LSE Enters the GMO Discussion

By Marshall Matz

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

The prestigious London School of Economics (LSE) and the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation and have entered the GMO discussion with a new report entitled “Feeding the Planet in a Warming World.”  With the 39th G-8 summit to be held in Northern Ireland June 17-18, the LSE report is quite timely and significant. The agenda for the upcoming meeting established by Prime Minister David Cameron will continue the discussion of global food security started by President Obama last year at Camp David. 

The LSE report offers insight and possible solutions to mitigating the rapidly growing challenge of global food security. Therefore, allow me to quote from the Executive Summary at some length:

“Even in the most ideal circumstances, diffusing existing agricultural technologies and practices is not enough to address the challenges we will face in the coming decades. In light of this, we propose several solutions.  In particular, we argue that the critical, game changing solutions for building global agricultural resilience will come only from expanding the innovation and adoption of next-generation crops and agricultural practices. We need new and improved crop varieties that use less water, deliver increased yields and improved nutrition, and have built-in means for repelling insect pests, resisting disease, and withstanding extreme heat, cold, rain and drought. Agriculture will need every existing tool in the box, as well as the development of new ones, including the use of demonstrably safe crops improved through modern biotechnology, commonly referred to as genetically modified organisms (GMOs) or transgenics…


Governments worldwide should reform GMO regulations. There is no agricultural policy change that could be adopted with more positive impacts and fewer downsides than drastically reducing regulations applied to crops improved through biotechnology. Foods derived from crops or animals improved through biotechnology have been subjected to more extensive scrutiny than any other agricultural product in human history. Humans and livestock have consumed billions upon billions of meals derived wholly or in part from these improved agricultural varieties for nearly two decades, which have sustained a strong record of safety for humans and the environment. Yet these innovative products, which are developed and brought to market with precise, predictable and safe techniques, are subjected to regulatory obstacles that dwarf those faced by older products and obsolete technologies, some with genuinely problematic legacies.”


These strong and bold conclusions were reinforced last week in a report issued by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs entitled “Agricultural Innovation: The United States in a Changing Global Reality.”  The report states, in short, that through technology and research the agricultural community can meet the challenges of severe weather conditions and nutritionally-insufficient crops, as well as cope with dwindling arable land.

The LSE and the Chicago Council on Global Affairs hit the nail on the head. The world is headed toward its biggest global food security crisis in history and that crisis can only be averted by taking full advantage of scientific innovation.  The G-8 must embrace the full range of scientific advances in agriculture, particularly when it comes to water conservation.  Most of the planet's fresh water is used for agriculture. Israel has been the pioneer in water technology, and the recycling of water.  Powered by solar energy, Israel's drip irrigation system places a single drop of water on the roots of a plant or tree with the precise amount of nutrients needed for local conditions. 

Tractors that use GPS can reduce the use of inputs to the minimal amounts required. New seeds produced through green biotechnologies can reduce the use of water and adapt to climate change, improve resistance to pests, restore soil fertility and contribute to the diversification of the rural economy.

However, the use of these new technologies by developed countries is not enough. We must also share the research with the rest of the world. After all, global food security, by definition, affects us all.  According to USDA Secretary Vilsack, “Data is a very powerful tool, and an important asset for innovation…The U.S. is committed to openness in government, and that includes expanded access to scientific data.  We [the United States] have a history of achieving great things by providing open access to data.”

The G-8's Open Data Conference coordinated by the United States and USDA earlier this week was an important step forward. The conference encouraged openness and transparency. In order to accomplish those objectives efficiently, two steps are required:  1. The G-8 countries and the other world leaders in agriculture must synchronize their regulatory and data systems to get on the same page; and 2. The full use of new advances in communication technology must be used to bring agriculture information and data to Africa and other developing regions of the world.   Africa has jumped over telephone lines and gone straight to satellite communication.  In a similar way, Africa can use technology and advanced communication to establish a high-tech extension service.  Dr. Aboubacar Diaby represented the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa at the Open Data Conference.  As he pointed out: “smallholder farmers who do not have tractors all have cell phones.” 

Dr. Diaby discusses technology with Paul Welbig of Raven Industries

In the next fifty years, farmers must produce more food than has been produced in the last 10,000 years combined.  In order to achieve that objective the G-8 and Europe, in particular, must make agricultural decisions based on science as recommended by the LSE, the Chicago Council, and the United Nations Report Resilient Planet, Resilient People.  If not, we are in deep, deep trouble. 

Last year, in the Camp David Declaration, the G-8 said, “We commit…to take to scale new technologies and other innovations that can increase sustainable agriculture productivity.”  In the Northern Ireland communiqué, the G-8 should explicitly embrace those technologies and innovations that can actually achieve the objective of sustainable global food security, including: smallholder mechanization; applied communication technology; drip irrigation with the precise use of inputs; and green biotechnologies. 


 About the Author:  Marshall Matz served as Counsel to the Senate Agriculture Committee and founded Friends of the World Food Program-USA.  He specializes on agriculture policy at OFW Law.    To contact Marshall:


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