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April 21, 2008

GM technology should be considered on case by case basis: IAASTD director

Fierce debate over the role of genetic technology in farming overshadowed a key UN report into the future of agriculture last week.

The report by the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) called for a back-to-basics approach to farming to meet the challenges of climate change and escalating food prices.

Speaking at the launch of the report, Professor Bob Watson, director of the IAASTD and Defra’s chief scientist, called for more investment in biotechnology, but said that GM technology was not necessarily the answer to global food shortages and should be considered on a ‘case by case basis.’

The issue had already come to the fore when the report was discussed in Johannesburg as delegates from biotech firms Syngenta and Monsanto walked out of the discussions, brandishing them ‘unbalanced.’ Further controversy came as the US refused to sign the final agreement, saying the debate on biotechnology was not ‘balanced and comprehensive’.

Douglas Southgate, professor at Ohio State University and advisor to the Sustainable Development Network said: “Agriculture that is sheltered from free trade and denied access to improved technology is the norm for countless farmers today. These people are miserably poor, breaking their backs and barely feeding themselves. The IAASTD report dangerously romanticises this sort of agriculture. We can not afford to ignore the benefits that trade and technological improvement have brought to people and the environment.”

The British government is also yet to sign the agreement, although Prof. Watson said he was confident it would be approved at the ‘highest level of government’ in the coming weeks.

Two other major agricultural producers, Australia and Canada also failed to sign the final agreement after reservations over its conclusions on trade policy.

They did however support a raft of other conclusions contained in the report along with 60 other countries, which claims that industrial farming has exhausted water and land reserves, damaged the environment and left the world’s poor vulnerable to rocketing food prices.

The report argues that while production undoubtedly needs to increase to meet the needs of a growing population, governments should be aware of the wider impact of farming.

Farmers' Guardian

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