Food Technology for Everyone



Peter Kaminski, via Flickr

Ryan Geertsma and Robin Basselin look at the problem of genetically modified food for farmers. For many farmers, the decision to grow GM crops is difficult. How can farmers decide what to grow?

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Transcript


Voice 1 

Welcome to Spotlight. I'm Ryan Geertsma.

Voice 2 

And I'm Robin Basselin. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 1

Nguyen Van Chu is a rice farmer in Vietnam. His family has farmed in the Mekong Delta for many generations. But today, farming is changing. Nguyen has heard that the government is considering letting GM crops into Vietnam. A GM crop is genetically modified. Using biotechnology, scientists change the natural form of a plant by changing its genes. Nguyen has heard many things about GM crops. He is not sure how he feels about them. GM seeds are made to grow well and produce good harvests.  But, farmers must buy GM seeds every year from a foreign company. Nguyen worries about depending too much on a large, international company.

Voice 2 

Nguyen is not a real person. But he represents farmers around the world. Many farmers struggle with this same decision. Should they grow genetically modified crops or not? Richard Jefferson is a scientist who works with GM crops. He does not want farmers, like Nguyen, to have to worry. He believes biotechnology should help and not hurt local farmers. Today's Spotlight is on Richard Jefferson. He is working to freely share the tools of crop biotechnology with the world.

Voice 1 

Richard Jefferson is a molecular biologist. He uses technology to work with the genes of plants. In the 1980s, Jefferson invented a scientific tool called GUS. GUS helps scientists effectively combine the genes of different plants. It has become a very important technology for creating GM seeds. Jefferson hoped this technology would provide farmers all over the world with GM seeds that could grow better crops.

Voice 2 

However, today, people have many concerns about GM crops. One of the main concerns is that a very small number of international companies own the methods and technology to make GM seeds. They also own the seeds they produce. Some people think that this gives too much power to a very small group of people.

Voice 1 

Traditionally, farmers like Nguyen save their own crop seeds from year to year. Using traditional farming methods, Nguyen can combine different seeds to make new kinds of crops. He uses his knowledge and the knowledge of other farmers. Together, they can create crops that grow especially well in the Mekong Delta.

Voice 2

The problem with GM crops is that farmers cannot save the seeds. They cannot combine their GM crop seeds with other seeds. This is because the international companies that make and sell GM seeds own the rights to the seeds. It is their intellectual property. By law, if farmers harvest and reuse GM crop seeds, they are stealing from the company. If a farmer changes or combines GM seeds they are damaging the company’s property. Companies enforce the intellectual property laws because they want to protect their investment.  They have paid a lot of money for the technology they use to make GM seeds.

Voice 1 

Jefferson understands the GM companies’ concerns.  But he also believes that intellectual property laws have negatively affected GM science. He told Wired magazine,

Voice 3 

"So much of what we want to do is connected to somebody's intellectual property. It is a completely blocked situation. Nobody has any freedom of movement... We want to invent a better way to connect everyone to share the improved technology."

Voice 2 

Another problem with GM science is that using GM technology costs a lot of money. A few, large international companies can pay for this technology. But many smaller companies and scientific groups around the world cannot. This makes it difficult for smaller, local groups to compete.

Voice 1

For these reasons, Richard Jefferson decided to form a not-for-profit organization called Cambia. Cambia is based in Australia. It leads a project called BIOS, or Biological Open Source. This project openly shares basic biotechnology tools. Scientists from all over the world can use these tools to create GM seeds. And since the technology is free, more people are able to use it. Jefferson spoke to the ABC news organization about BIOS. He explained,

Voice 3 

"Open source seems like something new but it is not. For 4,000 years, all of human culture has been built on open source. ... Let's say we are developing a new kind of apple fruit. We can use someone else's interesting apple, like a Granny Smith or Pink Lady. We can combine it with our own apple to make a better apple. The seeds, the genes of the apple, are shared with everyone... Instead of being owned by international companies, what if everyone owned the tools for biotechnology?"

Voice 2

So, Cambia creates new scientific tools and shares them freely with people who want to use them. However, the people that use the tools have to sign a legal agreement with BIOS. They must promise to share any improvements with the rest of the BIOS community. That is, anyone else who has signed the legal agreement with BIOS. Through BIOS, Jefferson wants to create a community that shares and builds on each other’s ideas. With BIOS, people do not have to worry about paying huge amounts of money just to experiment.

Voice 1 

BIOS does not answer all the concerns people have about GM crops. Many people wonder if GM crops are healthy for our body. Other people wonder if they are good for the earth. The debate about GM crops is complex. But GM crops are not going away. Over the last 20 years, people’s use of GM crops has increased by almost 100%. And an increasing number of countries in Africa and Asia are choosing to grow GM crops.

Voice 2 

For farmers like Nguyen Van Chu, BIOS could provide a new choice. By signing an agreement with BIOS, scientists in Vietnam could work on creating their own GM seeds. The Vietnamese government would not have to pay international companies huge amounts of money. And Vietnamese farmers would not have to depend on foreign companies for their seed supply.

Voice 1 

Peter Pringle is a writer who often reports on farming and food. In the book “Food, Inc.,” he writes,

Voice 4 

"The question has always been if, and how, technology could provide a solution to the terrible problem of hunger in Asia and Africa. And, could countries grow these crops without surrendering their future food security to a small number of international companies?"

Voice 2 

What do you think? Will developing countries be able to receive advantages from GM technology? Can organizations like BIOS help? If Richard Jefferson had his way, the answer would be "Yes."

Voice 1 

The writer of this program was Jennifer Hawkins. The producer was Michio Ozaki. The voices you heard were from the United States. All quotes were adapted and voiced by Spotlight. You can listen to this program again, and read it, on the internet at www.radioenglish.net. This program is called, "Food Technology for Everyone."

Voice 2 

We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye!

Question:

What do you think about genetically modified foods?

Comments


Avatar Spotlight
Honneur
said on August 16, 2018

I think mankind is making genetically modified foods since a farmer observed a specie of seed is better than others. The crossing between plants, like orange and lemons, to obtain a resistant hybrid is, in my opinion, a form of genetic modifying. The big problem, indeed, is money! People say seeds genetically modified are dangerous, thinking about how much money companies of research are gaining with genetically modified seeds.

Avatar Spotlight
HASHIM
said on October 12, 2018

NINE TOPIC