Some plants that look dead can suddenly spring back to life again. Genetically modified crops seem to have accomplished such a trick. After a prolonged period of quiet, GM is back on the political agenda. The Environment minister Phil Woolas told this newspaper yesterday, after talks with the Agricultural Biotechnology Council, that these crops might help alleviate the present global food price crisis.
Gordon Brown reiterated this message yesterday at a meeting of European Union leaders in Brussels. After years of bowing to public hostility to GM crops, the Government seems ready to play a more active role in promoting them.
Longstanding opponents of GM, such as Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace, have reacted with hostility. While these environmental groups do a valuable service in influencing many aspects of public policy, this newspaper believes they are misguided in their blanket rejection of GM.
Some of humankind's most significant advances throughout history have been a result of agricultural innovation, from irrigation in ancient Mesopotamia, to Jethro Tull's seed drill. The genetic modification of crops can be part of this noble tradition. Drought and salt-resistant strains of crops have the potential to increase yields considerably and to bring more land under cultivation.
It is, of course, simplistic to argue that GM alone can solve the global food shortage. The present crisis is too complex for any quick-fix solution. And there are, at present, no GM crops with these particular capabilities on the market. But GM technology certainly has the potential to play an important part down the line in bringing more land under cultivation in the developing world and Africa.