Gallery: Despite Concerns Over GM Crops, Gates Foundation Gives UK Biot...


Genetically-modified (GM) crops have been making the headlines in the UK recently due to plans to develop genetically modified wheat at Rothamsted Research in Harpenden, Herts. Their proposed wheat is being genetically altered to deter aphids, but protesters, led by a group called Take the Flour Back, have been expressing their concerns. Now the GM crop controversy is set to take another twist as a team of British plant scientists has won a $10 million (£6.4M) grant from the Gates Foundation to develop GM cereal crops.

The UK team, based at the John Innes Centre in Norwich, is the recipient of one of the largest single investments into GM crops in the UK. The team is aiming to improve corn, wheat and rice crops in order to help African farmers who cannot afford fertilizers. Not only would this help those in the poorest regions of the world, but it would also reduce emissions as fertiliser production is a notoriously heavy polluter. The John Innes Centre is also trying to engineer cereal crops that would help absorb nitrogen from the air — as peas and beans do — rather than needing chemical ammonia spread on fields.

Speaking to the BBC, Professor Giles Oldroyd from the John Innes Centre said that his team’s project was vital for poorer producers and could have a “huge impact” on global agriculture. “We believe if we can get nitron fixing cereals we can deliver much higher yields to farmers in Africa and allow them to grow enough food for themselves,” he said.

It isn’t particularly surprising that the Gates Foundation has invested in such a project as Bill and Melinda Gates have always been strong supporters of revolutionizing African agriculture. Of course, opposition groups, such as  GM Freeze, have expressed concern, saying that the results will not be achieved for decades at best and that global food shortages could be addressed now through improving distribution.

So where do you stand? Could GM crops save the world? Or should the Gates Foundation be spending its money elsewhere?

via BBC News

Images: jaimi.lammersGilles San MartinD H Wright


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  1. fluffyfreak July 19, 2012 at 9:53 am

    It makes sense to do it. Not in exclusion to doing other things like fixing the wastage in the supply chain but as well as.

    The trouble with opposing methods of resolving a problem is that none of them are the answer on their own, but each side proponents always advocate them as the only strategy to do. The truth is that the GM crop – as described in this case – could have major benefits and any negatives will have to be understood as part of its development. You can’t know what the negatives will be until the research has been completed.

    However, even *if* this new cereal crops works it won’t be the only answer. We need to do both solutions given in this article because individually they’re only going to solve part of a complex problem. There are many other pressing issues with our farming/supply/crop-breeding that could be addressed too and we should tackle them all rather than present the argument simplistically as either “Option A” or “Option B”.

  2. kmdvs July 17, 2012 at 1:13 am

    This looks like an expensive & unwise course of action , for scientific as well as political reasons.
    While the idea may seem bright, current implementations of GMO crops suffer from several deep-seated issues. First they don’t respect the only scientifically-derived sustainability principles we have today, derived through a scientific consensus in Scandinavian countries about 20 years ago (called “Sustainability Principles” or “Four System Conditions” by The Natural Step).
    Second the whole notion of creating GMO “on-demand” particular traits started in the 1980s, in an era whose understanding of genetics was quite crude compared to today’s latest understanding, and in which a simplistic notion of “one gene – one function” was sold to the market by eager companies. That notion is in reality overturned by discoveries of homologous recombination, transgenerational epigenetic inheritance, etc. In effect marketing the benefits while downplaying the risks seems the rule more than the exception, in a battle of principles. In effect, decisions seem to be heavily skewed by short-term competitivity & productivity (i.e. market forces) considerations, more than by longer-term safety & reliability precautionary considerations. Independent research concludes differently than commercially-vetted research. How can this issue be managed responsibly for the long-term sustainability of healthy societies is an open question, some believe is a political minefield in the current (and worsening) economic conditions…
    Furthermore, the microbiome discovery shows that the genetic material of an organism (like a human body) is completely outweighed by the genetic material of its microbiome – 25 thousand genes in the human body’s DNA, 3 million genes in the human body’s microbiome’s DNA… And the acquisition of a microbiome is random in natural conditions, i.e. it cannot be controlled…
    This may explain why all benefits (yield, drought resistance, etc.) in modern crops (even GMO-crops) are obtained through conventional non-GMO approaches of selective breeding, while the only GM trait introduced in GM crops is selective resistance to some toxic substances used to kill all other life, with attendant issues of introducing toxic chemicals into the environment & our food pyramid…
    At the same time, GM crops introduces large socio-economic and political inequality issues, diluting food sovereignty for countries, eroding food security for people now dependent on a few single conglomerates (“Never put all your eggs in the same basket…”, we were wisely warned by our ancestors, and this must be doubly true for food production…), in a manner that “locks in” the inequality since GM crops propagate & contaminate other crops despite all safety measures known to man…
    Since there are proven ways to feed people in a less costly fashion (addressing the waste issue, addressing the distribution issue, addressing industrial farming harmful practices, …) , while providing more jobs, in ways less hazardous to life in general & human health in particular, I don’t see how this helps anybody else than short-term financiers poised to speculate on a bigger & bigger inelastic market…

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