My Take
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 28 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 May, 2013, 1:21am

Time to modify our stance on GM food

BIO

Alex Lo is a senior writer at the South China Morning Post. He writes editorials and the daily “My Take” column on page 2. He also edits the weekly science and technology page in Sunday Morning Post.
 

Millions of activists marched around the world over the weekend against seeds giant Monsanto and the genetically modified crops it produces, according to news reports. Millions? Can so many still be so misguided?

Perhaps they have been stuck in a time-warp since the late 1990s, a time when there were justifiable public concerns about GM's potential threat to human health and the environment. Today, two decades on and after hundreds of millions have eaten GM food, any opposition is ideological, nothing more. If you consume food that contains corn and soya bean, chances are they have been modified. Cotton crops? For sure! How many actual food crises have been caused by GM products in the past two decades? Exactly zero. Because of the amount of science, technology and tough regulation involved, genetic modification is at least as safe, if not safer, than conventional crop growing.

Think of all the recent genuine food scandals around the world - and I don't mean false alarms raised by groups like Greenpeace - not a single one was GM-related.

China's milk scandal in 2008? Melamine. Mad cow disease? You know the answer. The 2005 E coli food outbreak in South Wales; salmonella-infected egg production in Britain; the euro cucumber scare, related to an E coli outbreak, in Germany in 2011; dioxin-tainted Irish pork in 2008 … You can go on and on and never get to a crisis caused by GM. Some of the anger against GM has to do with the fight against corporate greed, and the fear GM technology and patents may be dominated by a few bio-tech giant like Monsanto, Bayer and Syngenta.

That makes the opposition of anti-GM radicals even more counterproductive. Small companies are deterred from entering the field. Effectively, sustained GM opposition helps create a high barrier to entry, making sure only a few well-funded corporations like Monsanto dominate the field.

GM opposition is also dangerous. The European Union's punitive regulatory regimes against GM make it difficult for African countries with histories of famine and food crisis to use the technology. With drastic climate change and rising population, it's irresponsible to oppose such crop-improvement technology.

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