THE VINE APRIL 25, 2008
As we've seen, soaring energy demand is proving a boon for nuclear lobbyists seeking to re-brand their product from an environmental pariah to a 21st century necessity. Now, it looks like the genetically-modified crop industry is following suit:
With food riots in some countries focusing attention on how the world will feed itself, biotechnology proponents see their chance. They argue that while genetic engineering might have been deemed unnecessary when food was abundant, it will be essential for helping the world cope with the demand for food and biofuels in the decades ahead.
Governments and trade organizations, even in staunchly anti-GMO Europe, are rushing to relax prohibitions on GMO crops. (Interestingly, Germany is the staunchest holdout against both nuclear power and GMOs.)
Yet the risks of rushing to GMO foods should not be ignored. Unlike nuclear power, GMO foods are a new invention (and one that continues to develop) rather than a proven technology—so many uncertainties remain about the consequences of introducing newly-developed organisms them into the food supply unlabeled, where they can easily contaminate other food stores. Indeed, the recent UN/World Bank report on the future of the global food supply "gave such tepid support to the role genetic engineering could play in easing hunger that biotechnology industry representatives withdrew from the project in protest."
It's clear that a mass expansion of GMO food production will require regulatory innovations and carefully-crafted policies that reduce the risk of an irreversible misstep. While GMOs do hold much promise, it is not lobbyists--waving the specter of food riots and economic collapse—who should determine the pace of their implementation.