GM is back, thanks to the food crisis, prompting election debates in Australia, royal foreboding in Britain and argument over aubergines in India. The latest edition of Food Ethics magazine lays the foundation for constructive dialogue that moves on from stagnant arguments for or against genetic modification.
The key, we argue in the editorial, is to ask an open question: not ‘do we need GM?’ – the question now occupying the airwaves - but ‘what do we need?’ Calling for a debate about one technology is just a nice way of telling people to like it or loathe it, depending on how you ask.
It is time for a fresh debate about innovation in agriculture but to devote our attention to GM, whether through accident or opportunism, is to ignore tough lessons from a decade of controversy.
Contributors to the magazine take stock of what we can learn from all the wrangling that has already happened over GM foods. They look at how the science, risk management, public trust and even democracy have changed. On risk, for example, they find regulators have made real progress in grappling with the social issues that inevitably inform their judgement, yet there is some way to go before decision-makers manage do this in ways that are sufficiently clear and accountable.
What does it mean to take such lessons seriously? One implication is that we concentrate more on solving problems and less on arguing over technology. That sounds easy but the consequences are profound. Our scientific institutions, regulatory bodies, innovation policies and intellectual property regimes are a long stretch from being fit for effective problem-solving.
To show what’s at stake, four contributors explain how they’d solve some of the key problems GM foods are claimed to address. Whether the challenge is beating malnutrition or boosting the economy, good governance is paramount. This is a key message from the International Assessment for Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), which reported in April, and it deserves to be heard.
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GM foods: the wrong debate | Tom MacMillan
This much we know...
The science: we have more answers but not enough | Peter Lund
Genetics: DNA is dynamic | John Dupre
Risk: safety is just the start if we want good regulation | Adrian Ely
Risk amplification | Christopher Ritson
Trust: openness is everything | Unni Kjaernes
Choice: less can be more | Roger Levett
Democracy: the GM controversy took the UK a step forward but we now risk going backwards | Tom Wakeford
Power: seed companies are big but not special | David Hughes
The big question
What lessons from a decade of debate? | Tewolde Berham Gebre Egziabher | Robert Newbery | Clare Oxborrow | Dwijen Rangnekar | Sakiko Fukuda-Parr | Adrian Dubock | Andrew Natsios | Pete Riley | Suman Sahai | Rudolf Buntzel | Monty Jones | Robert Paarlberg | Shiv Visvanathan
The innovation agenda
The knowledge economy: good inventions drive more innovation | Robert Doubleday
Sustainable agriculture: small farms show big promise | Miguel Altieri
Food security and development: we need dialogue not rhetoric | James Smith
Micronutrients and hidden hunger: a mix of methods | Penelope Nestel
What does IAASTD mean for us? | Anne Liddon
Animal engineering | Richard Twine and Lewis Holloway
Restaurant review | Ruth Chadwick