Thursday, 31 October 2013

'Golden rice', 'wicked' NGOs and the need for rational dialogue

Those opposed to GM crops in developing countries are “wicked”, according to the Environment Secretary,
Owen Paterson.

In a recent interview with The Independent, Mr Paterson backed an open-letter by international scientists calling for the rapid development of “golden rice” – a vitamin A-enhanced rice strain, which scientists believe capable of helping save the lives of around 670,000 children in third world countries who die each year from the deficiency and another 350,000 who go blind.

Mr Paterson attacked NGOs such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth for their opposition to GM technology.

“It’s just disgusting that little children are allowed to go blind and die because of a hang-up by a small number of people about this technology,” he said. “I feel really strongly about it. I think what they do is absolutely wicked.”

These comments come at a time when governments and scientists are becoming increasingly concerned about the influence of NGOs in opposing GM crops in developing countries, particularly in light of protester destruction of test crops.

In Professor Joyce Tait’s reaction to Mr Paterson’s comments, she spoke about the need for balanced and rational dialogue, commenting:

 "The near-impossibility of having a rational dialogue around the important questions relating to the role of biotechnology in food production is a major concern for democratic decision making in Europe and beyond. GM and a range of related technologies need to be used intelligently as part of an integrated effort to meet the current and future challenges of feeding the world. “I agree with the opponents of GM crops that societal initiatives like better food distribution, alleviating poverty and eliminating wars are also an important part of the overall picture, but so far we have been singularly unsuccessful in these areas. On the other hand the technologies we have developed to date, despite their acknowledged defects, have had a positive impact on our ability to feed the world, and if allowed to evolve in future they could improve on the positive side while eliminating at least some of the defects.

“We need to create a series of spaces for dialogue that start from the perspective of the challenges to be resolved and focus on what combination of societal and technological initiatives can best be combined to address these challenges. The most extreme and strident elements among commentators on these issues will not disappear, at least in the short term, but their role in shaping future food production systems needs to be balanced by inclusion of a wider range of societal voices, including those who grow our food, those who supply the inputs and those who process and distribute it.”

Read more from Innogen on the appropriate and adaptive governance of GMOs:

Regulating GM Crops: lessons for next generation technologies

Pros and Cons of the Precautionary Principle: European Experience with the regulation of GM Crops

Upstream engagement and the governance of science: The shadow of the genetically modified crops experience in Europe

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