< Back to GM Spin Doctor links

The Times

Europe's stand on GM crops 'hitting the poor'. By Mark Henderson, Science Correspondent. June 11, 2003

THE European Union is ignoring a “moral imperative” to promote genetically modified crops for their great potential for helping the developing world, Britain’s most respected scientific ethics group said yesterday.

Tough import and labelling regulations are deterring poor countries from growing GM produce, even though their farmers stand to gain more from the technology than any other group, according to the Nuffield Council on Bioethics.

Although GM crops alone will not solve the problem of world hunger, they can make an important contribution to fighting poverty and malnutrition, the independent and influential body says in a report. The benefits would be greatest for small-scale farmers whose livelihoods could be transformed by some transgenic products. European GM policies, however, were jeopardising the prospects for improved agriculture in Africa and Asia. Poor countries were reluctant to approve GM varieties for fear that they would be shut out of European markets, and groundless health concerns were being repeated in the developing world as if they were fact.

Sandy Thomas, director of the Nuffield Council and chairman of the working party that prepared the report, said the European moratorium on GM crops was having a negative impact on poor countries.

“We believe EU regulators have not paid enough attention to the impact of EU regulations on agriculture in developing countries,” she said. “We recommend that the British Government and non-governmental organisations should monitor this closely. We recognise that we are discussing only part of a much larger picture. 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.”

A 1999 Nuffield report found a “moral imperative” for making GM crops available in developing countries that wanted them, and the case for this had strengthened in the past four years. “We have no hesitation in affirming, and expanding, our previous conclusions,” Dr Thomas said.

The report, published in draft form yesterday, is to be submitted to the Government’s national debate on the future of GM crops in Britain. The council, which brings together scientists, ethicists, philosophers and lawyers to discuss ethical questions raised by medicine and biology, is inviting comments ahead of a final version in the autumn.

The council’s verdict was rejected by anti-GM groups, which questioned whether GM crops could make any contribution to world hunger. “World hunger is not an argument for GM products, and shouldn’t be exploited to try and sell them,” Pete Riley, of Friends of the Earth, said.

“The problems poor countries face should be tackled through the promotion of appropriate sustainable agriculture, and economic, social and political reforms. We were hoping for more analysis from the Nuffield Council on alternative solutions to these very serious problems.”

Knotty problem

A four-year research programme has been set up to find natural ways of controlling Japanese knotweed in Britain. The plant can crack concrete and grows an inch a day. The work will be carried out by CABI International at a cost of £500,000.