Sunday, April 20, 2008
New report warns that the world's food resources are being wasted, and that biofuels are exacerbating shortage of food crops
Nations split on GM role in food crisis
SIXTY countries, backed by the World Bank and most UN bodies, have called for radical changes in world farming to avert increasing regional food shortages, escalating prices and growing environmental problems.
But in a move that has led the US, Britain, Australia and Canada to withhold endorsement of the report, the authors said controversial gene modification technology was not a quick fix to feed the world's poor and argued that growing biofuel crops for vehicles threatened to increase worldwide malnutrition.
The report was issued as the UN's World Food Program called for rich countries to contribute $US500 million ($A540 million) to resolve a growing crisis that has led to staple food price rises of up to 80% in some countries, and riots in many cities. According to the World Bank, 33 countries are in danger of destabilisation and conflict following food price inflation.
The authors of the 2500-page International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development say the world produces enough food for everyone, yet more than 800 million people go hungry.
"Rising populations and incomes will intensify food demand, especially for meat and milk, which will compete for land with crops, as will biofuels," they write. "The unequal distribution of food and conflict over control of the world's dwindling natural resources presents a major political and social challenge to governments, likely to reach crisis status as climate change advances and world population expands from 6.7 billion to 9.2 billion by 2050."
Robert Watson, director of the assessment and chief scientist at Britain's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said: "We have to applaud global increases in food production but not everyone has benefited." He said governments and industry focused on increasing food production, with little regard for natural resources or food security.
The report — the first significant attempt to involve governments, non-government organisations and industries from rich and poor countries — took 400 scientists four years to complete. The authors concluded that food production and the way food is traded around the world have led to unequal distribution of benefits and adverse ecological effects and are contributing to climate change.
The authors say technology should be targeted towards raising yields but also protecting soils, water and forests.
The GM industry, which helped fund the report, along with the UN's Food and Agricultural Organisation, the World Health Organisation and the British and US governments, abandoned talks last year after heated debate. The scientists said they saw little role for GM in feeding the poor on a large scale.
"Assessment of the technology lags behind its development, information is anecdotal and contradictory, and uncertainty about possible benefits and damage is unavoidable," said the report.
The original Guardian article can be read here.The complete IAASD report can be accessed here.
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