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April 15, 2008

IAASTD summit tackles how to feed the world

The question of how to feed to world has been tackled by leading scientists attending a groundbreaking summit in South Africa this week.

After three years of work by over 400 scientists, members of 63 governments gathered to agree a report that could transform the agenda for global food production.

But critics fear the report will not offer any robust argument for the use of genetically modified technology.

The report, by the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), is due to be published next week.

Defra chief scientist Prof Bob Watson, a director of the IAASTD, said the report was ‘essential’ to resurrect the lives of millions. “The levels of hunger and poverty today are absolutely unacceptable. Agriculture provides a potential solution,” he said, adding that no nation could tackle the issue alone.

The IAASTD was initiated in 2002 by the World Bank and United Nations with a remit to highlight science and technology that can help poor farmers. Protagonists hope it will be a farming equivalent to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (also headed by Prof Watson) that has set the current climate change agenda for national governments.

But even before its formal publication, the report has drawn controversy. Global biotech co-operations stormed out of talks earlier this year claiming the potential of genetically modified crops to help poor farmers was being wrongly overlooked.

Pete Riley of GM Freeze claimed their agenda was driven ‘purely by personal motives.’

“GM is far from being the silver bullet it is hyped to be by those who stand to profit from its widespread introduction.”

Mr Riley said the IAASTD bureau and Prof Watson should not give in to pressure from national governments, biotechnology companies and pro-GM scientists to push the GM angle.

Prof Watson was open minded when commenting on GMOs in Farmers Guardian in January this year.

“At the moment, I personally know of no adverse human health implications and I have not seen literature to suggest there are any adverse effects of GM,” he said.

“Now we need to have an aggressive and strong research programme into GMOs on a case by case basis. Currently the literature is controversial and there are too many biases.”

Farmers Guardian

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