GM crops needed along with more effective crop husbandry – experts
GENETIC modification (GM) should be one of the technologies available to plant breeders to help feed the world, according to molecular biologist Prof John Bryant, Emeritus Professor at Exeter University.
Prof Bryant told delegates it was important for plant breeders to increase the nutritional quality of the crop, make crops more resistant to pests and diseases and to increase the crop robustness to environmental stress.
GM crops are currently grown in 28 countries covering 170 million commercial hectares of mainly cotton, soybean, maize and oilseed rape, and there has not been one single instance of any problems caused to consumers.
Prof Bryant said: “There is no reason why it should be dangerous.”
Opposition from Greenpeace remained high, he said, even though GM crops had the potential to help human health. He spoke of GM Golden Rice, which had been bred to provide additional Vitamin A to help combat blindness in South East Asia.
He said: “This has encountered opposition every step of the way since being bred in 1998 and is still not on the market.”
Prof Bryant said there were some interesting GM developments around the globe. The Gates Foundation was looking at the photosynthetic efficiency of rice in a bid to increase yields, while drought tolerant soybeans have been successfully engineered in Argentina, by implanting a sunflower gene to combat climate change.
“GM crops are not the panacea for all problems in agriculture and crop science but they are part of an array of techniques available to the plant breeder. We also need more efficient crop husbandry and effective land use,” he added.
His comments came against a backdrop of recent research which showed yield trends were insufficient to double global crop production by 2050.
Dr Pete Falloon, manager of the Climate Impacts Modelling Group at the Met Office, said the Met Office was trying to make it easier for land managers to make more weather-resilient decisions.
Dr Falloon said the Met Office was working with Clinton Devon Estates – a major South West landowner with responsibility for 25,000 hectares (61,700 acres) of land covering farming, forestry, conservation management and construction – through the European Commission-led Euporias project.
The aim is to develop a specific working tool for one application – in this case cover crop planting – and then extend it to other uses. Advance knowledge, for example, of a very wet winter would enable the farm manager to chose an appropriate summer/autumn-sown cover crop to protect soils which would otherwise be left bare and susceptible to run-off and erosion.
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