GM crop regulations a food security hurdle, says executive

Approval times DuPont executive says a challenging regulatory environment is hurting subsistence farmers

NEW ORLEANS, La. — Genetically modified crop approval should be fast-tracked the same way as Ebola drugs, says a seed company executive.

“Bringing food to a starving person is every bit as important as bringing medicine to the sick,” James Borel, executive vice-president of DuPont, told the 2014 Oilseed & Grain Trade Summit.

“I want to suggest today that we need to think in the same way about the urgent need to feed the world.”

It takes an average of 13 years and $130 million to bring a new yield-boosting trait such as drought tolerance or nitrogen use efficiency to market. One-third of the time and cost is the result of regulatory review.

“It is taking longer to bring new and better food to the market, just the opposite of what we should be experiencing as a world that is committed to ending hunger,” Borel said.

As many as five government entities in the same country may review the same data before approving a new GM trait.

Approval times in the United States have increased to three years from two, while those in Brazil have shrunk to one year from two.

The European Union’s approval process is bogged down by politics, while China refuses to even look at a new trait until it is fully approved in the country where it is being developed, which leads to lengthy delays in commercialization.

Borel said it is imperative that the approval process for GM traits be streamlined and shortened if the world is serious about eradicating hunger. An estimated 600 million of the world’s 850 million chronically malnourished people are subsistence farmers.

Getting the latest agricultural technology into their hands will boost yields and incomes and allow them to better feed themselves.

Borel said there has been progress in feeding the world’s poor.

“It’s a war we’re winning,” he said.

“The number of people who are chronically malnourished is going down. It declined about three percent last year alone.”

The number has dropped 17 percent since 1990, which represents tens of millions of previously hungry people who are now routinely being fed.

“Notwithstanding such progress though, global food insecurity remains a significant challenge,” said Borel.

The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that the world produces enough food to provide every human with 2,700 calories per day. By some estimates, farmers are producing enough food to provide twice the minimum nutritional needs of the world’s population.

Yet hundreds of millions of people are still malnourished.

A number of factors hamper food security progress, including food price inflation, political instability, food waste and difficulties transferring new technology to low income farmers.

In addition to removing trade barriers to innovation, Borel would like to see governments eliminate barriers to food trade.

Eighty-five percent of the world’s food never crosses an international border.

“Food is largely local and it should be,” he said.

However, the reality is that some parts of the world have a huge populations and little arable land, while others are sparsely populated with huge tracts of fertile farmland. It’s why food trade will always be important.

The need for trade will continue to increase as the world becomes richer and more urbanized. However, countries such as India, which is a food deficit nation, has some of the highest tariffs in the world.

“There may be nowhere in the world where local farming faces more significant challenges,” said Borel.

India’s population is expected to reach 1.7 billion by mid-century, surpassing China to become the world’s most populated country.

“Removing barriers to global trade is essential to food security,” he said.

Borel said food should be exempted from import and export controls. It should have the same status as water in the Geneva Conventions, he added.

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