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back to article Top government boffin urges rethink on GM crop ban

Dr David King will press the government to reopen the debate on genetically modified crops as his parting shot as the UK's chief scientist. He will make the call this evening in front of an audience of fellow top boffins at the Foundation for Science and Technology in London. In a wide-ranging farewell address, King will say: " …

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Anonymous Coward

Genetic wrongheadedness

I approve of properly tested GM for the right reasons. Resistance to herbicides is not the right reason. Resistance to blight is a great reason.

If you engineer plants to be resistant to herbicides, poor farmers need to buy the herbicides to take advantage of the modification, and herbicides should be avoided as far as possible anyway.

Engineering the plants to resist disease and environmental stressors protects the investment of the farmer and will increase yields without forcing unpalatable and expensive practices on the farmer.

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Bugger off, King

In what way does the terminator gene help combat world hunger? How about farma products (beets that produce viagra, anyone?) how do they help feed us?

Pesticide resistant crops can only increase yeilds by whatever the pests were eating AT MOST and would require more pesticides (so if we have a shortfall of pesticides, that is our limit, do we then have "GM pesticides"?).

The big reason for GM crops seems to be that you can't get government backed protection on natural foods but you CAN get it if you've monkeyed with it chemically/biologically and then patented it.

The US used to have 1joule of petro/oil energy would produce 2600joules of food for humans. Now it is 1 to 1. The 12 billion people will require more than twice the energy production to just produce the same quality of food as we have now. If we can't get that energy into the farming system, we cannot produce the food, no matter how "GM'd" it is. And if we need to reduce energy consumption...

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Anonymous Coward

>nine billion people on the planet

Too many people, too many people, too many people, too many people, too many people, too many people, too many people, too many people, too many people, too many people, too many people, too many people, too many people, too many people, too many people, too many people, too many people, too many people, too many people, too many people, too many people, too many people, too many people, too many people, too many people, too many people, too many people, too many people, too many people, too many people, too many people, too many people, too many people, too many people, too many people, too many people, too many people, too many people, too many people, too many people, too many people, too many people, too many people.

Let 'em starve...

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Flame

Feed the world

Except the parts of it that won't bend over backwards and take it up the Gary Glitter from Monsanto, et al.

If the motives of the Pro GM crowd were pure, there would be no need for them to lodge patents on all these fabulous food crops, no need for the terminator gene, and no need to erm, charge for the seeds, since they are operating with such altruistic abandon.

Except, that's exactly the opposite of what's really happening.

Like "The One", off of the popular Matrix trilogy, it's just another system of control.

Conniving shitweasels, the lot of them.

As for the Pro Nuke crowd, fine fine, but by the time you have finished designing and building the 'next generation' of power plants, it will be to late. Also, come back and ask for my opinion again when your costs include the long term management of waste and the full operational lifetime of the plants, including decommissioning them in 100 years time. Oh yeah, and include the cost of the land, in perpetuity, because it sure as fuck isn't going to be any use for anything else in the foreseeable future, now is it ?

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Coat

Zombie Animals

Quote: "In October 2000, the Daily Mail wrote: "Genetic modification could lead to 'zombie' farm animals programmed to feel no pain or stress," for example. And there's plenty more where that came from."

If they'd have thought this through, they'd have realised that this is actually an endorsement. Some vegans and vegetarians argue that it's inhumane to eat meat because of the suffering of the animals involved. Remove the animals ability to suffer, turn them into "zombies" as it were, no more problem.

Apart from herds of herbivores stampeding around trying to eat people's brains, obviously.

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Sam

@Mark

It helps if you have a grasp of spelling, grammar, and indeed logical argumentative construction before you post....as well meaning as you undoubtedly are, you just did the negative PR thing, sorry.

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Bronze badge

Guys a nutter

UK farming is on the decline with farmers being paid not to plant, so we haven't got a problem here. Which begs the questions why would we take the risk for GM?

