Author Dick Taverne has the cover story in this month’s issue of Prospect, in which he takes on the unwarranted negative reputation GM foods have acquired in Britain and Europe. Not only are GM foods safe, he reminds us, but they have the potential to save millions of lives:
Seldom has public perception been more out of line with the facts. The public in Britain and Europe seems unaware of the astonishing success of GM crops in the rest of the world. No new agricultural technology in recent times has spread faster and more widely. Only a decade after their commercial introduction, GM crops are now cultivated in 22 countries on over 100m hectares (an area more than four times the size of Britain) by over 10m farmers, of whom 9m are resource-poor farmers in developing countries, mainly India and China. Most of these small-scale farmers grow pest-resistant GM cotton. In India alone, production tripled last year to over 3.6m hectares. This cotton benefits farmers because it reduces the need for insecticides, thereby increasing their income and also improving their health. It is true that the promised development of staple GM food crops for the developing world has been delayed, but this is not because of technical flaws. It is principally because GM crops, unlike conventional crops, must overcome costly, time-consuming and unnecessary regulatory obstacles before they can be licensed.
Taverne’s latest book is The March of Unreason: Science, Democracy and the New Fundamentalism. For more on agricultural biotechnology and the controversy over GM foods, you might also want to check out an excellent book by our friends Gregory Conko and Dr. Henry I. Miller, The Frankenfood Myth: How Protest and Politics Threaten the Biotech Revolution.