King throws out challenge over GM crops

A CHALLENGE was thrown out this week by Sir David King, former chief scientific advisor to the UK government, to those who do not want to see the production of genetically modified food.

He wanted those who opposed the introduction of gene splicing to state how many people had suffered as a result of eating genetically modified food. His riposte would be pointing to millions who had died from hunger and starvation through not being able to benefit from crops grown with the technology. "A lot of people have lost their lives because gene splicing has not been acceptable," he stated. This was particularly true in developing and less well off countries. "People have picked up the message from Europe that GM is unacceptable."

Speaking in the Guildhall in London this week, King based his statement on the large numbers of people who had either suffered or died as a result of the sharp rise in food prices in 2007.

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He claimed part of that price rise was due to large areas of rice being flooded. If plant breeders in rice growing areas had been allowed to use gene splicing technology, he claimed they would have been able to insert a gene that would have allowed plants to be flooded for a period yet still survive.

In addressing the issue of feeding a world population predicted to hit the nine billion mark by 2050, King said: "There is a desperate need for biotechnology if we are to feed the 50 per cent increase in the population."

But he admitted the public needed to be convinced on the good that the technology could bring through disease resistance, more assured production and more efficient use of resources.

He told his audience that increasing food production in the coming decades was part of a complex equation with other diverse but linked issues such as water management and terrorism and food security.

Again referring to the big spike in food prices in 2007, he claimed that much of that had been created in the USA through their massive shift rapid shift from food production into biofuels. This transfer of food resources into fuel did not solve any problem, he stated.

He was also highly critical of the current UK government's approach to tackling the spreading problem of bovine tuberculosis where some 40,000 cattle are now slaughtered annually in England and Wales.

"Nothing we are doing is slowing down the spread of this disease."

Referring to the badger population who can be infected with the same TB bacillus, he stated that as long as there is a residue in the wild, he did not believe the problem could be managed.

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He was not implying that badgers were the sole cause of the disease spread but they were generally linked to breakdowns in the transfer of the disease into dairy cattle He viewed the future pessimistically when considering the control of TB. "I wonder if Britain will continue to be a dairy farming country if this continues." The only way forward he believed was to work with the public to help them understand the problem.