New Breeding Techniques Best Weapon Against Hunger

Marcel Bruins, editorial director, European Seed

Estimates vary, but most data suggest that between every 3.5 to 10 seconds a person on this planet dies from hunger and malnutrition. Usually it is a child under the age of five. While hunger has gone down in the past decades, according to the Global Hunger Index, in 1990 there were still 17 countries in the ‘extremely alarming’ category. In 2000 this number had gone down to nine countries, and in 2015 there were no longer countries in this category. Since the year 2000, 85 countries cut hunger by at least 25 per cent. But still, there are over 800 million people who go to bed hungry every day.

It is time that we change course. We’re at a critical juncture where population is increasing and there are more mouths to feed. This, combined with rapid soil degradation, fast depletion of groundwater, pressure to use a different toolbox in terms of pest and disease control, and extreme weather events are all collectively putting enormous pressure on farming. It is time to recognize the fact that agriculture cannot remain the same — not in a single country, and not across the globe. It is important that we are open to another paradigm shift to deal with what is ahead of us.

We can change course by allowing the use of the so-called new breeding techniques which will allow the plant breeders of the world to develop new plant varieties with better resistances (less pesticides), allow for higher yields and more nutritional content to come to the market at a faster pace. These tools have been proven safe, are able to help deal with a number of stubborn problems in terms of variety improvement, and have numerous other benefits.

It is therefore all the more shocking that certain organizations in society are blocking these techniques on entirely faulty grounds, spreading lies in complete ignorance of peer-reviewed science. They are holding society, including the 800 million hungry people, hostage with their fear-mongering. One can only wonder, who is holding such organizations accountable?

What we need are more fact-based documentaries such as ‘What the Green Movement Got Wrong’. And we need courage. Who will be the first politician to show that she/he is courageous enough to stand up for new breeding techniques? Why the hold-up? We’re going to need all the help we can get.

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Marcel Bruins studied plant breeding and plant pathology at the University of Wageningen in the Netherlands and received a PhD for the research he did in Fusarium resistance in wheat. After that he worked for 10 years at plant breeding company Seminis Vegetables Seeds as manager Plant Variety Protection. In 2007 he became Secretary-General at the International Seed Federation (ISF) and guided the ISF into the modern era of communication, and greatly increased the service to its members. After seven successful years at ISF, he started as an independent consultant in the seed business. He led the Secretariat of the International Grain Trade Coalition (IGTC) through a phase of transition and continued working as their Scientific Advisor. Besides being the Editorial Director of the ‘European Seed’ magazine, he has been helping profit and non-profit organizations in the seed and grain sector with their questions on the seed industry and their ever-increasing regulations, plant breeding, plant breeders’ rights, intellectual property, trade facilitation and international outreach.


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