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Supporters of genetically modified foods claim we need GM technology to help feed the developing world. Are these just claims made to gain acceptance for genetic modification? Or is our choice not to buy GM food ultimately contributing to world hunger? We’ve rounded up a panel of experts to debate these important questions with you.

Event video

Find out about the solutions GM could provide in developing countries from Rodomiro Ortiz, from the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre. Get the lowdown on the key elements of the food crisis from food policy expert Tim Lang.

Four hundred experts and 60 governments looked at the global problem of providing food for the future. Bob Watson, Defra Chief Scientific Adviser, headed the project. He’ll share his views on how we can meet future food needs. What role should GM play?

In Europe we are still undecided about GM technology, while many countries around the world already grow GM crops. Is GM a good option on the menu? Would you buy and eat GM if it could make a difference for developing countries? Or would you rather stay away from it and investigate other alternatives? Join the debate and share your opinions with our experts.

This event is supported by CGIAR.

This event is organised by: The Science Museum.


Speakers

Bob Watson, Defra Chief Scientific Adviser
Tim Lang, Professor of Food Policy, City University, London
Rodomiro Ortiz, Director of Resources Mobilisation, International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT)

Facilitator: Ian Sample, Science Correspondent, the Guardian

comments

A.nother said:

I Think gennitcally modified food is a sh#t idea, y would u want to eat food thats been messed about with?

Chris Frost said:

Five Alive should be the answer to your problems. Confident talk i know but hey, get a grip and do something ABOUT IT!

A flight to africa and a handful of genius' should be enough ammo to heal the unfortunate.

Get a grip

sachith amarakoon said:

I think we need not to worry much about health effects of GM foods because its been used by millions of people.

But there is a risk to poor countries or the countries where the GM technology is not. Because since GM plants have no ability to produce fertile seeds, by the time this countries has to depend on seed producing countries for seeds. Because if they use GM breeds continuously, the natural breeding breeds would disappear after a time.

Mike L said:

I'm slightly disappointed that, like journalists, the London Museum has cast the discussion as an "either-or" proposition.

The debate is already too polarized! Resource-poor farmers in marginal areas of regions like sub-Saharan Africa are starving and need help to test and apply all feasible approaches, whether GM, conventional breeding and agronomy, or organic. Let's not suppose that any single approach alone is going to save the world, nor enjoin policymakers to cast aside potentially useful tools before costs and benefits are objectively weighed on a case-by-case basis.

Mia said:

Hi Mike,

have you checked out the exhibition? If you can't get to London you can see it online at http://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/antenna/futurefoods/

Angela said:

What about ownership? I think one major thing people worry about is patenting and control.

said:

Someone've told me that maybe GM food could chang human to be another species (like 'alien' , it's a joke. haha...) from a long term eating because we've just used it for a short term and it 'd been discovered recently. The future'll tell us.

Lawan P. said:

Someone've told me that maybe GM food could chang human to be another species (like 'alien' , it's a joke. haha...) from a long term eating because we've just used it for a short term and it 'd been discovered recently. The future'll tell us.

Sylvia said:

There's not much wrong with GM food as such except that it is a means for large American companies to control world food production as the farmers will have to rely on them for the seeds. It also allow to use of morew insecticides and herbisides. How can that be a good thing?

Claire said:

You are meant to be the Science Museum. So where's all the scientific evidence on the proven harm to lab animals in GM feeding trials? Where's all the scientific evidence showing the emergence of secondary pests on pest resistant GM crops, resulting in more chemical sprays? Where's all the evidence on increased use of herbicide on herbicide resistant GM crops? Of harmful effects of GM pollen and residues on wild species, from butterflies to aquatic organisms? Shame on you. This is a PR exercise, not science.

Julian said:

Yes, Claire has asked the right questions. It is well known that the facts about serious problems arising out of the genetic engineering of our food and animal feed supplies, have - time and again - been repressed. But in his very well researched and documented book 'Genetic Roulette' Geoffrey Smith reveals hundreds of cases of adverse side effects and serious health problems directly related to GM foods and feed. The fact is, we are being used as guinea pigs in a vast uncontrolled experiment - the more visible results of which may not become known for a decade or more.

Now that human genes are being inserted into farm animal's DNA to make them grow bigger and faster - we are even being asked to participate in the cannibalisation of our own species. Is this science?

