Ask Us Anything About GMOs!

Q:
Golden rice and GMO disease resistant tarrow both show promise for improving the diet of subsistence farmers. However both of these products have been stuck in limbo for some years as the political fight over GMOs continues. How can non commercial GMO's be promoted in the current over heated political environment? How can these crops be deployed in the current context? What other GMO crops should we be on the lookout for to support subsistence farmers?
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A:Expert Answer

Actually, new biotech crops continue to be registered, and farmer adoption of biotechnology continues to increase. In fact, in 2012, more than 170 million hectares of commercial biotech crops were planted by more than 17 million farmers in 28 developing and industrial countries around the world. Learn more here. But you are correct that for many important food crops—rice, cassava, banana and sorghum, for example―biotechnology has underutilized potential to help improve productivity and health. Promoting and deploying improved crops in the current environment is not easy, but I believe it remains highly important when one considers the implications of malnutrition.

 

Perhaps by continuing to point out how common micronutrient deficiency is, and the severe implications associated with it, we will improve acceptance and deployment of improved varieties.  Vitamin A deficiency, for example, still impacts around 200 million children five years old and younger. Iron and zinc, micronutrients very common in the diverse foods of middle-income countries, are likewise deficient in many diets around the world; 2 billion people worldwide suffer from anemia. We should be expediting the delivery of more nutritious and more productive food crops, not fearing it.

 

Africa’s population will soon pass 1 billion and could reach 2 billion by 2050―so increasing agricultural productivity is essential to ensuring future food security. Projects like Africa Biofortified Sorghum, which is sponsored by DuPont, bring together researchers, technology developers, academics, NGOs, farmers and regulatory officials to develop new technologies that help address crop productivity and malnutrition. Contrary to some cynical views of multinationals like DuPont and biotechnology, we’re donating time, effort and technology and collaborating out of a real desire to improve overall prosperity, nutrition and health. When people realize the severity of the need and the genuine nature of our intent, it minimizes some of the anti-GM sentiment and improves our ability to deploy these kinds of solutions.

 

South African farmers have been growing biotech crops for more than 15 years with no adverse effects on human health or the environment. The global population has been consuming GM products―papaya, maize, canola, soybean, and cotton, with zero negative health effects. Yet malnutrition is an obvious and documented contributor to sickness, early death, lost productivity and poverty. We need to find a balance between the perceived fears of GM and the real suffering of malnutrition. We have solutions—let’s work together to understand how to deploy them.    

 

Sources:

 

Akhtar, S.  2013. Zinc status in South Asian populations – an update. J Health Popul Nutr 31:139-149

 

Miller, M. J. Humphrey, E. Johnson, E. Marinda, R. Brookmeyer, and J. Katz. 2002. Why do children become vitamin A deficient? J. Nutr. 132:2867S-2880S.

 

WHO (2011). Micronutrient deficiencies: vitamin A deficiency. World Health Organization, Geneva.  http://www.who.int/nutrition/topics/vad/en/

 

WHO (2009). Micronutrient deficiencies: iron deficiency anemia. World Health Organization, Geneva.  http://www.who.int/nutrition/topics/

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