domingo, septiembre 28, 2008

Natural Alternatives to GM Crops

NOTE: Superb Responses to the UK's Science Minister
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The Guardian (Letters), 24 September 2008

Ian Pearson needs to get his science straight before considering taking a stance in support of GM (Science minister attempts to reopen the debate on GM crops, September 22). Properties such as innate pest or blight resistance, drought or salt tolerance and yield are sophisticated processes that manifest from the function of multiple genes working in a tightly regulated, coordinated manner. The introduction of such properly functioning complex gene networks in plants by the crude and genetically disruptive GM transformation process is currently not possible. Fortunately, we have better alternatives that can contribute to alleviating the world's food problems now.

First, the biotechnological procedure of marker-assisted selection (MAS), which uses our increasing knowledge of gene maps, can significantly expedite the identification of new crop varieties with complex desirable properties created by natural cross-breeding programmes. Unlike GM, there are no inherent safety concerns with MAS that makes use of the vast gene pool of any given food crop in a manner that retains natural gene order and function.

Second, a 1996 report by the National Research Council in the US highlighted that there already exist many crops such as fonio, pearl millet, African rice that are naturally adapted to harsh climates and marginal soils as well as being nutritious and tasty. Unfortunately, outside interference has led to these hardy staples being displaced by maize, wheat and Asian rice. In the face of climate change, the world needs fast solutions to its food problems, which MAS and a return to traditional food varieties can provide and which GM simply cannot deliver.

Dr Michael Antoniou
King's College London
Ian Pearson's comments reveal a government increasingly prepared to act as a mouthpiece for the GM industry. GM crops have failed to deliver - they do not yield more than conventional crops and there is not a single GM drought or salt-tolerant crop available commercially.

The government's own GM public debate in 2003 revealed widespread scepticism over both GM crops and corporate control of the food system. Instead of trying to convince the public to support GM and continuing to fund this unpopular and ineffective technology, the government must focus on the real farming solutions backed by 400 scientists in a recent UN report on the future of agriculture. This means meeting local food needs by combining science and technology with communities' traditional knowledge to support localised and diverse farming.

Clare Oxborrow
Food campaigner, Friends of the Earth

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