Julian said:

Yes, Claire has asked the right questions. It is well known that the facts about serious problems arising out of the genetic engineering of our food and animal feed supplies, have - time and again - been repressed. But in his very well researched and documented book 'Genetic Roulette' Geoffrey Smith reveals hundreds of cases of adverse side effects and serious health problems directly related to GM foods and feed. The fact is, we are being used as guinea pigs in a vast uncontrolled experiment - the more visible results of which may not become known for a decade or more.

Now that human genes are being inserted into farm animal's DNA to make them grow bigger and faster - we are even being asked to participate in the cannibalisation of our own species. Is this science?

Jerrry said:

Why do those who advocate GM think they can bend the discussion in favour of GM crops by quoting starving people? Crass. Even the UN report states that there is currently plenty of food in the world, the reason why people starve is because of issues such as distribution, corruptiuon,war, cost etc GM will have not effect any of those issues.
But my main opposition to any GM crop being 'let out' in the wild is the environment. We have no idea what will happen to the rogue genes - why should we risk 'our' environment just because someone wants to make a profit and to hell with everyone else.
GM technology has the potential to kill us all and with all the companies involved making sure that they are insulated by legislation from being held to account.
And don't just look at the crop you have to also take into account all the other aspects of 'Big Company' control.
GM crops are not about science nor feeding people they are about making money and control over people.

Louise said:

Claire - I'm not sure what you are basing your criticism of the museum on - how do you know these issues won't be discussed in the debate on the evening? Also most of the issues you raise are actually covered in the online version of the museum's exhibition.

Canadian ShaneM's LoveChild said:

A quick web search ( at the time of writing this ) reveals the current list of 3 speakers as pro GM. It's a debate isn't it ? Where are the quality 'No GM' speakers ? The event sponsors ( CGIAR ) are also known to be pro GM.

This is not a true debate. It won't provide a balanced range of ALL scientific comment & assessment of GM.

It also shows the science museum's personal, business & intellectual integrity to be a compromised entity ( is that what you want ? do you not care ? ), as indeed almost all scientific research today has also shown itself to be - compromised - and without enough backbone to do things the right way.

And what about the speakers ? are they such corporatised science 'tragics', without sufficient belief in their GM position that they refuse to even engage in proper, public discussion with those of different scientific assessment to their own ?

If GM technology actually DID what its advocators profess it does, it would confidently open itself up publicly to broadfaced, mutually agreed upon, independent scrutiny and study, and genuine, intelligent debate.

This biased event is just another example of how Club Biotech has pimped the scientific, and agricultural, communities.

Perhaps the 'G' in GM could also stand for 'gutless'.

Or GM could also stand for 'Gullible Manipulation' ( Manipulation of the Gullible ).

Get some balls Science Museum.

More Openness said:

A quick web search ( at the time of writing this ) reveals the current list of 3 speakers as pro GM. It's a debate isn't it ? Where are the quality 'No GM' speakers ? The event sponsors ( CGIAR ) are also known to be pro GM.

This is not a true debate. It won't provide a balanced range of ALL scientific comment & assessment of GM.

It also shows the science museum's personal, business & intellectual integrity to be a compromised entity ( is that what you want ? do you not care ? ), as indeed almost all scientific research today has also shown itself to be - compromised - and without enough backbone to do things the right way.

And what about the speakers ? are they such corporatised science 'tragics', without sufficient belief in their GM position that they refuse to even engage in proper, public discussion with those of different scientific assessment to their own ?

If GM technology actually DID what its advocators profess it does, it would confidently open itself up publicly to broadfaced, mutually agreed upon, independent scrutiny and study, and genuine, intelligent debate.

This biased event is just another example of how Club Biotech has pimped the scientific, and agricultural, communities.

Perhaps the 'G' in GM could also stand for 'gutless'.

Or GM could also stand for 'Gullible Manipulation' ( Manipulation of the Gullible ).

Get some balls Science Museum.

outis said:

People's comments are incredibly fierce! I've been to the exhibition, and the thing it seems to me to try hardest to do is to start a conversation. Conversation is good, as is careful and dispassionate examination of the evidence. Somehow it feels rather as though some of the people who have posted here have made up their minds long ago. Is that wise? If there's anything that can be said for sure about not only the GM debate but also all sorts of food and agriculture issues, its that these are very complicated, emotive and important, and as such, it behooves us all the more to approach them in a spirit of humility and, dare I say it, open mindedness.