If I lived in a country with long term food supply problems then perhaps the risk would be worth it.

There is and will be enough food to go round if we share it.

Of course we probably need to get out of the habit of encouraging people to have large families as well.

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Silver badge

Where to start?

@Matt - he was talking about those places that *do/will* have a problem with long term food supplies. If you want to live on organically-grown tofu, feel free, but it's not going to feed Africa.

@The Other Steve - oh no, these nasty capitalists may make a profit out of saving the world! Perhaps you could form a workers co-operative and develop GM food on a non-profit basis. Good luck with your five year plan.

[Dons tin hat and retires to shelter]

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Boffin

9 billion people isn't a problem

We have plenty of food in the world, its the distribution that's the problem.

I'm not sure how giving large multinationals the rights stop people from planting some sort of grain is going to help. Does Monsanto even have offices in Chad? Funneling more cash to corporates doesn't seem like the cure to world hunger.

Wouldn't it be great if you could engineer food to weigh more by absorbing more water? You could increase crop yields without actually taking nutrients out of the soil and putting them into food. It would be like adding water to frozen chicken but totally legal. How about grain that is really efficient at pulling water from the soil - you could turn a borderline area into a complete dustbowl in just a few years!

My rule of thumb: don't trust any corporation and the bigger they are, the less trust they should be given. I have a real problem with my food being irrevocably messed with because someone's quarterly bonus depends on it.

In other news: Government bends over backwards to accommodate big business... oh wait, that isn't news.

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> If I lived in a country with long term food supply problems

You do live in a country with long term food supply problems: Britain cannot remotely feed its population. But at the moment it feeds itself by buying food in using the income from financial games in the City. Once the rest of the world starts doing that for themselves, as they surely will, WTF would they want to feed us?

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King is wrong

"Dr David King will press the government to reopen the debate on genetically modified crops"

Hell no. Don't open the debate. Just go ahead and roll out the products. We do not need to pander to neo-Luddites while Africans starve.

@JonB: 9 billion is indeed far too many people - 7 billion is far too many people for that matter - but the status quo, where starvation is limited to Third World Countries, is not the answer. Restraining population levels on a purely geographical basis is arbitrary and accomplishes very little: useless people in Britain and America gorge themselves on chips while the next Einstein dies in Ethiopia. However we eventually decide to do that (if we do) It's irrelevant to the GM question. GM food will benefit everyone by making food cheaper and better. It should be done - or rather, it should be left to market forces. If people really don't want GM food, they won't buy it.

Unfortunately I don't see it happening soon, the opposition to GM foods is too great. Not popular opposition; their opinions can be changed with the same ease with which you prevent a baby from crawling off a cliff - you pick it up, turn it 180 degrees, put it down and it crawls away in the direction you let it. Any PR man worth his salt can easily do the same with popular opinion. No, the real opposition will be from the supermarkets, who are making a very nice profit gouging customers for 'organic' food with pretty labels. GM foods can only cannibalise their margins, which means they'll do everything they can to keep the popular consensus in favour of Stone Age farming methods. Rather ironic - most of the anti-GM crowd will probably be unaware they're hand-in-glove with Tesco, but introspection is not the masses' strong point.

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Barking up the wrong tree

JonB has a point.

Suppose we succesfully feed 9bn people, then what? will there be 10bn, 11bn, 14bn? Where does it stop? Then when suddenly there isn't enough food to go around, you've got a much bigger problem. But hell, if we can push that date further into the future then it won't be our problem, eh?

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Thumb Down

Thorium Powered Nuclear Plants - Yes, GM Food - NO!

Look science fella its all fine you saying we need to do stuff (probably due to some sort of vested interest) but mate i simply dont want to eat it. In fact i am going the other way towards Organic food.

Now i understand that the world must be fed and if countries with either the need to grow more and the lack of cash to buy it in should feel free to go GM i personally go along the mantra of

NIMBY (Not in My Back Yard)

The UK does not need it and the UK doesnt seem to want it either, end off, people speaking and making choices.

