Future Foods

Published on Practical Action Blogs, by David J. Grimshaw, January 8, 2010.

Two days ago the Government’s Chief Scientist, Professor John Beddington, “Speaking at the Oxford Farming Conference (OFC),  said the world will have to produce 50 per cent more food by 2030 in order to feed the growing population.   He said the only way to do this is to grow more crops on less land by using the latest scientific innovation, including GM and nanotechnology.”  (Daily Telegraph, 6 Jan 2010).

Today the House of Lords published a report entitled: “Nanotechnologies and Food” which acknowledged that, “Our current understanding of how they behave in the human body is not yet advanced enough to predict with any certainty what kind of impact specific nanomaterials may have on human health”. It also recognised that there is currently insufficient research into the toxicology of nanomaterials and called on the Research Councils to take a more active role in stimulating such research. 

All new technologies have risks as well as opportunities inherent in them. We need to ensure that new technologies, including nanotechnologies, are used responsibly. Practical Action have been working with the Responsible Nano Forum to work out in a practical way how this can be done. The response of the Forum to the House of Lords report can be read here.

Yet to an extent the debates about the safety of new technologies applied to food production is a “side line” to the main issue of how the earth and its people can support an increase in food production.   In the past those who have grappled with this issue have assumed continued economic growth, low energy costs, and a zero marginal cost for pollution. But these conditions now need to be questioned in the light of climate change, increased energy prices and a decline in water supplies … (full text).

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