This week, readers of the Biofortified Blog are in for a treat. The Journal Nature has a special feature on genetically engineered crops, complete with editorials, perspectives, and an article on the next generation of these crops featuring some people who you may find familiar. Here are a few snippets to give you a taste of it.
The analyst who spoke of an uninformed public may have been correct in 1993, but such a claim no longer applies. People are positively swimming in information about GM technologies. Much of it is wrong — on both sides of the debate. But a lot of this incorrect information is sophisticated, backed by legitimate-sounding research and written with certitude. (With GM crops, a good gauge of a statement’s fallacy is the conviction with which it is delivered.)
In the nearly two decades since they were first commercialized, genetically modified (GM) crops have gained ground on their conventional counterparts. The vast majority are grown in five countries. Four crops feature, with two main traits: herbicide tolerance and insect resistance.
Researchers, farmers, activists and GM seed companies all stridently promote their views, but the scientific data are often inconclusive or contradictory. Complicated truths have long been obscured by the fierce rhetoric. “I find it frustrating that the debate has not moved on,” says Dominic Glover, an agricultural socioeconomist at Wageningen University and Research Centre in the Netherlands. “The two sides speak different languages and have different opinions on what evidence and issues matter,” he says.
This month marks the 30th anniversary of the first successful introduction of a foreign gene into a plant (L. Herrera-Estrella et al. Nature 303, 209–213; 1983). To overcome today’s huge agricultural hurdles, we should move to a model that combines the best features of transgenic technology with those of organic and conventional farming.
When the first genetically modified (GM) organisms were being developed for the farm, says Anastasia Bodnar, “we were promised rocket jet packs” — futuristic, ultra-nutritious crops that would bring exotic produce to the supermarket and help to feed a hungry world.
That’s right, you saw what you saw. Read the special issue, and let us know what you think!