modification of crops is crucial to addressing the problem of the world's growing population and shrinking land for growing food.
Today, "800 million people don't have access to enough food," said Brian Heap, vice president of Britain's Royal Society and chairman of the group that wrote the report.
"Increasing production without increasing land use will require substantial increases in yields per acre. This technology needs to be used in the future," he said.
Genetically modified, or transgenic, crops are created when scientists introduce a gene from one species into another. The technique can be used to make crops more resistant to disease and pests, fortify them with extra vitamins or vaccines, and boost their tolerance to drought.
The academies' report, launched in London by the Royal Society, urged companies and research institutions to share their knowledge and called for a ban on broad patents covering GM technology.
Corporations must have incentives to produce characteristics needed in the developing world, and small farmers in developing nations should enjoy special exemptions from licensing agreements, the report said.
Meanwhile, the public sector must create more genetically modified crops that benefit poor farmers in developing nations, such as corn, rice, wheat, yams, plantains and sweet potatoes, it said.
"The long-term decline of public agricultural research, the increasing privatization of GM technologies and the growing emphasis on the crops and priorities of the industrialized nations do not bode well for feeding the increasing populations of the developing world," the report said.
The document was a consensus of opinions from the Royal Society, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the Third World Academy of Sciences and the science academies of China, Brazil, India and Mexico.
Investigations into the effects GM crops have on the environment should be coordinated, and public health regulators in every country need to identify and monitor any potential adverse effects on human health, the academies said.
Worldwide, 74 million acres have been planted with genetically modified crops, mainly in the United States. Other countries embracing the technology include Argentina, Canada, Australia and China.
"China is likely to become one of the world leaders in this field," Heap said. "China has recognized the importance of the technology for feeding its people."
But the issue of genetically altered crops has become politically charged elsewhere, particularly in Europe, where anxiety about food safety runs high after a crisis in the mid-1990s over mad cow disease that led to a ban on British beef exports.
European Union licensing of new genetically modified products and patents has stalled in recent years because of perceived health concerns.
"The European debate is interfering with trade," said Dr. Wallace Beversdorf, head of research and development in the seeds sector at Novartis AG, the Swiss-based pharmaceutical and biotechnology company. "The biggest limiting factor now is the debate over consumer acceptance and trade."
Beversdorf noted that Thailand recently turned down the opportunity to grow genetically modified rice for fear it would not be able to export it.
"Europe is exceedingly important in terms of global development because it's a big market," he said.
Biotechnology companies welcomed the report and said industry help to developing nations was not new.
Novartis gives free genetically modified sweet potato seeds to Vietnam and trained scientists there how to introduce genes that make the crop resistant to weevils.
Monsanto, which said Tuesday it agrees on the need to share technology to combat world hunger, recently made public its draft of the rice genome.
BANGALORE, JULY 11. A report on genetically-modified crops, prepared by seven science academies from both developed and developing countries, has emphasised the importance of harnessing genetic engineering for improving agriculture.
The report also has words of caution on issues such as protecting the environment and the rights of farmers and ensuring human health. The report had been prepared in the face of concerns that the backlash against genetic modification (GM) would overshadow the promise the technology offered, Prof. Goverdhan Mehta, president of the Indian National Science Academy (INSA) and Director of the Indian Institute of Science, said after releasing it here today.
The report is being simultaneously released in Sao Paulo, Beijing, Mexico city, London, Trieste and Washington D.C., where the other sciences academies are based.
Apart from the INSA, the Brazilian Academy of Sciences, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the Mexican Academy of Sciences, the Royal Society in London, the Third World Academy of Sciences and the U.S. National Academy of Sciences participated in preparing the report titled ``Transgenic plants and world agriculture''.
The report was intended to put GM technology in perspective, look at its benefits and address issues of concern, Dr. Mehta said. He emphasised that there was no single solution for all countries and each country had to make choices in view of its priorities. It was hoped that the report would help Governments and societies make wise and considered choices.
