Microsoft owner Gates told the BBC’s Today programme that GM techniques had a place alongside more conventional methods, particularly if they prevented many people dying of starvation.
He said: “Some of the work we [The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation] are doing to create new seeds involves GM techniques, but a lot of it does not. What we end up with is a set of products with which African countries can decide what they want to use.
“It’s a little bit like using drugs; you have to have scientists look at the risks. If the risk is very low and it can prevent starvation, then the tool may go into use.”
Gates’ view was supported by CPA chief executive Dominic Dyer. He urged policy makers to recognise that access to the most advanced farming technologies was “essential” to tackle the growing food poverty crisis.
“The key challenge therefore is to persuade decision-makers at an EU level that future farm policies must reflect the pressing global need to produce more food,” he added.
“The reality is that current EU policy in areas such as biotechnology and crop protection is blocking progress and stifling investment in new research.”
Dyer also said that consumers tended to understand the link between domestic food prices and the impact of global factors such as population growth, climate change and rising oil prices.
As a result, they were more willing to embrace the use of agricultural innovation and therefore increase food supplies, he added.
His comments follow Tuesday’s Opposition Day debate in the House of Commons, which saw MPs discussing the challenge of rising food prices and the impact of food poverty on the diets of lower income households in the UK.
Science and technology
The CPA is now calling on the EU to prevent prejudice blocking the advancement of science and technology by creating a science-based regulatory environment for the agricultural sector.
“Advances in plant science and crop protection will continue to be denied to Europe’s food producers and consumers without a science-based EU regulatory environment,” warned Dyer.
Gates agreed that the contribution of research and development to increased productivity had been neglected in recent years.
He said: “There was a miracle of increased farm productivity, called the Green Revolution, in the 70s but then in the last decade we backed off. Now we’re realising that was a mistake. We need to get back in there and fund the research and education.”
“It’s amazing that if you give farmers, who have these small plots of land, better seeds and train them better, then with their extra output, they send their kids to better schools and they make sure they’re kids have enough nutrition. It really makes a fundamental difference in their lives.”
Gates is set give a talk at the London School of Economics at 1pm today, where he will cover the key themes of his annual letter from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.