UNIVARSITY.ORG | Biotechnology Can Feed People In Developing Nations, According To Expert
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14 Mar Biotechnology Can Feed People In Developing Nations, According To Expert

In a recent commentary in the newspaper The Australian, University of Cape Town (South Africa) Professor Jennifer Thomson wrote that biotechnology is needed to feed the poor and regulation and opposition to these genetically modified foods, especially in Europe, is hurting those suffering in these impoverished nations.

Professor Thomson, who is also chairwoman of the African Agricultural Technology Foundation in Kenya, was a key speaker at the Agricultural Biotechnology International Conference (ABIC) in Melbourne, Australia last week. In the article, she wrote that while much of the developing world currently struggles to find enough food for its people, bureaucrats in Europe sit and determine that their countries and others should be cautious in adopting genetically modified crops until they are deemed safe. In the mean time, though, thousands, and in many cases, hundreds of thousands of people are dying from malnutrition and starvation.

She points out that if sub-Saharan Africa continues to produce crops based on its present agricultural practice, there will be a cereal shortage of nearly 90 million tons by 2025. But certainly there is enough food produced in the world to feed everyone, so how can it get to those people in need? And, how long will it take?

In the meantime, Professor Thomson states, genetically modified crops that provide increased yields are one of the ways to tackle the problem. But, how safe it the food derived from genetically modified crops? Professor Thomson points to comments from John Craig Venter, a scientist who led the team that sequenced the human genome, who has stated that no food crop has ever been tested for human safety as rigorously as genetically modified foods.

The bottom line, according to the author, is that multinational companies have little interest in improving the yields of crops in Africa, so Africans must produce these crops themselves. Professor Thomson explains that in South Africa, genetically modified crops currently being cultivated include herbicide-resistant maize and soybean, as well as insect resistant cotton and maize. She stated that each application for a commercial release is assessed by the Genetic Resource Centre of the National Department of Agriculture on a case-by-case basis.

Regarding regulations and opposition to genetically modified foods in Europe, Professor Thomson notes the World Trade Organization (WTO) ruling from earlier this year, against the moratorium that the European Union (EU) had on GM crops since 1998. She wrote that Europe can no longer sit back and determine that the world should be cautious about the use of GM crops and because these countries do not want GM crops and foods, they should not prevent other nations, including those in Africa, from benefiting from the technology. She feels that by waiting and contemplating the possible dangers of genetically modified foods, bureaucrats in Europe are effectively committing Africans and those in other developing countries to years, even decades, of further starvation.

I completely agree with Professor Thomson’s assertions. As the world’s population continues to grow, biotechnology and genetically modified foods are going to be relied upon to meet these growing demands. It’s a shame that misinformation coming from those countries opposed to the technology is still sending the wrong message to the rest of the world. Biotechnology and genetically modified foods offer too many benefits to developing nations and hold such promise for the future of the world.



Alisa Baumer

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