Use of genetic modification (GM) depends on the "incontestable" ethical argument about whether it will help feed the poor in developing countries.
That's according to Erik Millstone, professor of science policy at the Science Policy Research Unit at the University of Sussex. Speaking at a debate on GM in London last month, Millstone argued that everyone's right to have a nutritious food supply was the fundamental issue. The debate was organised by the Royal Society of Chemistry and the Institute of Food Science & Technology.
"The GM trajectory needs to be independent of multinational corporate control," said Millstone. "It needs to be culturally sensitive to the particular conditions of farmers; generate employment and not displace labour; and improve resilience, not undermine it." Ultimately, he argued that GM needed to "diminish dependency, not increase it and it needs to be affordable, sustainable and risk reducing"
"So if we look at GM crops from an ethical standpoint, the criteria against which you should judge them is: are they contributing to the reduction of hunger, poverty and malnutrition and can they do so?" asked Millstone. To date, he said, firms developing GM crops had not met this benchmark.
"Chronic hunger, particularly in developing countries, is unacceptable and unnecessary.
"There is already more than enough food in this world to feed everybody," he argued. "The solution to feeding the hungry in developing countries is not simply to increase aggregate food supply." However, he accepted this might be necessary in the longer term. "GM may in good time contribute to that," he said. "I could see circumstances in which GM could benefit the rural poor in Sub-Saharan Africa."