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A collection of commentaries, published in The New York Times, ask whether genetically modified (GM) food can mitigate world hunger or if other changes in food production are needed.
Climate change has made the adoption of GM inevitable, argues Paul Collier from Oxford University. Africa in particular will need to accelerate crop adaptation and increase yields to cope with a changing climate and a growing population.
But genetic engineering has yet to increase yields significantly, says Vandana Shiva from nongovernmental organisation Navdanya. Responding to climate change will be important but climate resilient traits do not need to come from genetic engineering — farmers have been evolving these for centuries. We must work with smallholder farmers to create an ecological approach to boosting production and conserving resources.
Indeed, growing more food without damaging natural resources is essential, agrees Per Pinstrup-Andersen at Cornell University. Science — including GM technology — must play a key role in helping farmers do this, he says. New technologies must, of course, be tested before being released for commercial use but must also be weighed up against the health risks of not using them.
Raj Patel, from the Institute for Food and Development Policy, agrees that science must inform any changes in farming practices. He says that a recent report clearly shows that GM crops are not necessarily the answer. Rather, we need an approach based on agroecology that uses little water, sequesters large amounts of carbon and doesn’t require external inputs.
Johnathan Foley from the University of Minnesota similarly supports alternative solutions, for example drip irrigation. New crop varieties that reduce water and fertiliser demand will also be needed and so, says Foley, the careful use of GM crops may be appropriate, subject to public review.