Farming for the future

Rebecca Nesbit explains why GM foods and agricultural methods should each be judged on their own merits if we are to prepare for an ever-increasing demand for food production while protecting the environment

It’s hard to see the facts about genetically modified foods. Activists cry ‘frankenfood’ and ‘poison’, while proponents speak of environmental success, so it is perhaps no surprise that they are surrounded in controversy. As a society, however, we need to make decisions about if, and how, we use this technology.

Stakes are high; we can’t feed the world’s growing population without increasing the amount of food we produce. Without agricultural improvements, more people will go hungry. Meanwhile, we are facing a global extinction crisis, and agriculture is a major culprit.

The current debate serves neither food production nor the environment, so how do we end this bitter stalemate? To make any progress we need to start by distinguishing the product from the techniques. 

 

How do we modify a plant’s DNA? 

The techniques that we class as genetic modification are by no means our only way of altering a plant’s DNA. Decades before genetic engineering tools were developed, breeders began using chemicals and radiation to introduce random mutations. Although many of these mutations are damaging, some are beneficial. This increases ...

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