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- Britain's most respected scientific ethics group - issued a Discussion Paper on 
'The Use of Genetically Modified Crops in Developing Countries'

on Dec. 28, 2003. This Discussion Paper is a follow-up to the Council's 1999 Report, Genetically modified crops: the ethical and social issues. The Paper reassesses the recommendations and conclusions in the light of recent developments in science and policy. Download at http://www.nuffieldbioethics.org/publications/pp_0000000017.asp

The repost says Britain is ignoring a moral imperative to promote GM foods suitable for tropical and sub-tropical nations. GM varieties of rice, bananas, sweet potatoes and soybean could save these countries' crumbling economies. However, their benefits are not being investigated by Western agricultural companies.

Only a limited number - a few varieties of cotton and maize - are currently suitable for developing countries. British government and the European Commission should therefore fund a major expansion of public GM-related research into tropical and sub-tropical staple foods. Such foods could provide lifelines for small farms whose survival offers the best means of achieving a substantial reduction of food insecurity and poverty in the developing world.

Many varieties of cotton have been modified by Chinese scientists to produce pesticides in their tissues. Last year half of all cotton grown in China was modified this way. As a result, there has been a reduction by as much as 50kg per hectare in pesticide use, a 10 per cent increase in yields, and a reduction in the numbers of farmers being poisoned by their own pesticide sprays.

The report dismisses the alleged ecological dangers of GM crops. There is not enough evidence to support the claim that they threaten 'actual or potential harm', it says. Instead, it criticises European nations for their obsession with pinpointing tiny traces of GM crops in our food chain.

Tough new EU import and labeling restrictions, introduced in the wake of anti-GM campaigns, are merely likely to cripple farming in the developing world. Not only would these countries find their GM crop exports blocked but their non-GM produce could also be rendered unsaleable. Small amounts of GM produce are likely to be mixed with non-GM produce during storage because these nations do not have the infrastructure to keep them separate, states the report, whose authors include Professor Michael Lipton of the Poverty Research Unit at Sussex University.

The Nuffield scientists also strongly criticize anti-GM campaigners who claim modified plants should not be developed because they pose a slight risk to human health. Such a view is impractical and harmful, they say.

Food security and environmental conditions are deteriorating across the developing countries, the report says. The world cannot afford to wait for years to be sure GM crops are safe. Millions are likely to go hungry. It is a fallacy to think the policy of doing nothing is itself without risk.

'We are not saying GM technology will save the world on its own,' added Sandy Thomas, director of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics. 'Measures to limit the effects of climate change and war are probably going to be more important. However, modified crops clearly have a key role to play. We have to judge each plant's use on an individual basis, of course, but it is clear this technology has an awful lot to offer.

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