However Nuclear power plants preferably using Thorium rather than the nastier uranium fission process are a great idea for relative energy independence which is a national security issue as well as a green issue. The backbone of UK energy production should be Nuclear the remainder from renewable but remembering that we need enough capacity to cope if the wind does not blow.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Restraining population levels on a purely geographical basis

It's not geographical, it's based on ability to feed the population that's there.

There really is too many people, global warming is a per head problem, oil running out is a per head problem, fresh water supplies running out is a per head problem, transport gridlock, house prices, fish stocks, sewage pollution all of it - per capita.

Less people, less problem.

I think the first world is taking the lead here, most developed nations would have declinging populations were it not for immigration. It's all very fixable. Just stop breeding.

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Boffin

GM has been going on for centuries

Every single crop we eat has been genetically modified from its wild cousin almost beyond recognition by selective breeding. All that is happening now is it's being sped up and custom tailored, rather than relying on random mutations. We are going to need all the bio-engineering we can get over the next 50-100 years so crops can become more tolerant to heat and drought, and yields improved to feed an ever growing population.

-Chris

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Gene transfer in the wild

This boffin needs to watch Jurassic Park, remember the line "Nature will find a way", well it's true. The genes added to these crops will find themselves in weeds soon enough, either by vertical or horzontal gene transfer, then when inedible weeds immune to herbicides take over our arable land we have a global genocide, maybe a few million people will survive, if that, and they will have to go back to being hunter gatherers like our ancestors.

No 'shroom cloud icon sadly.

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Stop

@ going on for centuries.

"Genetic Modification" has very little in common, if anything, with "Selective Breeding". Last time I checked, the ancient Mayans had not incorporated spider DNA into their latest corn crops, and the Amazon tribes didn't manage to cross-breed piranha with manioc.

GM might have its uses. Unfortunately, what's so wrong about it is the politics that surround it. The companies doing it aren't interested in feeding the world. They want the world to pay them money each time it takes a bite to eat. Those claiming "there is nothing wrong with profit" should also look at the fact that the GM companies are doing their best to wipe out "natural" crops. Look at the damage they did in Canada, where the farmer, after using seeds from his own farm, was successfully sued for illegally using Monsanto's product - a product he never purchased, but that had instead contaminated his propoerty without his knowledge. Look at the damage they are causing in India, where after having lied to the Indian farmers about yields, these farmers not only can't live off the proceeds of their crop, they can't save the seeds to grow another one, so they're going deeper in debt buying their own seeds back from the company that now "owns" them.

Hell, even if a farmer wanted to stop buying the seeds, there is always contamination - and any contamination, even involuntary, thanks to the patent system automatically considered to be illegal.

That's the real problem with GM. It's not being built to help, it's being built to lock farmers into one particular seed provider. Now, as people in tech, surely we understand that illegally locking people into a single tech is not the way to go? How about we stop Microsanto before it gets started? There's enough problems with just one of them.

That means King needs to attempt aerial fornication with a translating toroid.

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less people for future future

the only way forward is for there to a REDUCTION in the planet's birth rate, that will mean less pollution, less food requirements, etc etc etc

why is the idea of forcing the world to grow/eat patented food a good idea in ANYONE'S book (unless they work for the 'manufacturers' in some way)

yeah, bugger off King, you have the wrong answer to the wrong question!!

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Anonymous Coward

Bugger off King

And take your phoney experts with you. The first bit of decent science and statistics you got in years about badgers, farmers, and TB and you decided you knew better. Even that organ of the establishment Nature thinks you are the pits.

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How to reduce the birth rate

"the only way forward is for there to a REDUCTION in the planet's birth rate"

High-birth rates are a consequence of high infant mortality rates - ask your great grandmother. People start having 2.2 kids when they can be sure approximately 2.2 will survive ;-)

Which means we need more economic development, and we need to remove the barrers to economic development where birth rates are high.

Agreed? Good.

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