Bringing science and development together through news and analysis

  • Roadblocks on the path to GM superfoods

Shares

GM foods engineered to contain high levels of nutrients could be a neat solution to micronutrient deficiencies in poor countries, but there are many scientific, social and political hurdles.

The UN estimates that more than half the world's population is nutrient deficient. People may consume enough calories but their food might not contain enough nutrients.

The quest to develop fortified genetically modified (GM) plants has yielded mixed results. 'Golden Rice', rich in beta-carotene, has met with anti-GM, political and technological obstacles and has yet to be widely introduced in developing countries.

Others, such as the BioCassava Plus programme which aims to develop cassava with boosted levels of iron, zinc, protein, vitamins, and resistance to plant viruses, are well underway but face similar barriers.

Other crops highlight the need for nutritional tests. A calcium-rich carrot is no use unless the calcium is effectively absorbed by the people eating it. "None of these improvements are any good until we actually show they're good in the food supply," says Kendal Hirschi, creator of calcium rich carrots.

There are also practical issues — nutrient-rich crops cost more than non-modified versions meaning that those most of in need of them cannot afford them. Hirschi is trying to do a deal with a large food company, the profits of which could fund its distribution in developing countries.

But many scientists remain confident that such obstacles will be overcome. "Biotech will, in time, become the new conventional agriculture. The question is: how long will it be until that happens," says Val Giddings, president of Prometheus Agricultural Biotech.

Republish
We encourage you to republish this article online and in print, it’s free under our creative commons attribution license, but please follow some simple guidelines:
  1. You have to credit our authors.
  2. You have to credit SciDev.Net — where possible include our logo with a link back to the original article.
  3. You can simply run the first few lines of the article and then add: “Read the full article on SciDev.Net” containing a link back to the original article.
  4. If you want to also take images published in this story you will need to confirm with the original source if you're licensed to use them.
  5. The easiest way to get the article on your site is to embed the code below.
For more information view our media page and republishing guidelines.