DaveG said:

LoveChild: Not all the speakers are pro-GM. Bob Watson - ex World Bank and White House advisor - has just produced the IAASTD report that is very anti-GM (and he is now working for DEFRA).
Nobody should tell farmers that they must not buy patented seeds. That is the farmer's decision based on experience and what others are doing. Nobody tells us we cannot download protected iTunes or buy DVDs.

Shanthu Shantharam said:

The GM debate so polarized that no matter what one says or does the polarized debaters will not agree on basic facts. This GM debate has gone beyond any more reasonable discussion. It is now an ideological battle front. The cosumers will be the ultimate deciders as thye are the ones who will have to shell down money from their pockets to buy them. If they pay to buy GM foods, it will surive or it will perish. Any more talk fest is a wate of time. Nobody's mind is going to be changed.

Irish ShaneM's spilt seed said:

My cousin asks a good question: "Where are the quality 'No GM' speakers ?" for which I can provide an indisputably correct answer.
There aren't any.

Robert Wager Canada said:

I respectfully disagree about the public. The vast majority do not have interest in the debate at all. They care about price, quality and quantity. if GM crops help in those fronts then they will buy them. The debaste is between a small group of people perhaps 2% and the scientists and governments who have studied the science. BTW the book mentioned above is almost entirely pseudoscience. Have a look at my website if you want to learn about the science of GMO's.

ShaneM's illegitimate nephew said:

Opponents of GM always turn out to be opponents of something else instead, like corporations, globalization, whatever. Experts in the science itself aren't against it. People who want "a debate" about GM want to pit facts vs. politics, but it's not a debate when people aren't talking about the same things.

Celtic ShaneM stud said:

I have to agree in regard to the lack of good anti-GM speakers.....but then again Michael Meacher MP could be comically entertaining at least.....

DaveG said:

Sylvia: If we do nothing then you're right: large American companies will control our global food supply.
Imagine you are the UK Transport Minister 60 years ago concerned about US domination of air transport. Options: 1) revamp Comet; 2) buy Boeing planes and compete with the US by undercutting running costs; 3) get together with the rest of Europe and design the Airbus.
We are still in stage 1) for our agriculture - farming with obsolete crops needing high inputs. We need strategy 2): buy seed from Monsanto to give us breathing space to develop strategy 3): our own GM `farming-Airbus' - easily done with pan-European scientific skills. Brazil, India, and China are passing stage 2) and heading fast for stage 3) with their GM crop research and development.
But NGOs such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, founded in N. America, and `over here', `over-funded' and are trying to wreck our agriculture (as Greenpeace `International' still is trying to wreck our air transport by blocking Heathrow runway 3).

Bob Orskov said:

From my experience in develoing countries in many years I would never recomment any of the GM systems and methods . Their science is shallow their methods based on money fopr a few and has already caused poverty rather than alliviating poverty. There are so many better methods based on complementary multiculture rather that herbicide resistent monoculture . The former is good for soil plants and people. More labour consuming maybe but labour saving inapprpropriate methods are never a solutions. Please listen to GM protagonists very carefully you will find their motives generally based on short term benifits for shareholders.

Mark Preston said:

I think we are missing the point here - it doesn't matter if GM foods are safe or not because we shouldn't use them or need to use them. The world needs more food because there are just too many people. We might all have a ‘right’ to breed but we evolved in an environment where many didn’t make it to adulthood – so over population didn’t occur. We now have technology that means that so many more people survive and therefore the planet is running into problems.
If we solve the food problems (with or without GM), and keep breeding, we will find ourselves at the door of another problem. Not enough water? (this is already happening). Not enough air? Not enough space to lay down and sleep?
Eventually we are going to have to do something about the world population: otherwise we are going to end up standing up to our knees in our own waste, sick and dying on a wrecked planet.
The time to start doing something is now – before we start genetically modifying and messing about with things that we don’t understand. Population control is essential and inevitable. The sooner we get on with it the less painful it will be and the better off everyone will be.
GM can then be relegated to the history books as the ‘accident that didn’t happen’.

Nikki said:

Isn't this supposed to be a debate about GM crops not about who is debating?

