GM foods part of our future, say food scientists

Related tags Gm Agriculture Genetic engineering Food security

Law makers, consumer groups and industry continue to clash over the
use of GM ingredients in the European food chain, but a major
UK-based food science body asserts this week that genetic
modification has the potential to offer strong benefits - quantity,
quality and acceptability - for the world's food supply, reports
Lindsey Partos.

Claiming that scientists should be neither for nor against GM technology, but instead for 'scientific methodology', the Institute of Food Science & Technology (IFST) asserted in a statement yesterday that GM has a "huge potential for mankind in medicine, agriculture and food"​.

"Genetic modification will not solve poverty or wars but with 30,000 people dying from diet deficiency diseases every day, foods of the future will not be solved without GM,"​ Prof. J Ralph Blanchfield, chair of external affairs at the IFST, said to​.

An escalating global population in coming decades will put pressure on world food supplies, and for the food scientists GM food holds the long term potential benefit to not only develop crops with improved nutritional quality, and but also crops that will grow under previously inhospitable conditions.

"In short, GM technology could provide the world with a greater amount of food,"​ said Blanchfield.

Although a food-rich Europe can probably manage without GM food, the debate will increasingly focus on whether the same can be said for the 850 million hungry in the world today.

"It is frequently argued by some that there is more than enough food to feed the world and all that is needed is fairer distribution (which so far mankind has signally failed to achieve). Whatever may be done by way of improved yields through conventional methods, attempted population control and more effective distribution would, however, be inadequate for the future,"​ said the IFST in its statement.

"The important point is not only how to feed the world now but addressing and trying to solve the problem of 'How will mankind feed the world in a few decades from now?' Of course, the problem that has huge political and economic dimensions will not be solved by GM alone, or even by science alone - but will certainly not be solved without the contribution of science, including GM."

On the subject of GM food ingredients, the food technologists assert that the 'first generation' of GM food materials were those that were relatively easy to do, chosen for their likelihood of rapid commercial success by providing traits that would commend themselves to farmers. "Consequently, most of the 80-plus crops that have been modified and the 25,000-plus field trials that have taken place worldwide to date have involved crops engineered for agronomic traits.

"However, these GM products did not offer consumers a readily perceivable benefit at the point of purchase, and with intensified campaigns and media amplification in the early part of 1999 and thereafter highlighting problems and uncertainties (some real, some pure speculation, some spin-doctored and some urban myths), the UK public became turned against GM. Reacting to their customers' views, major retailers and manufacturers decided to exclude GM foods and ingredients."

The full information statement issued by the IFST yesterday can be accessed on the IFST website​.

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