The United Nations and the Organisation for Economic
Co-operation and Development backed genetically modified crops as a weapon in
the fight to curb hunger, as they warned of a slowdown in growth in
Annual expansion in farm output is, after growing for
"several decades" at some 2%, to slow to 1.7% over the next decade, thanks to
"growing restraints" on factors such as fertilizer, water and land.
"Growing resource constraints, environmental pressures and
higher costs for some inputs are expected to inhibit supply response in
virtually all regions," the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation and the OECD
said in a joint report.
Growth through bringing fresh farmland under crops is
"limited", with total arable area expected to expand by "only" 69m hectares,
equivalent to less than 5% - even by 2050.
The loss in developed nations of 38m hectares to the likes
of urbanisation will offset in part expansion of 107m hectares in developing
The ability of agriculture to meet the needs of a world
population expected to grow by 680m by 2021, and relying increasingly on
biofuels, means that "the key issue facing global agriculture is how to
increase productivity in a more sustainable way".
Sustainable agriculture means not just using fertilizers,
agrichemicals and water in more efficient ways, besides acting to limit soil
erosion to protect farmland, but "harnessing plant breeding and biotechnology",
the briefing said.
"Achieving sustainable agricultural productivity growth will
largely depend on farmers' ability to adopt the latest technologies," of which
genetically modified seed is "perhaps the most rapidly-adopted crop technology
in agriculture today".
Biotech seed can, in helping growers cut use of other inputs
and increasing yields and the predictability of crops, "improve farmers' output
Seeds are also being developed that "cannot only survive in
extreme climates, but can maintain and even increase crop yields" in these areas, many of which are in emerging countries.
Furthermore, the next generation of genetically modified
crops "is expected to provide direct consumer benefits", such as varieties
enhanced for extra vitamin content.
Indeed, the organisations urged action to ensure patents for
seed groups, saying "agricultural advances are no different from other inventions,
and should be afforded the same intellectual property protections".
They also flagged biotech firms' reinvestment of a
"significant proportion" of their sales back into research.
The comments come amid continued controversy in some regions
over genetically modified crops - notably in Europe, where France, where the
OECD is based, has proved particularly vehement in its condemnation of the
Protesters have cautioned that the technology may cause
long-term harm, of which proponents are not yet aware.
While many anti-GM protests, such as those at last month's
International Bio Convention in Boston, US, have proved peaceful, others,
including an attack on UK research into biotech wheat, have crossed the line
into criminal behaviour.