SIRC – Media Watch 03-06-99
Developing food and the developing world
The Nuffield Council on Bioethics, an independent body comprised of lawyers, scientists, environmentalists and philosophers, has recommended that we consider the future of GM crop development as a "compelling moral imperative". They suggest that Genetic Modification technology could provide an essential tool with which to combat world hunger and malnutrition. Evidence already exists that genetically altered rice crops in China have been effective in increasing yield by 25%. There is also an estimated 200m people throughout the world whose diets are deficient in Vitamin A, a situation that the Rockefeller Foundation is currently attempting to address with its testing of a new strain of rice which is vitamin enriched. Furthermore, a member of the Council Dr Alan Ryan commented: "We do not think that GM technology violates in any way other modern plant breeding methods do not." Selective breeding is a common agricultural practice and has been for centuries. Their conclusions were needless to say not greeted with unanimous acclaim. Christian Aid expressed their fear that a reliance on the products of multi-nationals may further impoverish farmers of the developing world and that food shortages in themselves were not solely responsible for world hunger.
Tony Blair took some comfort in a rare positive appraisal of the GM issue but was surprised that the committee's report, although enjoying some coverage, hardly made the front pages. George Monbiot, writing in the Guardian was more than happy to offer his opinion "This is perhaps the most asinine report on biotechnology ever written. The stain it leaves on the Nuffield Council's excellent reputation will last for years." Others may feel that the Nuffield Council's excellent reputation is reason enough to take their report seriously.