As with many innovations and developments in those issues of life with which we are surrounded on a daily basis, Genetically Modified Organisms are amongst the most contentious.
Our daily print media are no exception and the GM food issue has come up yet again in The Age newspaper in Melbourne - another in the Fairfax stable illustrating the weaknesses in that organisations journalistic reactionary perspectives.
There is no reason why GM issues would not be on Fairfax's agenda because no doubt they are supported by organisations such as Monsanto and others in order to still be able to function viably.
Two recent articles in The Age - and the very few letters published commenting on the articles are illustrative of the editor's understanding (sic) of the seriousness of the many problems with genetically modified food items.
Here are the articles and letters and they will be followed by some of the articles from overseas web sites giving the perspectives of countries around the world which have been confronted with the ghastly realities of GM items being forced on them with fertilisers and other chemically altered products.
Genetically modified crops crucial: GrainCorp chief
Alison Watkins: Yields must double to feed the world. Photo: Josh Robenstone
GrainCorp chief executive Alison Watkins has blasted the ''emotional response'' of critics of genetically modified crops, arguing that their use is essential if farm yields are to rise to feed a growing global population. She was also highly critical of the latest political upheaval in Canberra that threatens to stall changes that are essential for the country's future.
''Stop short-term point-scoring and take up the cudgels of reform for our long-term future,'' Ms Watkins said at a business luncheon.
GrainCorp is the subject of a takeover bid from US major Archer Daniel Midland, with shareholders offered $13.20 a share. The offer was cleared this week by the competition watchdog, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, but it has yet to win approval from the Foreign Investment Review Board.
Ms Watkins said that with estimates that the global population will expand by 2.7 billion by 2050, which is equal to twice the size of China's population, or 40 times that of France, pressure is mounting for farmers to lift yields by 50 per cent to keep abreast of growth in global demand.
''Therefore yields have to double to around three tonnes a hectare, yet they've been flattening.''
This increase would have to occur against the backdrop of climate change and declining soil quality, ''which will make it more difficult to achieve this''.
Genetically modified crops in countries comparable to Australia have been able to achieve a 10 per cent improvement in yield, as well as reducing herbicide use by a quarter, Ms Watkins said.
The emotional response to the issue of genetically modified crops had a ''high opportunity cost for our farmers'', she said, at a time when, for example, producing canola crops with fish oil benefits is now possible.
''We do need food companies to take a leadership role as well'' in the debate supporting genetically modified grains, she said. ''They're mostly very conservative.''
All cotton is now genetically modified, she said, along with soy beans.
While critical of government handouts to industry, such as subsidies to the auto industry where, she said, Australia would never be able to compete, Ms Watkins called on the government to boost infrastructure spending, for example, on supply chain infrastructure, to ensure that Australia has a First World asset.
Anti-GM attitudes are harming the hungry
'The environmentalists' opposition to GM is akin to green cultural imperialism.[Age Poll: Is it time for Australia to expand GM food production?
Total votes: 2250.
Poll closed 4 Jul, 2013
These polls are not scientific and reflect the opinion only of visitors who have chosen to participate.]
As reported in The Age last week, GrainCorp chief executive Alison Watkins criticised the "emotional response" of those who oppose genetically modified (GM) crops, and argued that the use of such technology was essential if farm yields were to meet the global food task. Yet environmental opposition to GM crops still dominates approaches to policymaking – irrespective of the increased food and environmental security GM technology can deliver to the world. Green attitudes to GM technology represent at best a quaint conservatism and at worst green cultural imperialism. Opposition to change is, of course, inherently conservative. But those who seek to limit the developing world to ancient production methods and crop varieties, even if they are not particularly profitable or productive, exhibit an inexcusable cultural condescension.
Stewart Brand, described by some as an "ex-environmental ideologue", neatly summarises this in his book Whole Earth Dis-cipline: "The environmental movement has done more harm with its opposition to genetic engineering than any other thing we've been wrong about. We've starved people, hindered science, hurt the natural environment, and denied our own practitioners a crucial tool." The green movement must now decide whether it wants to use the best of science and technology to deliver real human and environmental outcomes.
