An international conference being held today in Norwich is setting the stage for a high profile debate on the issues surrounding use of biotechnology in tackling global hunger. But pressure group, Action Aid, believes that the high profile debaters are missing the point, however, and has invited affected representatives in developing countries to participate in a rival conference in the same city.

So-called “Golden Rice” has received a mixed press to date. Biotechnology advocates argue that it will save millions of lives, alleviating hunger and preventing child blindness in developing countries through its vitamin A enriched composition.

On the other hand however, environmental action groups such as Greenpeace UK completely oppose genetic engineering. From the group, Charlie Kronick comments: “[we] oppose GM crops because the technology is unpredictable, imprecise and irretrievable.” They argue that “it is based on unsound nutritional science – a genetic engineer’s approach to hunger [:…] a technical “fix” to economic and social problems such as poverty is no solution.”

Either way, Action Aid believes that the debaters are missing the point, and are failing to involve the very people that are expected to reap the benefits, or drawbacks, from GM rice. It is therefore attempting to establish a series of court style “citizens’ juries” to discuss more sustainable methods of farming and vitamin A provision in developing countries. 

“The great and the good who assemble for the conference at the government-funded John Innes research centre will need to demonstrate more 20:20 vision than just talking among themselves. Global power brokers in particular must heed the voices of the poor, not impose unilateral prescriptions under the guise of humanitarian aid or succour,” explains Action Aid policy director, Koy Thomson.

The group stress that 75% of the population in developing countries relies heavily on farming to live and needs to be better informed and consulted over the issue of GM crops.