Nieuws - 13 juni 2013

'One extra gene won't change the ecosystem'

People in favour of/opposed to genetic modification debate the issue in Forum.
'Not a solution for farmers in Africa.'

Do we need genetic modification (GM) to feed the world? A lot of students want an answer to this question, as is clear from the big turnout for the GMO debate organized by Independent Critical Student Group in Forum on 7 June. Prominent speakers from the academic world and the business community took part in the debate, which was held a week after around fifteen thousand people demonstrated in Wageningen against GM conglomerate Monsanto.  
Speaker Pim Lindhout can look back on a long career as a plant breeder, first as a university researcher and then as the R&D director of plant breeding companies. 'I was only as old as you are now when the first GM crop was developed,' he told the students in the room. 'Researchers didn't trust the technology then and agreed a moratorium. Forty years on, we know so much more about the dynamics of the genome. One extra gene will not change the ecosystem.'
The opposing party still does not trust the technology. Genetic modification sets off processes in the plant that we do not underĀ­stand, says Michael Antoniou, from King's College in London. The risk analyses showing that GM crops cause disease are cited, while the analyses showing no relationship are not independent, according to the opposing party. They make the connection with the dominant market position of companies such as Monsanto, which promote GM crops for their own financial gain.
Who pays?
What did the two hundred people in the audience think? They were able to respond to statements by raising a green card or red card. Half think we need GMOs, a majority think Wageningen UR should invest in GM research but a majority also thinks GM crops will not help farmers in Africa.
At the end, Pim Lindhout still had a question. Last year, he patented a non-GM technique with his company Solynta that enables rapid development of resistant potatoes. 'Now I need 10 million euros from investors. I recently visited Greenpeace. I asked them: if I don't want to get funds from Monsanto (his former employer, ed.) or Syngenta, who will be funding that potato? The Greenpeace people didn't have anything to say to that.'