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GM crops to feed the world?

27-Nov-2003

Hunger is on the rise again after falling steadily during the first half of the 1990s, warns the UN's annual hunger report released on Wednesday. In the same week, a Danish task force asserts that organisations are falling short in their responsibility to developing countries if they fail to adopt a position with regards to genetically modified crops and their use in these countries. Which begs the question - what must the western world do next?

Published by the UN's Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), the report estimates that 842 million people went hungry from 1999-2001. A figure which makes a farce of the World Food Summit goal of reducing the number of undernourished people by half by 2015.

A timely coincidence, the Danish report published after a year-long assessment of the pros and cons of using GM crops to fight poverty and hunger in the third world, throws up an ongoing moral dilemma. Can the west export foodstuffs and encourage the farming of GM crops that its own people are refusing to consume on safety grounds? According to the Danish interdisciplinary force, yes.

'Development aid organisations face the challenge of preparing poor developing nations for the coming and proper handling of genetically modified crops - regardless of whether the organisations recommend introducing such crops or not,' write the authors of the report.

Taking a forthright stance, the task force is urging all development aid organisations to assist developing countries in the task of building up the proper institutional capacity tomake their own assessments of genetically modified crops.

Strategies to make this possible, write the authors , include the establishment of relevant public institutions and organisations responsible for everything from legislation to assessment oftechnology and management of environmental problems, as well as ensuring the ability to enforce laws and regulations related to the handling of genetically modified crops.

Also a necessity, cite the authors, 'ensuring support for research into genetically modifiedcrops in the developing countries to a far larger extent than is currentlythe case, for example using participatory/participant-oriented research methods, strategic research partnerships and twinning arrangements across national frontiers and across organisations in both industrialised anddeveloping countries'.

As Europe stands on the brink of tighter rules governing genetically modified foods, largely created to placate the suspicious, and increasingly obese, European consumer, nearly 850 million people are hungry. The voice of the Danish task force echoes a belief that, although present elsewhere today in Europe, has perhaps never reverberated hard enough. By all accounts, we should start listening.

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