Canberra: Japan and Europe need to embrace genetically modified, or GM, wheat to combat food shortages in poor countries, rather than pander to consumer fears, the head of a global wheat research institute said on Wednesday.
Resistance from the public and consumer groups in rich countries to GM wheat has forced major producing countries, such as Australia, the US and Canada, to steer away from growing GM crops.
But GM crops can boost yields and help poor countries feed their people at a time of food shortages and rising world prices, said Thomas Lumpkin, head of Mexico-based International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre.
“Governments should try to help the public appreciate how much the high price of food affects the poor in developing countries,” Lumpkin said on Wednesday. “By denying them this technology, you are keeping them hungry.”
Wheat and maize account for 40% of world’s food and 25% of calories consumed in developing countries, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation.
Wheat prices have more than doubled from 2006 to March 2008’s peak of $454 (Rs20,112 today) a tonne, before falling back. Food prices rose 50% worldwide over the same period.
The maize and wheat improvement centre is a global wheat research centre with offices in 100 developing countries, and aims to improve livelihoods and boost food security in developing nations.
No commercial GM wheat currently exists in world markets due to strong opposition by consumer and environmental groups in many countries.
But several biotech crop developers, notably Monsanto Co. and Syngenta AG, have done extensive work in developing different types of biotech wheat. Monsanto, however, has shelved its herbicide-resistant wheat project and Syngenta has slowed the pace of its work on a disease-resistant wheat because of the widespread opposition.
The European Union has not approved any genetically modified crops for a decade and the 27 member countries often clash on the issue.
“That is really holding up Canada, the US and Australia,” Lumpkin said. Countries that bans GM crops, he said, were being short-sighted. “If we get a major drought in those countries, then prices will be up to five times what they are today,” he said. “A lot of people will die.”