Dr Robert T. Fraley, co-winner of the 2013 World Food Prize writes on the role GM crops could play in countering the affects of climate change:
. . . at the very same time the demand for food is skyrocketing, food production is under severe pressure from climate change. It is fair to say that this represents one of the greatest challenges in the history of humanity.
But it’s one that GM crops can help meet. In fact, they’re already being called on to do so. In Africa, for example, climate change is leading to more frequent and more severe droughts, which are threatening the continent’s staple maize (corn) crop. In response, Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA), a public/private partnership, is helping to improve food security and the livelihoods of smallholder maize producers in Africa by developing new drought-tolerant and insect pest-protected maize hybrids. WEMA is providing the technology royalty-free to African seed companies for distribution to smallholder farmers. The WEMA project is led by the Kenyan-based African Agriculture Technology Foundation (AATF) and involves Monsanto, CIMMYT (the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center), the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, USAID (United States Agency for International Development) and five National Agricultural Research Systems (NARS) in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique and South Africa.
But water-efficient maize and the other advances we have already made are only the tip of the iceberg. Seeds that offer even better drought resistance, nutrition, higher yields, and many other benefits are now under development by scientists around the world.
In fact, continuing the advance of science is not really the issue. The bigger challenge is the social and policy barriers that block many of the potential innovations. . .
It’s not science but emotion and politics that are the stumbling blocks and there’s nothing new in that.
. . . Innovation in the food supply has evoked strong reactions throughout recent history. It happened when milk was first pasteurized a little more than a century ago. And it happened when Dr. Norman Borlaug, the father of the Green Revolution and founder of the World Food Prize, introduced his newly bred Mexican wheats to India and Pakistan. Some of Dr. Borlaug’s field trials were sabotaged. When others succeeded, rumors spread that growing the Mexican wheats would make the land sterile, or children who ate them would become sterile. In fact, these wheats ended up saving hundreds of millions from starvation.
Dr. Borlaug used to say it all the time: “You must be prepared for opposition.” I think those of us who believe in the promise of biotechnology have not prepared the way we should have.
I think all of us engaged in the struggle to feed the world need to create more understanding of the fact that the safety of our products never has been and never will be compromised. GM foods are the most thoroughly studied food products ever launched commercially. The issue has been examined in more than 1,700 studies by hundreds of independent research groups and reviewed by the world’s leading scientific and medical authorities, including the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Medical Association, the European Commission, and the World Health Organization. The consensus is clear. As the European Commission’s review concluded, there is “no scientific evidence associating GMOs with higher risks for the environment or for food and feed safety than conventional plants and organisms.” Yet doubts remain, and we in the scientific community need to engage in meaningful conversations to address them.
Although we have done a good job communicating with farmers, we haven’t connected as well with consumers. I am confident they will at least be open to listening to us if they know we’re listening to them.
I believe we can find common-ground solutions. They’ll be found around agriculture that minimizes the environmental impact of water and land use and that reduces the risk of political disruption. . . .
There’s more than a little irony in this – the party which is most vociferous about its concerns about climate change and the impact of farming on the environment is equally determined to oppose one of the measures that could mitigate the impact of rising temperatures on food production.