Expert says efforts against agricultural technology harm food safety

Martin Livermore’s primary concern with the push for limitations by green supporters is that much of the concern is unfounded or misdirected. | File photo
The Scientific Alliance Director Martin Livermore recently published an op-ed on The Cambridge Network, arguing that efforts to ban or limit certain agricultural technologies could actually endanger food security and safety.

Although his main focus was on the limitations put on genetically modified organisms (GMOs), Livermore said other technologies could also be affected. 

“There could be issues in particular with a range of gene-editing techniques, which potentially give much finer control over genetic traits than the current main tool of genetic engineering, recombinant DNA technology.” Livermore recently told Crop Protection News.

“The most talked-about of the new techniques is CRISPR-Cas9,” Livermore said. "The other area which is under considerable pressure is crop protection."

Despite the debate between what is good and what is bad about agricultural technologies, like GMOs, Livermore explained that like virtually any technology, genetic modification is intrinsically neutral.

"It is how it is applied that results in good or bad outcomes,” Livermore said. “In a similar way, engineers can build roads and refrigeration, but also military hardware. Almost nothing is essentially good or bad.”

Livermore’s primary concern with the push for limitations by green supporters is that much of the concern is unfounded or misdirected.

“Pesticides are being approved on the basis of their potential hazard -- i.e., potential to cause harm in a lab situation -- rather than the actual risk they pose in practice,” Livermore said. “This means that farmers will find it more difficult to produce consistent harvests.”

Livermore argued that this issue encapsulates much about current attitudes toward scientific and technological progress.

"Rather than think how our farmers can become more productive and make their contribution to food security in a world of 9 billion people, our (largely scientifically illiterate) political elites are swayed by emotional arguments,” he said.