The thrust of the report is that GM crops were needed to feed a world population which would increase by two billion over the next three decades. GM technology, along with other developments, should be used to increase the production of food staples, improve the efficiency of production, reduce the environmental impact of agriculture and provide access to food for small-scale farmers. It spoke about ensuring an adequate level of publicly- funded research in GM crops. If such research were wholly private, the demands of rich consumers would overwhelm the need of poor consumers and small-scale farmers. It was imperative that at least the present level of funding be maintained for the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) and for national research institutions.
Private corporations and research institutions should share technology so that they could be used for hunger alleviation and increasing food security in developing countries. The report also spoke about having a sound regulatory system to ensure public safety and environmental protection.
Dr. V. Krishnan, INSA vice-president and president of the Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research, who was also present, pointed out that a continued dialogue between Government and society was needed to make sound choices on issues related to GM technology.
Agence France Presse
Seven international science institutions have called for the expansion of biological research to reduce hunger and poverty around the world, the National Academy of Sciences in Washington announced.
"It is essential that we improve food production and distribution in order to feed and free from hunger a growing world population, while reducing environmental impacts and providing productive employment in low-income areas," said the science academies in a report issued here Tuesday.
The key is to improve genetic modification (GM) techniques in the field of agriculture, with an emphasis on research and responsible application of the techniques, the report said.
The Royal Society of London, the national academies of science of Brazil, China, India, Mexico, and the United States, and the Third World Academy of Sciences published the paper, even as these technologies have come under fire in recent months.
"The obvious concern is that the recent backlash against GM technology will completely overshadow all the promise that the technology offers," said Bruce Alberts, President of the US National Academy Sciences and a member of the working group.
"Our group concluded that the revolution in molecular biology provides the developing world with some important new tools for feeding and caring for its people," he said.
"It will be critical to use the best science to make wise choices with respect to the application of these technologies," he added.
To combat world hunger, rich nations must boost funding for research into genetically modified crops, and poor farmers must be protected from corporate control of the technology, a group of science academies said Tuesday.
In an unprecedented report by seven independent academies from the developed and developing world, experts agreed that genetic modification of crops is crucial to addressing the world's growing population and shrinking land for growing food.
Genetically modified crops are created when scientists introduce a gene from one species into another. It can make crops more resistant to disease and pests, fortify them with vitamins or vaccines, and boost their tolerance to drought.
The academies' report, launched in London by the Royal Society, urged companies and research institutions to share knowledge and called for a ban on broad patents.
Genetically altered crops have become politically charged, particularly in Europe, where anxiety about food safety runs high after a crisis in the mid-1990s over mad cow disease.
THE DAILY TELEGRAPH(LONDON)
July 12, 2000, Wednesday
Some of the world's top scientists launched a campaign supporting genetically modified food yesterday, with a report outlining how the technology could help to feed the world.
The statement from seven international science academies, including Britain's Royal Society, said that GM techniques should be harnessed to tackle the food crisis by increasing yields.
It urged the biotech industry to share its knowledge for the common good. The report also called for an international GM food watchdog and for an end to restrictive biotech patents.
The report has taken a year to prepare and is part of an international move to persuade the public that GM crops have a potential for good.
Prof Brian Heap, the Royal Society vice-chairman, said that 800 million people, or 18 per cent of the world's population, did not have enough food. Six million children under the age of five died of malnutrition each year.
Although transgenic crops were not the only answer to tackling hunger, they had the potential to alleviate it.
Scientists from Brazil, China, India, Mexico, the United States, the Third World Academy of Sciences and the Royal Society produced the report.
It said GM technology could improve yields, develop pest resistance and create plants with additional nutrition.
GM firms should not restrict farmers from propagating crops. That would mean no "terminator crops", which are unable to produce seeds for the next year.
Investigations must also be made into possible environmental dangers
and health concerns so as to reassure the public.