domingo, 20 de maio de 2012

Countries should support the use of safe products from whatever technology, including biotech (Sustainable development for fighting poverty - Food and nutrition security - Rio+20 -

(this post was sent to riodialogues)

Mankind will reach 9 million beings in a few decades. To increase food production, at the same time sparing water resources, land area and other vital elements, we must incorporate new technologies. To reject a priori a technology is an efficient way to hamper the fight against hunger. New products should, however, be evaluated in a case-by-case approach.  Therefore, we should encourage the use of new food production strategies, including marine food production, improved beef/milk/egg production, etc, as well as new foods as algae, mushrooms and insects. Following this line of reasoning, we should also encourage biotechnology. After more than 10 years of use, reaching now more than 150 mi. hectares in dozens of countries, with absolutely no impact either on biodiversity or health (besides those already observed with the conventional crops), biotech crops can be regarded as generally safe. 

New biotech crops will be draught tolerant, more nutritious, plague resistant and easier to manage. New fish will growth faster, less prone to disease. Pig and chicken products will be healthier and there will be less stool impact on the environment. The list of potential benefits is very large and continues to increase. Should we disregard all these potential benefits? Are fears against agrobiotech evidence-based? I do not know a single example.

Genetic modification: past and future

In the context of agrobiotech, some people argue that we cannot change the genetic content of a plant, as this could lead to a serious disruption of the environment balance. But Mankind is changing plant genomes for thousands of years: Mayas did that with corn, people in Southeast Asia did the same with bananas, sugarcane, etc. Europeans drastically changes their common vegetables by selecting natural mutants and artificially producing hybrids. Just by looking at it, who could imagine that corn came from teosintl? Or that sugarcane is a mixture of more than 4 plants which very seldom cross to each other? Even our animals (including the dog) have been “improved” to fulfill our needs. More recently, thousands of new plants came to the market, with new traits obtained by chemical of Gamma-ray  mutagenesis. They are regularly eaten and sown, without a trace of negative impact on human or animal health or on the environment. Most of these changes encompass hundreds, maybe thousands of genes. Even with mutagenesis, we cannot be sure that other genes besides the target were kept unchanged, not to say of intergenic regions. In modern biotechnology new genes are introduced or the genome is changed in a predicted way, certainly much safer than mutagenesis or inter-species crossing. 

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