NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


May 18, 2004

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is coming out in favor of biotech crops, saying genetically modified organisms have already helped small farmers financially, have had some environmental benefits and no ill effects on health.

In a major report released Monday, the food agency said the main problem with agricultural biotechnology to date is that it hasn't spread fast enough to the world's poor farmers and has focused on crops that are mostly of use to big commercial interests.

The report is likely to fuel the debate about genetically modified, or transgenic crops, at a time when the technology continues to face public opposition in some European and African countries:

Proponents of GM foods say plants that can resist insects and be fortified with extra vitamins are a boon to farmers and consumers. According to researchers:

  • Transgenic crops currently on the market are safe to eat, but scientists differ on the environmental impact, noting that genes from GM crops can be transferred to wild species.
  • Scientists differ on whether that in itself is a bad thing and said what's needed most is more research to assess the environmental consequences of this so-called "gene flow."
  • Reduction in pesticides and toxic herbicides that come with transgenic crops has had "demonstrable health benefits" for farm workers in China.
  • Some GM crops, especially insect-resistant cotton, "are yielding significant economic gains to small farmers."

Dr. Harwig de Haen, assistant director-general of FAO's economic and social department, said Monday that biotechnology isn't a panacea to fight world hunger, but that it can help in three major ways: by raising farmers' production and incomes, by increasing food supplies and thus reducing prices, and by contributing to the nutritional quality of crops.

Source: Associated Press, "U.N. agency supports biotech crops,", May 17, 2004.


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