|July 11, 2000
LONDON (AP) - To combat world hunger, rich nations
must substantially step up funding of research into
genetically modified crops and poor farmers in the
developing world must be protected from corporate
control of the technology, a group of science academies
In an unprecedented report by seven independent
academies from both the developed and developing world,
leading scientists agreed that genetic modification of
crops is crucial to any attempt to address the growing
problem of increasing population and diminishing land on
which to grow food.
"Eight-hundred million people don't have access
to enough food now," said Brian Heap, vice
president of Britain's Royal Society and chairman of the
group that wrote the report.
"Increasing production without increasing land
use will require substantial increases in yields per
acre. This technology needs to be used in the
future," Heap said.
Genetically modified, or transgenic, crops are
created when scientists introduce into a plant a gene
from another species. The technique can be used to give
crops new, tailored traits, such as resistance to
disease and pests, built-in extra vitamins, vaccines or
better tolerance to drought.
The academies' report, launched in London by the
Royal Society, urged companies and research institutions
to share their knowledge and called for a ban on broad
patents covering the GM technology.
Corporations must have incentives to produce
characteristics needed in the developing world, and
small farmers in developing nations should enjoy special
exemptions from licensing agreements, the report said.
Meanwhile, the public sector must create more
genetically modified crops that benefit poor farmers in
developing nations, such as corn, rice, wheat, yams,
plantains and sweet potatoes, it said.
"The long-term decline of public agricultural
research, the increasing privatization of GM
technologies and the growing emphasis on the crops and
priorities of the industrialized nations do not bode
well for feeding the increasing populations of the
developing world," the report said.
The document was a consensus of opinions from the
Royal Society, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences,
the Third World Academy of Sciences and the science
academies of China, Brazil, India and Mexico.
Investigations into the effects GM crops have on the
environment should be coordinated, and public health
regulators in every country need to identify and monitor
any potential adverse effects on human health, the
To date, 30 million hectares (74 million acres) have
been planted worldwide with genetically modified crops,
mainly in the United States. Other countries embracing
the technology include Argentina, Canada, Australia and
"China is likely to become one of the world
leaders in this field," Heap said. "China has
recognized the importance of the technology for feeding
But the issue of genetically altered crops has become
politically charged elsewhere, particularly in Europe,
where anxiety about food safety runs high after a crisis
in the mid-1990s over "mad cow" disease that
led to an all-out ban on British beef exports.
European Union licensing of new genetically modified
products and patents has stalled in recent years because
of perceived health concerns.
"The European debate is interfering with
trade," said Dr. Wallace Beversdorf, head of
research and development in the seeds sector at Novartis
AG, the Swiss-based pharmaceutical and biotechnology
company. "The biggest limiting factor now is the
debate over consumer acceptance and trade."
Beversdorf noted that Thailand recently turned down
the opportunity to grow genetically modified rice
because it feared it would not be able to export it.
"Europe is exceedingly important in terms of
global development because it's a big market," he
Biotechnology companies welcomed the report and said
industry help to developing nations was not new.
Novartis gives free genetically modified sweet potato
seeds to Vietnam and trained scientists there how to
introduce genes that make the crop resistant to weevils
and how to test that the technique worked.
Monsanto, which said Tuesday it agrees on the need to
share technology to combat world hunger, recently made
public its draft of the rice genome.
Copyright 2000 The Associated Press. All rights