Thursday, 23 January 2014

GMO: Don’t Judge Before You Know


I believe we should harness the latest technology to solve food dilemmas.  This is why I posted a photo of me and the  excellent Minister for Agriculture, Owen Paterson with“GMO:  Don’t Judge Before You Know” T-Shirts. 

I don’t believe that every genetic alteration should be given a blanket approval - just like you won't give every possible genetic treatment in human medicine a blanket approval - but here are just some that I think we actively encourage.

Golden Rice.  Everyone knows the saying that Carrots help you see in the dark.  It contains β-carotene (vitamin A) which also plays a central part in the immune system.   10 million children under 5 die every year, about 40 percent of children in developing countries are deficient in vitamin A making them more vulnerable to disease and infection.  Normal Rice plants produce β-carotene in the leaves but not the grain.  In "Golden Rice" two naturally occurring genes have been inserted into genome so that the vital vitamin also occurs in the grain.  This simple crop could save millions of lives.  It is supported by Greenpeace founder Dr Patrick Moore.

Blight free potato.   Remember the Irish potato famine, in the UK our farmers have to spray potato crops with fungicide about 15 times each season.  Back in 2010 in Norwich I saw how a wild South American blight resistant mini potato had been crossed into a common supermarket "Desire".   Potatoes are grown from tubers not seeds so they cant pollinate others.   A crop like this could really reduce reliance on agricultural-chemicals and help the environment.

The Aphid resisting wheat - which I saw at Rothamsted Research in Hertfordshire in 2012.  Here the type of gene which occurs naturally in peppermint was inserted into wheat. As a result the wheat gives off a pheromone “smell” which repels aphids (greenflies, blackflies etc) and attracts aphid preditors (like ladybirds).   This was not a commercial trial, but in the long term this type of research could lead to far lower levels of pesticide use.   The trail plant was a spring wheat crop which meant that there could be no cross contamination with the more usually grown autumn wheats.

Purple Tomatoes -  I have seen these growing in a research greenhouse in Cambridgeshire.  The purple comes from a snap-dragon plant gene.  The aim of these trial is to provide more foods which are high in anti-oxidants.   It is thought that including these tomatoes in ones diet may help reduce risk of coronary heart disease and cancer.  

Gluten free wheat - Scientist presented their work on this at the conference on GMOs in Brussels this week.  This could be a really great break through for millions of sufferers of Coeliac Disease.