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GM Crops Can Help Bolster Global Food Security, Scientists Say In Special Journal Issue

Acceptance of genetically modified (GM) crops in agriculture will help bolster global food security as the world faces population growth and the potential effects of climate change, Nina Fedoroff, science and technology advisor to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, and colleagues write in an article published in a special issue of the journal Science, the Times of London reports.  

Fedoroff “heads a group of senior researchers who call … for a ‘radical rethink’ of farm practice to meet 21st-century demand for food,” the Times writes. In the paper, the scientists – who include agriculture researchers, biologists and climate experts – write, “There is a critical need to get beyond popular biases against the use of agricultural biotechnology and develop forward-looking regulatory frameworks based on scientific evidence.”

They “point to a little-reported effect of the 2003 European heat wave as a harbinger of things to come. ‘The 20 to 36 percent decrease in the yields of grains and fruits that summer drew little attention. But if the climate scientists are right, summers will be that hot on average by mid-century'” (Henderson, 2/12).

A second article, published in the journal, finds “that keeping up with humanity’s needs as numbers and appetites crest toward mid-century poses big challenges,” the New York Times’ blog, “Dot Earth,” reports. But the paper also notes that a “sustained focus on efficiency, technology and policy innovations can do the trick,” according to the blog. Though the authors outline a variety of uses for GM crops, they caution that “technology alone is far from sufficient if policies are not shifted to advance the appropriate use of the right agricultural strategy or tool in the right place,” according to “Dot Earth.”

“In the end, they say, one reality has to be a shift from simply boosting production to a new, interdisciplinary focus on getting the most food value with the least loss of land and other resources,” the blog notes (Revkin, 2/11). 

The special Feb. 12 issue of Science “examines the obstacles to achieving global food security and some promising solutions,” according to the introduction in the journal. “Scientists and engineers can make a big difference at every step from field to fork, from providing new strategies to smallholder farmers who must balance the needs of livestock and crops … to helping farmers get the most from fertilizers, water … soil … and seeds … Innovation will be key to monitoring all stages of food production … from defending harvests against pests and disease … to providing critical information and infrastructure … And training enough scientists in all these areas will be essential,” the authors write (Ash et al., 2/12).

In addition to other articles on agriculture science and food security, Science profiles David Kalule Okello, “one of East Africa’s most promising weapons in the battle against hunger.” Okello, who leads Uganda’s national groundnut [peanut] research program at the National Semi-Arid Resources Research Institute (NaSARRI), “is charged with ensuring that the country is adequately supplied with the right quantity and quality of the crop, a job that includes developing drought-tolerant, pest-resistant varieties of the nut, assessing farmers’ requirements across the country, and informing them about optimal planting strategies,” according to the journal.

The article looks at Okello’s career track and discusses the various agricultural projects he is involved with (Vince, 2/12).