Question: What is your current stance on Genetically Modified Crops and what recent discoveries have you seen that influence your current opinion?
Asked by davidmcafee to Brent, Dominique, Harjeet, Kim, Rebecca on 11 Mar 2013. This question was also asked by maddiebrochacho.
commented on 12 Mar 2013:
Thank you all for your answers. Just a small set of follow up questions, do you believe that genetic modification could possibly be the best answer to the Global Food Crisis or do you think there are other technologies or methods that are better? and How good/bad are food supplies at the moment given the population has surpassed 7 billion people?
commented on 12 Mar 2013:
David,the problem is much more complicated than just production, so saying that one technology will solve it all won’t be correct. It will have to be an integrated approach which will involve developing good varieties with multiple traits which can be developed using GM approach, but will also need good agronomic practices, good storage and post-harvest management, good supply chains and above all political will in all countries. The food supplies vary depending in which part of the world you are talking about. Some countries have enough to feed their people and even export, others are struggling.
commented on 12 Mar 2013:
Hi David – in addition to what Harjeet said. A lot of countries have yields below the potential for those crops, this is called the yield gap. Better practices can help close that gap and thus produce more food with current technologies. Free trade is important to move food about and create markets for producers, including those in the developing world. There is talk of ‘transformational change’ in productivity. We saw this sort of change as part of the green revolution in the 1960s, now we are looking for the next one. That may well be through biotechnologies like GMOs. CSIRO are talking about GxMxE. That is to have the best Genetics and Management for specific Environments. ie precisely matching and managing the crop for optimum yield for that location.
I work with GM crops on a daily basis mainly as a research tool to ask how plants function. From a food source I have no problems with the current versions on the market, they pose no risk to human or animal health and have been feeding hundreds of millions of people for over a decade and a half. Furthermore, I see no real difference between a GM approved crop to one that has gone through a natural breeding program. Both enter and leave breeding programs in the same way. In contrast, the GM versions have to go through extensive safety tests and approvals before they can be used and sold – I guess they would have a cleaner bill of health than those coming through traditional methods.
To date, GM crops that have been successful are those that use herbicide or insect resistance. Growers like these crops as it simplifies there activities on the farm and reduces the number of sprays they need to use to combat weeds and insects. Unfortunately, we have not seen similar progress in GM crops that improve nutrition and or plant growth. These changes are harder to define and involve many genes (hundreds to thousands) while GM approaches generally involve the insertion of 1 or 2 genes. Much more research is required to decide if the GM approach will be a useful tool that will overtake traditional breeding programs.
I support GM crops but I do realise that people want to be sure of what they are eating is safe and that its production hasn’t harmed the environment in any way. This is why most countries around the world have taken a precautionary approach to the technology. In the end this is a good thing as the quality and safety of the science is constantly under review.
@kaisr is more qualified to answer this question than I am, and has done a great job.
I really agree with his statement “I support GM crops but I do realise that people want to be sure of what they are eating is safe and that its production hasn’t harmed the environment in any way.” This is my stance on GM too.
I support the research and production of crops using genetically modifies organisms. in Australia we have a very strong regulatory basis for protecting human health and the environment. In fact GM technologies attract a higher degree of regualtory oversight than other types of biotechnology. Firstly we have the Gene Technology Regulator (GTR) set up to assess and regulate GMOs. Foods from GMOs must be approved by the Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ).
An exciting development. CSIRO have been researching the addition of Omega 3 oils into grains that can be fed to aquaculture grown fish like salmon. These oils don’t naturally occur in a lot of grain crops. Aquaculture is a most important and growing source of protein for people and they like it because it is meant to have Omega 3 oils for health benefits. If you catch too many small fish from the ocean to feed the salmon in pens then we run the risk of putting a great strain on wild fish stocks. It is cheaper and easier to feed them grains based meal, but it lacks the Omega 3 proto oils. So this discovery has the potential to not only provide health benefits for us but it also has a positive effect on our environment.
The challenges of feeding a growing population are the primary reason why the world needs GM foods and hence I support it and work on it. Other reasons used to advance GM foods include the availability of crops that adapt and grow in any type of weather, the ability to add vital nutrients in foods that are not naturally occurring (such as omega-3 in rice), and crops that are able to fend off pests without the application of any additional pesticides.
Herbicide-resistant soybeans were the first GM food product available for purchase by consumers.
GM cotton varieties now grown in Australia has resulted in a cotton plant that is more resistant to common diseases or inspect pests, reducing the need for frequent chemical sprays.
Common GM foods include maize, soybeans, oilseed rape (canola), chicory, squash, potatoes, pineapples and strawberries.
Golden rice with high pro-vitamin A is due for release this year and is expected to have a high impact in a positive way.
Regarding safety concerns, all genetically modified foods intended for sale in Australia and New Zealand must undergo a safety evaluation by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ). FSANZ will not approve a GM food unless it is safe to eat. The same is true in most countries and they all have regulations in place. And as Kim also said, in Australia, the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR) oversees the development and environmental release of GM organisms under the Gene Technology Act 2000. Most dealings with GM organisms must be licensed, and licences will not be issued unless the OGTR is satisfied that any risks posed can be managed in such a way as to protect the health and safety of people and to protect the environment.
What they said ^^^ =P I don’t know much about GM crops but I would like to work on them like Brent does. GM can definitely help simplify agriculture and provide nutritional benefits like the Omega 3 canola and Golden rice. Of course like anything that is going to be sold for people to eat, it needs to be well tested and closely monitored. I see it as an exciting opportunity that can help with some of the challenges in agriculture =)