Mixed Messages on GMOs

May 21st, 2004

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

This week the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization issued a report that said “Biotechnology holds great promise for agriculture in developing countries, but so far only farmers in a few developing countries are reaping these benefits.” In a press release FAO Director-General Dr Jacques Diouf said:

“Neither the private nor the public sector has invested significantly in new genetic technologies for the so-called ‘orphan crops’ such as cowpea, millet, sorghum and tef that are critical for the food supply and livelihoods of the world’s poorest people. Other barriers that prevent the poor from accessing and fully benefiting from modern biotechnology include inadequate regulatory procedures, complex intellectual property issues, poorly functioning markets and seed delivery systems, and weak domestic plant breeding capacity.”

On May 10, Monsanto announced that it was shelving for the time being its plans to develop genetically modified wheat. In a press release Carl Casale, executive vice president of Monsanto said:

“As a result of our portfolio review and dialogue with wheat industry leaders, we recognize the business opportunities with Roundup Ready spring wheat are less attractive relative to Monsanto’s other commercial priorities… This technology adds value for only a segment of spring wheat growers, resulting in a lack of widespread wheat industry alignment, unlike the alignment we see in other crops where biotechnology is broadly applied. These factors underscore the difficulty of bringing new technologies to the wheat market at this time… This decision allows us to defer commercial development of Roundup Ready wheat, in order to align with the potential commercialization of other biotechnology traits in wheat, estimated to be four to eight years in the future.”

And this week the European Union announced it was allowing genetically modified sweet corn into its markets. EU David Byrne, Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection said in a press release:

“GM sweet corn has been subject to the most rigorous pre-marketing assessment in the world. It has been scientifically assessed as being as safe as any conventional maize. Food safety is therefore not an issue, it is a question of consumer choice. The new EU rules on GMOs require clear labelling and traceability. Labelling provides consumers with the information they need to make up their own mind. They are therefore free to choose what they want to buy. The Commission is acting responsibly based on stringent and clear legislation.”

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