Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


GM crops show promise for developing world


Genetically modified crops could help small-scale farmers in developing countries according to the Nuffield Council on Bioethics in The use of genetically modified crops in developing countries, a Discussion Paper published today. The Nuffield Council is inviting comments on the draft paper which aims to contribute to ‘GM Nation?’, the public debate organised by the government in the UK during the next six weeks.

In 1999, the Nuffield Council recommended that there was a moral imperative for making GM crops readily and economically available to people in developing countries who want them. “We have reviewed the scientific developments since our last report as well as recent trends in poverty and hunger in developing countries. In the light of this evidence, we have no hesitation in affirming – and expanding – our previous conclusions,” said Dr Sandy Thomas, Director of the Nuffield Council.

“We recognise that we are discussing only part of a much larger picture,” continued Dr Thomas. Food security and the reduction of poverty in developing countries are extremely complex issues. “We do not claim that GM crops will eliminate the need for economic, political or social change, or that they will feed the world. However, we do believe that GM technology could make a useful contribution, in appropriate circumstances, to improving agriculture and the livelihood of poor farmers in developing countries.”

The impact of European Union policy

The draft considers developments in regulation and trade and concludes that European agricultural policy is likely to restrict severely the freedom of choice of farmers in developing countries. Many developing countries do not have the necessary infrastructure to meet strict EU requirements for labelling and traceability of GM crops. Additionally, there is concern that even planting GM crops only for domestic use might jeopardise an export market for non-GM crops. “We believe EU regulators have not paid enough attention to the impact of EU regulations on agriculture in developing countries,” and we recommend that the UK government and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) should monitor this closely,” said Dr Thomas.

European scepticism may also deter people in developing countries from adopting GM crops, particularly when the risks of GM crops are exaggerated. “The current evidence from safety assessments of GM crops does not suggest any significant risk to people who eat them, and we believe it is unhelpful to suggest otherwise,” said Professor Derek Burke, a member of the Working Group.

Food Aid

Last year, two million people in Zambia were threatened with starvation. However, the Zambian government refused food aid donations from the US because the maize was genetically modified. The Nuffield Council discusses issues behind this controversy and recommends that developing countries must be given a genuine choice between GM and non-GM food aid. When developing countries prefer to receive non-GM food aid, the World Food Programme and other food aid organisations should purchase such grain, wherever possible.

Golden Rice

Scientists claim that Golden Rice, modified to produce ß-carotene, could help prevent vitamin A deficiency in Asia, but opponents question whether it would actually achieve this aim. The Nuffield Council recommends that it is essential to continue research to establish how effective the approach might be. Golden Rice could make a valuable contribution where other sources of vitamin A are not easily available, but it should be compared with alternative methods of improving micronutrients in the diet, for example providing vitamin supplements through public health programmes.

Case by case assessment

The possible costs, benefits and risks associated with particular GM crops can only be assessed on a case by case basis. “It is important not to generalise,” said Professor Michael Lipton, a member of the Working Group. “However GM crops do, in some cases, have considerable potential to increase crop yields. There is an ethical obligation to explore these benefits responsibly.”

Small-scale farmers in China and South Africa are already benefiting from GM cotton, modified to resist the cotton bollworm. Another example cited is research to genetically modify bananas to resist the Black Sigatoka fungus. Untreated, this fungus can reduce banana yields by as much as 70%. Currently, farmers spend one quarter of the production costs on fungicides, and farm workers may risk their health by applying the spray, up to 40 times per year. A GM banana, resistant to the fungus, could eliminate these problems, reducing the amount of fungicide required and, at the same time, increasing yields.

Genetic modification could also be used to address specific agricultural problems, such as drought and salty soils, where other methods of plant breeding have not proved successful. However, much GM research currently serves the interests of large-scale farmers in developed countries. There is also concern that only a few commercial companies control most of the seeds, chemicals and research technology. The Nuffield Council recommends that additional resources should be committed by governments and the EC to fund a major expansion of GM-related research relevant to the needs of small-scale farmers in developing countries.

