On Friday, The Future of the Food Industry 2012, a Financial Times Special Report was published. It is backed by several UK farming and agriculture support groups and sets out research and innovation priorities up to 2030.
Charles Batchelor’s overview notes that the study warns of “a serious lack of R&D in agriculture and the urgent need to increase food production in a sustainable way”.
After speaking of conventional plant breeding’s relatively slow processes, it points out the qualities that plant breeders and GM developers seek to create:
- increased yields
- pest resistance
- tolerance of drought conditions,
- tolerance of increased salinity in groundwater and
- tolerance of temperature fluctuations.
Of concern to Monsanto and other GM seed producers is the slow approvals process in the EU
Even after approval by the European Food Safety Authority, GM crops can wait years before member states to ratify their use. To date, only one variety of crop has been approved for use in the EU, Bt maize, incorporating protein from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, which provides resistance to the maize borer.
The Feeding the Future report is agnostic on the question of GM says Chris Pollock.
Professor Pollock, the principal editor, is a former director of the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences in Aberystwyth. He adds that the report simply calls for the better use of data “in the effective precision breeding of plants and animals”.
Its critics say genetically manipulated crops are no panacea: the technology:
- increases the use of pesticides
- makes farmers dependent on a small number of large seed producing companies.
- a survey by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre showed higher average yields in only one of the three regions in Spain where it had been planted
- The corn rootworm has begun to develop resistance to GM crops in the US Midwest.
Less direct criticisms are that global GM acreage has been going up by 10% per cent a year and it is now almost impossible to find seed maize that is not GM. Professor Pollock significantly asks: “How much longer will people have the luxury of not buying GM foods?”
Conventional precision breeding techniques are still in use, but “how that changes in the future depends on political decisions as much as scientific ones”, says Prof Pollock.
The resistance problems encountered have made even Monsanto accept the valuable role of traditional farm management practices such as crop rotation, selective spraying, and timing crop maturity and harvest to avoid periods of severe infestation.
Batchelor concludes: “Science, it seems, does not have the complete answer”.
Scanned pages of the report may be downloaded from a link on this page: http://www.ft.com/reports/food-nov2012?ftcamp=traffic/email/content/reportalert//memmkt