January 1, 1970 (Vol. , No. )

Michael S. Koeris

Recently, global food shortages (including riots in Thailand, Egypt and other places) have prompted a serious question: “What is the biotech/pharma industry doing in terms of generating higher yield grains?”

I have not heard of new seedstock being introduced what with the abnormal aversion to genetically engineered strains (a public misconception that needs some serious addressing) in the US and Europe. Generally speaking, the agri-biotech industry has been laying low and not addressing the need for a) high-yield seedstock and b) cleaning up the image. The French government has passed a law banning the planting of GM corn and the German government allowed the labeling of foods as “GM Free”, a nonsensical measure (full disclosure – I am European myself…). Clearly Europe is still very much against GM foods, but that sentiment is shifting, no one can remain unconvinced in the face of a growing population and stable or even shrinking food output.

Even previously sceptical/cautious trade groups like the US Wheat Associates reversed their earlier stance. “The group, which once cautioned farmers about growing biotech wheat, is working to get seed companies to restart development of genetically modified wheat and to get foreign buyers to accept it.” (IHT)

Clearly, GM foods are not the miracle answer, higher energy costs are squeezing everybody and fertilizer costs have risen, too. But the agri-biotech companies are not in the business of drilling for oil or fixing ammonia for fertilizer, so new strains, resistant to infection, as safe as can be, high in yield and robust in storage are in dire need. Otherwise, making biofuels will be the least of the worries.

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