By EMMA ROSS, Associated Press Writer
|Updated 4:02 PM ET July 11, 2000
LONDON (AP) - To combat world hunger, rich nations must boost
funding for research into genetically modified crops and poor
farmers must be protected from corporate control of the
technology, a group of science academies said Tuesday.
In an unprecedented report by seven independent academies from
both the developed and developing world, experts agreed that
genetic modification of crops is crucial to addressing the problem
of the world's growing population and shrinking land for growing
Today, "800 million people don't have access to enough
food," said Brian Heap, vice president of Britain's Royal
Society and chairman of the group that wrote the report.
"Increasing production without increasing land use will
require substantial increases in yields per acre. This technology
needs to be used in the future," he said.
Genetically modified, or transgenic, crops are created when
scientists introduce a gene from one species into another. The
technique can be used to make crops more resistant to disease and
pests, fortify them with extra vitamins or vaccines, and boost
their tolerance to drought.
The academies' report, launched in London by the Royal Society,
urged companies and research institutions to share their knowledge
and called for a ban on broad patents covering GM technology.
Corporations must have incentives to produce characteristics
needed in the developing world, and small farmers in developing
nations should enjoy special exemptions from licensing agreements,
the report said.
Meanwhile, the public sector must create more genetically
modified crops that benefit poor farmers in developing nations,
such as corn, rice, wheat, yams, plantains and sweet potatoes, it
"The long-term decline of public agricultural research,
the increasing privatization of GM technologies and the growing
emphasis on the crops and priorities of the industrialized nations
do not bode well for feeding the increasing populations of the
developing world," the report said.
The document was a consensus of opinions from the Royal
Society, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the Third World
Academy of Sciences and the science academies of China, Brazil,
India and Mexico.
Investigations into the effects GM crops have on the
environment should be coordinated, and public health regulators in
every country need to identify and monitor any potential adverse
effects on human health, the academies said.
Worldwide, 74 million acres have been planted with genetically
modified crops, mainly in the United States. Other countries
embracing the technology include Argentina, Canada, Australia and
"China is likely to become one of the world leaders in
this field," Heap said. "China has recognized the
importance of the technology for feeding its people."
But the issue of genetically altered crops has become
politically charged elsewhere, particularly in Europe, where
anxiety about food safety runs high after a crisis in the
mid-1990s over mad cow disease that led to a ban on British beef
European Union licensing of new genetically modified products
and patents has stalled in recent years because of perceived
"The European debate is interfering with trade," said
Dr. Wallace Beversdorf, head of research and development in the
seeds sector at Novartis AG, the Swiss-based pharmaceutical and
biotechnology company. "The biggest limiting factor now is
the debate over consumer acceptance and trade."
Beversdorf noted that Thailand recently turned down the
opportunity to grow genetically modified rice for fear it would
not be able to export it.
"Europe is exceedingly important in terms of global
development because it's a big market," he said.
Biotechnology companies welcomed the report and said industry
help to developing nations was not new.
Novartis gives free genetically modified sweet potato seeds to
Vietnam and trained scientists there how to introduce genes that
make the crop resistant to weevils.
Monsanto, which said Tuesday it agrees on the need to share
technology to combat world hunger, recently made public its draft
of the rice genome.