By SEAN POULTER
Last updated at 09:22 16 April 2008
Genetically-modified crops are not the solution to spiralling food prices or Third World hunger, according to a powerful international report published yesterday.
Questions remain over their effects on human health and the environment, it warns.
Sixty governments, private industry, scientists, consumer groups and social campaigners have delivered a blueprint for global agriculture for the next 50 years.
It delivers a remarkable snub to "Frankenstein Foods" and the industrialisation of farming while offering a boost to organic and small-scale agriculture.
The authors also warned against the rush to grow crops to be turned into fuel - biofuels - saying this could exacerbate food shortages and price rises.
This represents a direct challenge to government policy in the UK, Europe and the U.S. Publication of the report triggered an international row after the U.S. government, which has attempted to impose GM crops on the world, refused to sign up to the global initiative.
The row carries echoes of the Americans' refusal to sign up to initiatives to tackle global warming.
The International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development has been working for five years to develop a new approach to world food production.
Its director, Professor Robert Watson, said the industrialisation of farming since the Second World War has failed to produce the food needed by the world.
As a result, while the families in the West have plenty to eat, some 850million people around the world go to bed hungry each night.
In recent months, GM companies, trade bodies and associated scientists have issued a deluge of propaganda suggesting biotech crops are the key to feeding the Third World.
Professor Watson and his team made clear that GM or transgenics - moving genes between plant species - was not the solution to providing plentiful cheap food.
He said: "Are transgenics the simple answer to hunger and poverty? I would argue, no."
He said much more research was needed to establish whether they offer benefits and do not harm the environment.
Professor Watson said the industrialisation of agriculture, of which GM is a part, has led to the heavy use of artificial fertilisers and other chemicals.
These have harmed the soil structure and polluted water ways.
The leeching of the soil of essential minerals means food is less healthy than 60 years ago.
The professor, a renowned expert on climate change and chief scientist at the UK food and farming department DEFRA, suggested organic farming practices offer many benefits.
UK GM crop trials have shown that associated farming practising destroy the weed population, removing food for bees, butterflies and other insects, and harm the food supply for birds.
There have been concerns the food could trigger unforeseen allergies.
Professor Janice Jiggins, of Wageningen University, questioned whether GM crops have been proven as safe.
"There are many legitimate concerns about the presence of transgenics in food, as well as the safety standards that might be appropriate as these enter into animal and human food," she said.
This week the Government and EU imposed new laws that will require all fuel pumped into cars to contain 2.5 per cent of biofuels.
It is suggested that turning crops such as maize, wheat and sugar cane into a biofuel will help the world reduce the creation of greenhouse gases.
However, the IAASTD said this policy - driven by the U.S. government - could be misplaced.
Professor Watson said giving over land to biofuels was one of a number of factors driving sharp increases in food prices in the last year.
The report was published simultaneously in the UK, Washington, Delhi, Paris, Nairobi and a number of other cities.
The U.S. government was joined by Canada and Australia, which are also supporters of GM farming, in refusing to sign up to the initiative.
Bodies representing global biotech companies, which include the likes of Monsanto, also walked out of discussions on the report after failing to get their way.
The UK Government has not yet signed up the report but Professor Watson indicated it has the full support of the Prime Minister.
Genetically-modified crops are not the solution to spiralling food prices or Third World hunger, according to a powerful international report published yesterday. Questions remain over their effects on human health and the environment, it warns