Blog: Katy AskewGMO debate continues to prove divisive

Katy Askew | 16 July 2013

The debate over genetically modified foods continues to prove divisive, eliciting strong feeling on both sides of the argument.

On the one hand, those in the pro-GM lobby highlight increased crop yields and the potential of harvests that are increasingly hardy and resilient to disease. With a finite amount of resources such as land and water available to produce food for the world's growing population, science is the answer, the pro-GMO camp argues.

On the other side of the coin, environmentalists warn of the impact of cross-polinisation. Once you introduce GM crops into an area of cultivation, it is all but impossible to prevent cross-fertilisation. Meanwhile, consumers are wary that long-term health problems - as yet undiscovered - could result from the consumption of GMOs. Franken-fruit remains a scary and unknown quantity.

Detractors also point to issues around the intellectual property ownership of genetic codes, with agri-giants such as Monsanto standing to gain from the ability to sell GMO seeds to crop varieties whose DNA they can claim ownership over.

The line in the sand between those who support and oppose GMOs has been drawn for years. However, the debate appears to be intensifying on the global stage.

In the UK, environment minister Owen Paterson recently called for an "informed debate" over GM foods, seemingly throwing his weight behind the pro-GM camp.

"While I fully understand and respect the different opinions that exist on this issue, part of the discussion I hope today will initiate will be around the body of scientific evidence behind this technology, the rigorous controls that are already in place and the wealth of benefits on offer," Paterson said.

On a recent trip to China, just-food saw first hand that the question of genetic modification is drawing just as much heat there. "There is a lot of attention on GMOs at the moment. The debate is back and forth... People are scared of the health implications," one industry pundit observed. "At the moment, people have no choice because GMOs are not labelled."

Meanwhile, in the US a new battle ground has emerged over the issue of labelling. At the federal level, regulators have declined to implement any GMO labelling requirements. However, states such as Connecticut and Maine have passed GMO labelling legislation - regulations that will only come into effect if enough states pass similar requirements.

All eyes have therefore turned to Washington state, which is preparing to vote on the issue this November. According to local reports - and in typical American fashion - money is pouring into the state to fund campaigns on both sides of the argument.

While all is still to play for as the debate rages, what is clear is the extreme polarisation of opinion that the question continues to raise.


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