Does the developing world need genetically modified crops? Colin Tudge doesn't think so, and has written a pretty good piece - "Bad for the poor and bad for science" - explaining why.
"The crucial claim for GM crops is that they are necessary. They can out-yield traditional varieties, and can be made especially rich in protein and vitamins. The world's population is rising fast and without GM, the story has it, famine and increasing deficiency are inevitable. To oppose their development is to be effete to the point of wickedness.
"But this is not the whole picture. The world population stands at 6 billion, and the UN says it will reach 10 billion by 2050 - but then should level out. Present productivity could be doubled by improving traditional breeding and husbandry, so whatever the virtues of GMOs, necessity is not among them.
"Present-day deficiencies are almost never caused by an inability to produce enough. Angola is a good example: it is always bordering on disaster, yet it has two-and-a-half times the area of France and every kind of climate, and only 12.5 million people. Its farmers are highly accomplished. Famines result not from inability but from the civil war that raged for 30 years. ...
"Ironically, one victim of the GM madness is science itself, for in principle GMOs could be of real use. I saw an example in Brazil: GM papaya, designed to resist local diseases. This is hi-tech as it should be: designed by the people for the people."
As I've said before, I generally agree that bioengineering transgenic crops is a bad idea, especially when that engineering is done to prop up an international system of corporate factory farming which is deeply unfair and unsustainable at its roots (so to speak). But as Tudge himself acknowledges, there are use for biotechnology in sustainable farming, and, even more importantly, in industry.
I think we're reaching towards a consensus on what green biotechnology might look like... and I think we're all agreed it ain't golden rice.
(Today, by the way, marks our 400th recommendation.)
The one point where bioengineered crops could become critical for the developing world -- and, frankly, for all of us -- is if we face agriculturally disruptive climate change effects. We may need to go in and monkey with plant genes to keep them viable in the face of massive climate shifts. Otherwise, I think he makes a good argument.
On the same token, our very tinkering and creation of genetically engineered monocultures threatens nature's genetic commons: biodiversity, which has generated species that have been integral to avoiding the effects on food security of past blights and climate shifts.
I recently read an amazing article about the effects of Gmo's on third world farmers (among otherthings) by the brilliant Vandana Shiva. It is in this month's issue of The Sun Magazine. there is an excerpt on their website: