Food crisis moves up agenda

Julian Harris
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GENETICALLY-MODIFIED crops could help meet the rising demand for food amid growing populations, the government’s chief scientific adviser said yesterday.

“If there are GM organisms that solve problems that we can’t solve in other ways, and are shown to be safe from human health and environmental points of view, then we should use them,” said professor Sir John Beddington.

With food prices skyrocketing, the prospect of a global food crisis and the possibility of controversial solutions, have seen the issue leap up the agenda for leaders meeting in Davos from today.

The heads of the UN, the World Bank and the IMF will all be in attendance alongside political leaders keen to discuss how rising living costs will affect social unrest.

Beddington was speaking ahead of a UK government report warning on urgent action needed to prevent widespread hunger, due to rising populations and environmental factors.

Recent studies suggest that the world will need 70 to 100 per cent more food by 2050.

Yet food yields vary massively, according to Vivian Moses, a visiting professor of biotechnology at King’s College London.

Over the past 50 years food production per capita in Asia has increased approximately twofold, yet in Africa per capita production fell back from the mid-1970s and has only just reached the same level as in 1961.

“The quality of plants is important,” commented Moses. “We’re almost coming to the end of what can be done by classic plant breeding -- if you want to make further improvements, you need GM,” he added.