Peter Lilley, MP for Hitchin and Harpenden, gave churchgoers from across the district gathered at St Mary Madgalene church in Great Offley a preview of a major lecture he is giving this week on ‘Why isn’t poverty history?’ in which he calls on governments to promote research into genetically modified crops as a way of tackling world food shortage.
He told a packed meeting that despite the misgivings of some people, he was convinced that GM technology offered a way for developing countries to feed their growing populations and boost their economic growth.
He said: “Shunning GM foods is a luxury the rich can afford. But we have no right to inflict our fads, fears and fantasies on the poor if that risks turning a food shortage into a famine.
“Fears of GM foods are largely fictional. No one has ever suffered from eating a GM food – a carrot gene is a carrot gene whether it’s digested in a carrot or a cabbage.
Peter Lilley presented his arguments in detail at the University of Greenwich Annual lecture, which was entitled ‘After $1 trillion of aid, why isn’t poverty history?’. He said he acknowledged that any environmental risks of GM crops had to be assessed, but he felt that much of the money and research time being spent on environmental testing would be better used on developing new plant varieties.
“At a time when food prices around the world have trebled, agricultural research should focus on developing robust, drought-resistant varieties and methods for farmers in semi-arid parts of the world.
“The Department for International Development appears to shy away from research into GM technology when it should be promoting it positively at home and abroad.
“Last year’s recommendation of the Globalisation and Global Poverty Group, which I chaired, that the twenty year decline in support for agriculture in the developing world should be reversed was met with interest but no sense of urgency. But the world has changed dramatically, forcing governments to put this issue centre stage.
“Hunger, which seemed set to become history, is now a growing threat to hundreds of millions of the poorest people in the world. GM technology is essential if we are to feed the world without destroying its forests.