GM seen key to food security: poll

Rex Murphy moderates the IQ2 debate, Do we need biotechnology to feed 9 billion people? during the Emerging Techologies for Global Food Security Conference in Saskatoon.  |  William DeKay photo

Debate at the Mobilization to the Developing World Conference discussed need for genetically modified crops

The audience was clearly in the “yes” camp as four experts set out to debate the need for genetically modified crops at a food security conference held last week in Saskatoon.

The IQ2 debate, moderated by journalist Rex Murphy, kicked off the Emerging Technologies for Global Food Security: Mobilization to the Developing World Conference organized by the Global Institute for Food Security.

A pre-debate online poll showed that most members of the audience agreed that biotechnology is necessary to feed nine billion people, as did Mark Lynas of the Cornell Alliance for Science from Oxford, U.K., and Jennifer Thomson, emeritus professor from the University of Cape Town in South Africa, who led the “for” argument.

They said genetic modification makes innovations possible that can’t be done using conventional breeding. Therefore, it is necessary.

Peter Langridge, a professor from the University of Adelaide in Australia, and Barbara Burlingame, a nutrition professor from Massey University in New Zealand, ran the “against” argument.

They said genetic modification is not essential to feed a population of nine billion because other tools are available. Langridge did not see GM as the silver bullet solution and emphasized it takes a long time to develop.

“I think we need to remember that the delivery of technology is a very slow and complex process. There’s a long time lag to see a new technology adopted and implemented,” said Langridge.

Lynas countered that GM has already facilitated value in production and quality of crops and said it can easily be seen in Canada with the practice of no till.

Murphy closed the debate by commending the panel for discussing such a controversial topic.

“The credentials of the people dealing with this were so deep and their positions nonetheless were presented with reason, argument, background and research and so you have a clash of an extremely dividing kind of issue that has scientific and other dimensions attached to it, but this debate I think reeled it all out,” he said.

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