`Green Revolution' Debate at Food Summit November 14, 1996
ROME (Nov 14, 1996 09:42 a.m. EST) -- Supporters of genetically altered crops often speak of a "new green revolution" in which world hunger is beaten back by science.
Critics say it has a darker shade.
The debate over how far and fast to go with bioengineering is shaping up as one of the key issues at the World Food Summit, which opened Wednesday.
Scientists think bioengineering has the potential to pre-empt the Malthusian view that the world will come to an end because it is unable to produce enough food to feed an ever-expanding population.
They contend that as long as resources are channeled into research and development, the world will be able to produce enough to feed the estimated 8.7 billion people that will inhabit the world by the year 2030.
"We need to give the future generations as many options as we have had ourselves," said Ismail Serageldin, chairman of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, or CGIAR. "We believe that agricultural research is at the center of the interface between environmental concerns, food security and production."
Through biotechnology and genetic engineering, scientists are developing new crop varieties that yield more, resist pests and drought, and even thrive on poor soil.
The research group argues that 80 percent of the additional wheat output in the developing world has come from genetically improved crops, while only 20 percent was the result of more land being planted.
A biologically developed "super rice" can yield as much as 100 million more tons of rice per year than is currently grown in Asia where it is the staple diet, according to the CGIAR. New corn varieties that resist both drought and acidic soil could feed an additional 50 million people per year, the group says.
The United States, the world's leading food exporter, is putting its weight behind biotechnology and genetically engineered crops at the summit.
"Without biotechnology, we will be forced to exploit highly erodible farm and forest land," said U.S. Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman, who heads the American delegation. "If we don't use science as our friend, we will face hunger shortages 25 years from now that are far worse than anything we face today."
The United States has pledged to strengthen support for research into biotechnology and is one of the strongest backers of the CGIAR. European countries, on the other hand, are resisting imports of genetically engineered produce such as corn and soybeans.
The Spain-based Genetic Resources Action International, or GRAIN, rejects the premise that biotechnology is a panacea against world hunger.
"Tinkering with crops just hasn't worked," GRAIN spokeswoman Janet Bell told The Associated Press. "It has just created much greater problems with pests and disease."
Opponents also argue that scientific improvement in yields do little to help malnutrition in the poorer countries, and increase dependence of poorer countries on the wealthier North.
Activists opposed to bioengineering hurled soybeans at U.S. delegates at the beginning of a media briefing Wednesday.
Copyright © 1996 Reuter Information Service
ROME (Nov 14, 1996 12:01 p.m. EST) - The environmental group Greenpeace said on Thursday that genetic engineering was no answer to world food problems and urged a moratorium on the sale of genetically modified products.
The group, which has led protests in Europe over the past week against genetically manipulated U.S. soybeans, said at a news conference to coincide with the U.N.-sponsored World Food Summit in Rome that too many unknown dangers surrounded the technique.
"We are here to tell the summit not to be fooled by the promises from biotechnology companies that they can solve the world food crisis," Greenpeace spokesman Simon Reddy said.
"A lot of these companies are more interested in controlling the world's food for their own profits," he said.
He presented a report by Greepeace which he said showed that the use of genetically altered plants in agriculture may entail toxic and allergic risks leading to large-scale elimination of indigenous agricultural and natural species.
"We ask for an immediate moratorium on the further releases and marketing of transgenic products at least until there is a legally binding international bio-safety protocol," he said.
Three women stripped naked in front of U.S. Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman during his news conference at the food summit on Wednesday to protest against genetic manipulation of soybeans. They said they were not members of any group.
Protesters trying to keep the modified beans out of Europe this week chained themselves to gates in Germany, occupied the office of the Austrian health minister and climbed onto the roof of food giant Nestle's headquarters.
Environmentalists led by the Greenpeace group say they worry that U.S. chemicals group Monsanto Co's Round Up Ready soybean, modified to resist the company's Round Up herbicide, could be a threat to health. Processors and governments reject that.
Dozens of genetically modified products are on the market already, many launched with a minimum of protest. One is Calgene"s Flavr-Savr tomato, genetically changed to slow the action of an enzyme that starts the rotting process.
The concern in Europe is that the one to two percent of the U.S. soybean crop that is made up of modified beans is mixed in with normal ones. Protesters want them separated and consumers told on labels what they are buying.
"Monsanto's soybean is resistant to pesticides produced by Monsanto itself. The use of this bean will at least duplicate the use of pesticide and will just make worse what is already a bad situation," Reddy said.
The food summit has heard calls from several speakers since it opened on Wednesday for a new scientific "green revolution" to boost food production.
Greenpeace said the solution to food insecurity lay in sustainable development of a variety of local crops.
"Far from providing cheaper food for all, agricultural biotechnology will further undermine the livelihood of small organic farmers," Reddy said.
FAO research director Stein Bie told a news briefing at the summit that "organic methods offer a very useful supplement but they are no substitute to inorganic methods...that are so important to feeding the poor at this moment."