Meeting the current world food task means adequately feeding 870 million people who are "chronically undernourished". The vast majority of these people live in southern Asia (304 million), eastern Asia (167 million) and sub-Saharan Africa (234 million). To feed a predicted global population of 9 billion by 2050, farm productivity must increase by 50-70 per cent of current levels. In other words, cereal production, which underpins global food supply with rice, maize and wheat, will need to increase from a current 2.3 billion tonnes per annum to 3-4 billion tonnes per annum. Yet productivity gains have stalled. The remarkable plant-science based revolution that saw cereal production rise from about 700 million tonnes per annum in 1960 to 2 billion tonnes in the mid-1990s has since climbed to just 2.3 billion tonnes.
The modest improvement of cereal crop productivity in recent decades has coincided with two significant policy factors: shamefully reduced global investment in agricultural research and development, and the rise of green propaganda that has rejected the science and technology based gains of the plant-science revolution and the benefits of GM technology.
The green agenda has tried to convince the world – and particularly the developing world – that organic agriculture or "agroecology" is the only acceptable form of food production. This is, of course, the same organic agriculture that for 10,000 years delivered famines and constant food instability. Nobel laureate Norman Borlaug, who led the 1960s plant-science revolution, observed that organic agriculture could only feed 4 billion people and therefore asked which 2 billion people would volunteer to die?
This is not to say past decades of scientific developments were perfect. They weren't. But they did feed double the population on just 11 per cent more land. Arguably the only way to deliver urgent productivity and environmental gains, on the same amount of land, is through GM technology. There is no guarantee that GM will ensure we can meet the future global food supply task. But the human and environmental benefits cannot be ignored.
This is also not to say GM is the only answer. A diversified food supply is a responsible food supply and provides individual farmer and consumer choice. Free and informed choice is the key in the developed and the developing world. Do we want agriculture that delivers greater global food security and environmental sustainability? Or do we want to cling to well-worn arguments such as that the world already produces enough food, it just doesn't distribute it effectively? This may be true, but people are still starving.
Extensive research exists proving the safety and environmental benefits of GM crops based on scientific fact, not emotion. Significant reductions in pesticide use, soil disturbance and damage, fossil fuels and carbon emissions have already been achieved with crops such as Bt cotton and Roundup Ready canola. An ever increasing range of productive crops delivering health, environmental and food security benefits are achievable. Another "ex-ideologue", Mark Lynas, agrees. His book The God Species records that his anti-GM "approach was unsupported by science and largely founded in ignorance about genetics in general". Lynas who was once so motivated as to destroy GM crops, now considers his previous ignorance akin to that of the climate change sceptics he scorns.
History reminds us that great harm is inflicted on individuals not just through obvious acts of violence, but also through ideological stealth. We are currently faced with an environmental movement that rejects a key technology that could deliver food and environmental security to the world. If green does not want to be synonymous with mean, then opposition to GM must be reconsidered. As Lynas says, "there can be no more important task than feeding people while protecting the planet. We must use the best of science and technology to help us achieve this vital aim."Nicolle Flint is a PhD candidate at Flinders University where she is studying the political representation of Australian farmers in the context of environmentalism and animal activism. She is a regular Age columnist and a member of the Liberal Party.
Letters from The Age 21 JULY 2013:
Manipulated food poses dangers to consumers
THE burden of proof that GM foods are safe to eat rests with their patent owners. Scientific American and Nature Biotechnology report that GM companies withhold seed from independent research, and adverse findings are censored. Even so, published papers show some GM soybean, corn and canola harm experimental animals and may pose health risks to people.
For instance, the ANU found CSIRO's GM field peas, containing a gene from a bean, provoked immune and inflammatory responses in mice. French researchers found rats fed GM maize showed significant liver and kidney damage. And scientists at Scotland's Rowett Institute found intestinal and immune system damage to rats fed GM potatoes. Now Canadian gynaecologists have found insect toxins from GM plants in the blood of pregnant women and their foetuses. The false claims for GM crops take research away from sustainable farming and food production systems based on healthy soils.Bob Phelps, Gene Ethics, Carlton
No public acceptance
AS THE phone hacking scandal in the UK illustrates, there is a growing chasm of mistrust between corporations and their consumers. The world of GM food is no different. Food is an intimate part of who we are. With secrecy enveloping the details of the relationship between the CSIRO and the biggest biotechnology companies developing GM crops, it is inevitable that the public will express concern.
The near total exclusion of the consumer voice as to the future of food is reflected in survey after survey showing that around the world GM crops have little or no consumer acceptance. Australia's weak GM labelling laws only exacerbate this rejection.
GM crops are one of the few products whose success is dependent on the continued ignorance of the very people who will be consuming them.Greg Revell, North Warrandyte