08 January 2013

Are GM Crops Inevitable?

“We will have to feed 9.5 billion hopefully less poor people by 2050 on about the same land area as we use today, using limited fertiliser, water and pesticides and in the context of a rapidly changing climate.” It will be impossible to feed those extra mouths by digging up more land, because there isn’t much going and because land conversion is a large source of greenhouse gases. Taking more water from rivers will accelerate biodiversity loss. And we need to improve – probably reduce – nitrogen use (ie in chemical fertilisers) which is creating a dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico and eutrophication in fresh water. The only way of squaring this circle will be through the technology-driven intensification of farming – ie, GM.
That is JP in The Economist quoting  former genetically modified foods opponent Mark Lynas who spoke recently at the Oxford conference. It seems safe to say that Lynas will not win many converts to support GM crops, but that is less important than if he is right.

Charles Kenny argued in Foreign Policy that GM opposition is due in some part to poor information and some failures.
Worries remain, though, in no small part due to the lack of major, rigorous analyses and the unwillingness of seed producers to share data. Of course, many GM crops have failed to deliver as advertised, and even in the best of cases they are certainly no panacea. 
But there have also been successes -- involving significant, positive impacts on environmental and financial outcomes. For example, economists Graham Brookes and Peter Barfoot of Britain's PG Economics estimated that countries that adopted GM insect-resistant cotton saw a 13.3 percent increase in the value of their 2005 cotton crop, as well as a 95 percent reduction in the use of insecticides. There is every reason to do more research and testing on both the threats and potential benefits of GM, but there's no reason to demonize it.
If the world, with the current technologies, is unable to provide adequate food for a growing population, what is the answer?

The 'if' is important as some will probably argue that it is possible. So maybe that is the starting point. Can the planet earth provide enough food for over 9 billion people by 2050 if we assume that all land is being used as efficiently and environmentally sustainable as possible?