Jo Ripley said:

I am opposed to GM technology in agriculture for pragmatic rather than ideological reasons. There are animal feeding studies showing serious concerns about the health impacts of eating GM food. The farm scale trials in this country certainly justified concerns about the impact to our biodiversity resulting from agronomic practices related to growing GM herbicide resistant crops and figures from the US show an increase in pesticide use with the growing of GM crops.

These crops, like all moncultures, are reliant on fossil fuel for the pesticides and nitrate fertilisers, the production and application of which results in large emissions of CO2 and nitrous oxide. These crops are also hastening deforestation as land is cleared for agricultural expansion and causing large-scale soil erosion (depleting the soil of its carbon content and further exacerbating climate change).

I do not believe that modern intensive agriculture, of which GM is a part, seeks to feed the poor of the world. Many of the GM crops grown are for animal feed - necessary for intensive meat production and not destined for the billions who go hungry every day. The corporate control over food production and the prohibition on farmers to save seed also undermines the economic independence of farmers globally.

Last year’s report by the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development recommends that small-scale farming and agro-ecological methods are the way forward to solve the food crisis and meet the needs of local communities. Studies show that that small, mixed farms (everywhere) produce more food per hectare than large farms. Indeed while the Green Revolution (and GM crops have been heralded as the second Green Revolution) produced greater yields of staple crops, the pesticides and herbicides needed to sustain such agriculture wiped out other food crops that are not measured on the world market but made up the diet of local communities. The long-term efficiency of these yields is anyway being called into question, as the soil fertility is undermined.

Small-scale sustainable agriculture is also vastly more resilient to changing climatic conditions. After the powerful hurricane (Mitch) devastated much of Central America,
a study of over 1800 conventional and sustainable farms showed that the latter fared better. Diversified plots had 20% to 40% more topsoil, suffering far less erosion, and experienced fewer economic losses than their conventional farm neighbours.

Finally, while non-GM breeding techniques (e.g.marker-assisted breeeding) are making real progress in developing crops that can tolerate heat, floods and drought, current claims for GM technology appear to be over-hyped and unproven and a long way off – (and first we need to be reassured about exisitng concerns relating to GM crops and food). Data also consistently shows no increase in GM crops yields and often a reduction.

Dr Harish Kumar said:

One can go on debating on GM vs NON GMO crops but the matter of fact is that there are certain pest problems in rice and vegetables which have not been effectively managed with conventional approaches to solve pest problems over the past several decades. In view of this, we do need GMO approach in combination with the conventional one to tackle those pest problems. I do agree that we need a great deal of transparency in showing the impact of GMO crops on the environment and human health. So long as we are honest about what we do, I think no approach to increase food production can be harmful.


Vince said:

The issue of ownership and control of the intellectual property by american coprorations is often used as a reason for not acceptiing GM technology. Whilst it is true that the US corporates have released most of the material in the market now, this is because the EU have consistently caved in to the anti-gm movement to the extent that it is only the brave who would invest in the technology outside of the US. Indeed the level of regulation around GM outside of the US means that the US corporates will continue to dominate the technology for the forseeable future. It has meant that those who would benefit most, be it farmers or the environment through lower use of pesticied and energy in tilling will pay (sometimes the ultimate) price.

Jen said:

Why can we not leave nature alone? Is it worth meddling and possibly ruining what we have to find something "better"?

robert said:

it is a big mess isn't it?

Katya Kumkova said:

Dear debaters:

I am a journalist based in New York writing about science cafes, and informal scientific debate more broadly. The article will be published in the Russian Snob Magazine, which comes out monthly and is distributed throughout Russia and in major world cities, including London, New York, Paris and Berlin.

I would be extremely grateful to hear from you about why you've decided to enter into the debate about GM here on the Dana Center/Science Museum website. Did you go to the lecture? Do you keep up with science news generally? (Is that because you are a scientist or because you're simply interested?)

Please e-mail me at if you are willing to contribute to my article at katyakumkova@gmail.com I would be extremely grateful to hear from you! (I should mention that I am under deadline as I write this on March 12.)

Many, many thanks in advance!

