Europeans 'strongly against GM foods'

 

Europeans tend to be strongly against consumption of genetically modified (GM) food and yet modified organisms are central to the modern production of cheese, wine and spirits.

Vast amounts of GM foodstuffs are also coming into Europe for inclusion in many food products used daily, said the senior adviser on biotechnology to US secretary of state Hillary Clinton.

Jack Bobo delivered a talk at University College Dublin today looking at the differences between the US and the European experience with genetically modified (GM) crops.

Europeans remained reluctant to accept GM crop foods, but could afford to do so. This was not the case in many developing countries who had accepted the use of GM because of the need to produce more food, both for local consumption but also to provide exports, he said.

The growing world population was going to make it increasing difficulty to produce enough food to feed the world, with population expected to reach 11 billion by 2050, he said.

That would add an addition 75 million people a year, like adding an extra Germany every year from now. "How are we going to feel these people and feed the billion people who are not getting enough today?" he asked.

Farming was one of the most damaging activities impacting the environment, with farming accounting for a large share of greenhouse gas emissions.

About 40 per cent of the earth's surface was given over to agriculture but it was now time to stop adding more, he said. The goal must be to discover ways to get more food from the land already in use, without having to scale up inputs such as water, nutrients and energy.

"Science is not the enemy here," he said. He suggested that "sustainable intensification" was needed to boost yields and biotechnology could help in this goal. "Biotechnology is not the only answer, it is just one of many technologies that can be used to develop agriculture and food production."

Mr Bobo was introduced by UCD's Prof James Burke, professor of crop science. "Humans have always guided the evolution of crops," and only a small number of crops had been developed, he said. "Many of the crops we have today never existed \[in its present form] at all" and was the result of intensive breeding.

There was resistance to use of the technology here however because of an "information vacuum" between scientists doing the research and the public, Prof Burke said.