The Council is inviting views on the draft version of the Discussion Paper, by 8 August 2003. “We look forward to hearing comments from members of the public, stakeholders and experts. We would particularly welcome comments from people in developing countries,” concluded Dr Thomas.

For further information, please contact: Nicola Perrin, +44 (0)20 7681 9627 or 07768 683 589,

Nicola Perrin | alfa
Further information:

More articles from Agricultural and Forestry Science:

nachricht “How trees coexist” – new findings from biodiversity research published in Nature Communications
22.03.2018 | Technische Universität Dresden

nachricht Earlier flowering of modern winter wheat cultivars
20.03.2018 | Georg-August-Universität Göttingen

All articles from Agricultural and Forestry Science >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Researchers Discover New Anti-Cancer Protein

An international team of researchers has discovered a new anti-cancer protein. The protein, called LHPP, prevents the uncontrolled proliferation of cancer cells in the liver. The researchers led by Prof. Michael N. Hall from the Biozentrum, University of Basel, report in “Nature” that LHPP can also serve as a biomarker for the diagnosis and prognosis of liver cancer.

The incidence of liver cancer, also known as hepatocellular carcinoma, is steadily increasing. In the last twenty years, the number of cases has almost doubled...

Im Focus: Researchers at Fraunhofer monitor re-entry of Chinese space station Tiangong-1

In just a few weeks from now, the Chinese space station Tiangong-1 will re-enter the Earth's atmosphere where it will to a large extent burn up. It is possible that some debris will reach the Earth's surface. Tiangong-1 is orbiting the Earth uncontrolled at a speed of approx. 29,000 km/h.Currently the prognosis relating to the time of impact currently lies within a window of several days. The scientists at Fraunhofer FHR have already been monitoring Tiangong-1 for a number of weeks with their TIRA system, one of the most powerful space observation radars in the world, with a view to supporting the German Space Situational Awareness Center and the ESA with their re-entry forecasts.

Following the loss of radio contact with Tiangong-1 in 2016 and due to the low orbital height, it is now inevitable that the Chinese space station will...

Im Focus: Alliance „OLED Licht Forum“ – Key partner for OLED lighting solutions

Fraunhofer Institute for Organic Electronics, Electron Beam and Plasma Technology FEP, provider of research and development services for OLED lighting solutions, announces the founding of the “OLED Licht Forum” and presents latest OLED design and lighting solutions during light+building, from March 18th – 23rd, 2018 in Frankfurt a.M./Germany, at booth no. F91 in Hall 4.0.

They are united in their passion for OLED (organic light emitting diodes) lighting with all of its unique facets and application possibilities. Thus experts in...

Im Focus: Mars' oceans formed early, possibly aided by massive volcanic eruptions

Oceans formed before Tharsis and evolved together, shaping climate history of Mars

A new scenario seeking to explain how Mars' putative oceans came and went over the last 4 billion years implies that the oceans formed several hundred million...

Im Focus: Tiny implants for cells are functional in vivo

For the first time, an interdisciplinary team from the University of Basel has succeeded in integrating artificial organelles into the cells of live zebrafish embryos. This innovative approach using artificial organelles as cellular implants offers new potential in treating a range of diseases, as the authors report in an article published in Nature Communications.

In the cells of higher organisms, organelles such as the nucleus or mitochondria perform a range of complex functions necessary for life. In the networks of...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Industry & Economy
Event News

Virtual reality conference comes to Reutlingen

19.03.2018 | Event News

Ultrafast Wireless and Chip Design at the DATE Conference in Dresden

16.03.2018 | Event News

International Tinnitus Conference of the Tinnitus Research Initiative in Regensburg

13.03.2018 | Event News

Latest News

Modular safety concept increases flexibility in plant conversion

22.03.2018 | Trade Fair News

New interactive map shows climate change everywhere in world

22.03.2018 | Earth Sciences

New technologies and computing power to help strengthen population data

22.03.2018 | Earth Sciences

Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>