Experts Debate Promise of GM Crops in New York Times
The New York Times invited several agriculture experts and activists to participate in its October 26, 2009, “Room For Debate” column, which addressed the potential of genetically modified (GM) crops to alleviate world hunger and protect the environment. Although essays by both Raj Patel of the Institute for Food and Development Policy and North Carolina State University Professor Michael Roberts underscored
the political challenges facing the next Green Revolution, Cornell University Professor and 2001 World Food Prize Laureate Per Pinstrup-Andersen remained cautiously optimistic about bioengineering. “While new technology must be tested before it is commercially released, we should be mindful of the risks of not releasing it at all,” he wrote.
Oxford University economist Paul Collier echoed this response, describing the GM crop debate as “contaminated by political and aesthetic prejudices: hostility to U.S. corporations, fear of big science and romanticism about local, organic production.” But Vandana Shiva, founder of the Navdanya movement in India, took issue with this assessment, claiming that “[g]enetic engineering has not increased yields.” She
pointed to a recent Union of Concerned Scientists study that purportedly failed to find “significantly increased yields from crops engineered for herbicide tolerance or crops engineered to be insect-resistant.” According to Shiva, “small farms based on the principles of agri-ecology and sustainability produce more food.”
Jonathan Foley of the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment proposed a middle ground between “local and organic systems and industrialized agriculture.” Noting that “neither paradigm can fully meet our needs,” he urged nations to explore “many promising avenues” that would combine organic farming techniques with GM crops designed to reduce water and fertilizer demand. “A new ‘third way’ for agriculture is not only possible, it is necessary,” Foley concluded. “Let’s start by ditching the rhetoric, and start bridging the old divides.”