The increase in food costs will be triggered by the increasing world population, rising cost of fuel and increased competition for water, according to a leading Government think-tank.
Spiralling food prices will push hundreds of millions of people into hunger, trigger mass migration and spark civil unrest, the report warned.
The report, from Foresight, a think-tank set up to predict future crises, called for ‘urgent action’ to prevent food shortages, and said genetically modified crops may be needed to prevent famines.
Sir John Beddington argues that moves to block GM crops on moral grounds are no longer sustainable
Moves to block cultivation of genetically modified crops in the developing world can no longer be tolerated on ethical or moral grounds, the government’s chief scientist, Sir John Beddington, has warned. He said the world faced “a perfect storm” of issues that could lead to widespread food shortages and public unrest over the next few decades. His warning comes in the wake of food riots in north Africa and rising global concern about mounting food prices.
Foresight predicted that the world’s population would rise from 6.9billion today to around 9billion by the middle of the century.
Beddington said humanity had to face the fact that every means to improve food production should now be employed, including widespread use of new biotechnological techniques in farming. He stressed that no harm should be inflicted on humans or the environment. His remarks were made in advance of publication tomorrow of a major report, “The Future of Food and Farming“.
He emphasised the role of modern biotechnological techniques, including GM crops, in the future of global food production. “There will be no silver bullet, but it is very hard to see how it would be remotely sensible to justify not using new technologies such as GM. Just look at the problems that the world faces: water shortages and salination of existing water supplies, for example. GM crops should be able to deal with that.”
Beddington said he would present details of his office’s report in Washington next month. He also hoped it would be debated at other events, including the G8 and G20 summits.
Agriculture ministers gathered in Berlin said they were “concerned that excessive price volatility and speculation” in international markets for agricultural commodities may threaten the security of the world’s food supply.
The ministers from 48 countries called on the G-20 nations to “fight the abuse and manipulation of prices” in agricultural markets, according to a joint statement handed out at a press conference in the German capital.
The seven agriculture ministers were unanimous on the causes and consequences of food shortages, which are pushing prices sharply up and, they agreed, renewing the threats of social instability and the sort of food riots witnessed in Mozambique, Egypt and elsewhere last year.
France presides over the Group of 20 this year, and the country’s agriculture minister, Bruno Le Maire, has said world agricultural markets require more regulation. German farm minister Ilse Aigner, who hosted the meeting, said today that price and position limits should be among measures considered.
“We will see them again in 2011 and 2012 if we don’t rapid take the necessary decisions together,” warned French minister Bruno Le Maire.
His Moroccan counterpart Aziz Akhenouch denounced the “rocketing prices” which threaten purchasing power as well as political stability in his country, which is a major wheat importer and saw prices double last year.
“All the member countries in the G-20 have to oppose this price volatility,” Le Maire said in a press conference. “With this text we already have a good starting point.”
World food prices rose to a record in December on higher costs for sugar, grain and oilseeds, the United Nations reported Jan. 4. An index of 55 food commodities tracked by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization gained for a sixth month to 214.7 points, above the previous high of 213.5 in June 2008.
“It is important to open borders,” for certain products, stressed Kenyan farm minister Sally Jepngetich Kosgey.
“Trade is part of the solution, not the problem,” said Pascal Lamy, the World Trade Organisation‘s director general, who also attended the meeting.
However there were sharp differences on the questions of further opening borders for agriculture products.
“Everyone wants first and foremost to support their own infrastructure, and trade with others comes after that” said Canada’s minister Gerry Ritz.
There was more consensus on the need to tackle the market speculators who inflame prices.
“There is total uncertainty today,” on the available volumes of foodstuffs, Le Maire complained.
“It’s not normal that their is so little information,” he added, calling for more transparency to stabilise the market.
GM Food is an expensive technology that the farmers of the developing nations would not be able to afford easily.
Patenting laws go against the poor around the world and allow biotech companies to benefit from patenting indigenous knowledge often without consent.
This is a very young and untested technology and may not be the answer just yet.
Crop uniformity, which the biotech firms are promoting, will reduce genetic diversity making them more vulnerable to disease and pests. This furthers the need for pesticides (often created by the same companies creating and promoting genetically engineered crops).
Hence this leads to questions of the motives of corporations and countries who are using the plight of the developing world as a marketing strategy to gain acceptance of GE food as well as dependency upon it via intellectual property rights. That they are against any labeling or other precautionary steps and measures that states may wish to take is of paramount concern.
The way in which we reach the answer to the question, “are GE foods safe?” is where a lot of the problem lies. A quick acceptance of GE foods without proper testing etc. could show corporate profitability to be very influential, while a thorough debate and sufficient public participation would ensure that real social and environmental concerns are in fact adhered to. And this pattern would probably indicate to us how other major issues in the future ought to be dealt with.