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Modified Food's Moment?

More than 40 million people joined the ranks of the undernourished in 2008, increasing the number of very hungry to nearly one billion. Feeding them has become harder in the midst of a global financial crisis, with economic bailouts dominating the agenda of the rich donor nations. Easing commodity prices have provided some relief, but the financial slump is making it harder for farmers to get loans. A $30 billion per year investment in agriculture "could eradicate the root causes of global hunger by 2025," suggests a Christian Science Monitor editorial.

Advocates and producers of genetically modified (GM) food contend they have part of the answer to the crisis. They say their products can improve crop yields in adverse conditions such as droughts, reduce the use of fertilizers and pesticides, and offer extra nutrition. British bioethicist Albert Weale argues in Cosmos Magazine that despite potential concerns over modified foods, there is "an ethical obligation to explore whether GM crops could reduce poverty, and improve food security and profitable agriculture in developing countries." But some critics see no place for modified foods at the table. "The food crisis should not be an opportunity to make more money through the sale of fertilizers, agrochemicals and genetically modified seeds," says one sustainable agriculture advocacy group based in Spain.

According to the World Watch Institute,a U.S.-based environmental think-tank, modified agriculture represented about 9 percent of global crop production in 2007 in twenty-three countries, and that number could double in the next decade. To date there is no international consensus on the merits or drawbacks of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The UN Food and Agriculture Organization has acknowledged the potential benefitsof genetically modified agriculture for the world's neediest...

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