By Lewis Page
IAEA calls for mutated supercrops to feed world’s hungry
The UN nuke agency has called for the world to make greater efforts to feed its starving millions, by increased efforts to produce enhanced, mutant super-crops developed using gamma rays.
“The global nature of the food crisis is unprecedented. Families all around the world are struggling to feed themselves,” says Mohamed ElBaradei, chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna.
“To provide sustainable, long-term solutions, we must make use of all available resources. Selecting the crops that are better able to feed us is one of humankind’s oldest sciences. But we’ve neglected to give it the support and investment it requires for universal application. The IAEA is urging a revival of nuclear crop breeding technologies to help tackle world hunger.”
The IAEA nuke boffins are keen to emphasise that their “induced mutation” plans are not the same as genetically modified (GM) crops. They point out that all plant and animals species mutate naturally anyway, at a slow rate, generally without anybody noticing. Natural mutations do produce change – for instance[…] but this normally takes millions of years. The IAEA plan is to make useful crops mutate rapidly in a laboratory, using mutagens such as gamma radiation or chemicals, and select those mutations which are useful.
“We call spontaneous mutation the motor of evolution,” says Pierre Lagoda, Head of the IAEA Plant Breeding and Genetics Section.
“If we could live millions of years and survey billions of acres with 100 per cent precision, we would find variants with all of the traits we’re looking for but which have mutated naturally. But we can’t wait millions of years to find the plants that are necessary now, if we want to feed the world. So with induced mutation, we are actively speeding up the process.”
“But we’re not producing anything that is not produced by nature itself,” says Lagoda. “For example, up until now nature has produced 140,000 distinct varieties of rice all with different characteristics [by natural mutation] … I understand that people are suspicious of these technologies, but it’s important to understand that in plant breeding we’re not producing anything that’s not produced by nature itself.”
VND mutated rice, according to the IAEA, has not only let Vietnam feed itself but turned the nation into one of the world’s main rice exporters in less than a generation.
They say the time has come for a big new mutant-crops push.