The discussion about genetically modified crops – a lifeline for sustainable agriculture and the world’s swelling population, or a poisonous invasion of the food chain led by greedy, multinational seed monopolies, depending on who you listen to – will be dead in ten years, according to journalist and food activist Michael Pollan.
Pollan, who addressed a full house at the Sydney Opera House on Tuesday night, said anticipated GM breakthroughs – particularly higher crop yield – hadn’t born fruit.
“Most people don’t realise that GM doesn’t increase yield of most crops,” he said.
“We’re yet to see the GM product that the computer people would call the ‘killer app’.”
Pollan, who ruminated on issues such as the value of localising diet and the role of supermarkets in mainstreaming organic produce, said conventional breeding had achieved more gains in terms of improved crop yield.
He pointed out that scientists who worked for Monsanto Company in the United States, which is now one of the world’s largest producers of GM seed, were once bullish about GM advances that could be made. These days, they had little to say on the matter.
“None of their earlier thoughts have turned up. I think it’s been harder than they thought,” he said.
“In ten years we won’t be talking about it [GM]. It hasn’t been that successful.”
Pollan said he didn’t believe GM food was “fundamentally evil”. However, it should be adequately labelled.
The contradiction in the argument that GM crops were advantageous was that producers weren’t willing to be transparent in food labeling.
“If it’s so good, tell us about it,” he argued.