A headline in the Israeli press last week went a little like this: “Scientists, activists debate if genetically modified foods are panacea or plague.”
Sounds great, but where exactly is the ‘debate’? The article in question reads more like a press release for the GM lobby: ”Distribution of new, genetically engineered crops can help solve world hunger, but the question is where they are used,” said Hebrew University professor Ayal Kimhi. However, absent from the 551-word article is the voice of GM-sceptics.
In fact, according to the trusted scientists, it is those who dare to question the merits of a risky and untested technology who are standing in the way of ‘progress’: “The debate on genetically engineered crops could delay progress in addressing the global shortage of staple foods,” claimed Professor Gad Galili of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot.
Please, let’s have a real debate about biotech in Israel. That means not simply accepting highly contentious claims from those with a commercial interest in promoting their own products as the truth. Millions of shekels are pouring into scientific institutions to fund the research. Couldn’t the cash be better spent elsewhere? Modern organic farming produces high quality food with good yield which, in many less-developed countries, far exceeds those of industrially-produced crops (minus the dependence on expensive and polluting chemical sprays and fertilisers).
Just weeks before the lecture by Profs Kimhi and Galili, the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) was launched, a multidisciplinary report produced with input of over 400 scientists. Its director, Professor Robert Watson, noted that the industrialisation of farming since the Second World War has failed to produce the food needed by the world. In his own words: “Are transgenics [GM crops] the simple answer to hunger and poverty? I would argue, no.”
My native UK is one of the only countries in the world to have held a public debate on the merits of GM crops. It’s also one of the only countries which the GM industry has targeted that isn’t growing GM crops commercially. And it’s the only country in the world where supermarkets have banned GM ingredients from their own brand products due to customer pressure.
(Cross-posted at The Jew and the Carrot.)
Photo by Michael Green: Abbey Home Organic Farm, England.