Sincerely,

Katya Kumkova
Snob.ru
+1 (510) 2857693

aj said:

everyone has their opion but if we have been eating it for year why bother more about now and not when it started it is ok to eat it so why dont we just give it a rest and just to give it a trail period

Cade said:

December last year, I saw some Greenpeace people getting signatures for it to stop. Fortunately, no one seemed to care enough to sign. Some of their other causes like Global Warming are really well, a cause. By the way, what do you think of this:
http://www.jpgbox.com/jpg/2392_1280x1024...
It's a drawing of a hot dog eating a cat by a 5th grader. They fear it's artificial because so it's bad for the earth but is everything artificial bad? Is it even artificial?
Anyways, haven't we been doing it for ages? By hybriding stuff. For example, take the humble carrot. It was never orange before. It only became orange in the 16th century. It existed in Purple,White,Red and more varieties. Isn't that Genetic Modification? It's just coincidentally done in laboratories to make it faster. More EFFICIENT. Plus, it helps the crops withstand pests,fungi and yield more produce without the use of pesticides. There are more produce harvested per hectare of farmland. One more thing is that it makes some foods more nutritious. There's this thing called Golden Rice (http://www.goldenrice.org/). You see, in poor countries like in Africa,etc. lots of children go blind because of malnutrition. Now this rice provides Vitamin A in the form of Beta-Carotene and other nutrients to help aid in malnutrition. This is to HELP the poor countries and poor people. Now what is their other source? Oh, yes to buy supplements from those BIG pharmaceutical companies which is most of the time not so affordable but most importantly ARTIFICIAL. The very thing they are trying to prevent. It's this kind of ignorance that holds back the human race. Remember all those scientific pioneers? The earth is round, the earth is not the center of the universe. Sure they got heavy criticism from those ignorant individuals who are blinded by their beliefs. Remember when the church in the middle ages burned or tortured countless INNOCENT women as they feared they were witches? (Although i'm not against the church as I am a catholic) We need to open our eyes if we don't want to die.

Thales said:

I dont think "taking sides" in any of the subjects would be competely correct. some of the GM ideas seem realy good, like the clover genes, and the wild potatoe gene, while their non-gm conterparts give the same results but in a do it yourself kind of way. in the long run GM would be better world wide since a potatoe farmer wouldnt have to buy chikens to eat bugs (plus, what happens when the chiken are full?) and go clover hunting so he can tie it to every single crop he has. We should employ both methods; non gm now, just so we have a quick solution, and GM later as it becomes perfected and people stop being so whiny. But hey thats just me.

Stuart said:

Having people dig in my garbage for some thing to eat, can be no worse for there health than GM foods. In Africa life has become far too cheap, and people in "looked after" countries take forgranted the fact that other are staving to death world wide. Anything to fill you up will be better than nothing, because if you have nothing you die! Any-one who argues about GM foods is wishing the death of many.

Joe B said:

I agree that we must implement GM as it is the only current alternative we have to feeding a growing world. However, do not think for a moment that just because millions eat GM foods every day means that GM poses no health problems. No-where near enough reasearch has been put in to un-earth the long term health possibilities, only when this generation is dead and gone will we truly be able to tell if GM has NO long term health problems. In the meantime, we can only hope that is does not, as it is currently the only way we can survive.

One final note: for those that think modifying something is wrong, think of this; if you had to have a heart transplant to save your life, would you say yes? If you do, you are modifying yourself. Is GM different?

ale said:

ugh youur all dumb
stupid nerds because of youu
earth is dying help me jesus
we need guidance we've been missled
im young but not stupid we
really need to see this through if we really want this to work out for the better of the world
just start gardening at home save youur seld some money and youu'll kno what youur eatin cuz youu planted it youu'll kno it doesnt have fertilizing S#!+
so dont be fn(K!ug stupid!!!!!!!!

p.s its my birthday:)

Dick Moelee said:

1 Yes, companies providing seeds will benefit from it. What's wrong with that? They also provide labor and jobs. Same is true for other industries like farmaceuticals and so on.
2 As long as people choose "en masse" to eat fastfood, and a huge % of humanity is overweight, worries about this subject seem to be irrelevant.
3 The western world has a choice to select whatever food they want. The majority of the worlds population does not. They eat whatever they can lay their hands on,manipulated or not. As long as this could save lifes and contribute to quality of life, it seems to be acceptable.
Other ingredients seem to be socially excepted, although they are proven to be harmful, like alcohol, tobacco and fat.