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Climate change is already affecting food production. Richard Hollingham asks if Europe should give a signal to the developing world and licence the cultivation of genetically modified crops.

The impacts of climate change are already with us. Changing weather patterns are affecting the lives of millions around the world, especially in food production.

In this week's One Planet, Richard Hollingham discusses the way biotechnology can help us develop new crops that can withstand harsher growing conditions. He goes to Brussels and talks to some of the biotech companies that want the European Commission to relax its attitude towards GMOs. He also talks to the European Commission about its policy on GM products.

Crops genetically adapted for climate change need to be drought and pest resistant and be able to thrive in poor quality soil. They also need to provide improved yields.

These crops are controversial, especially in Europe. Historically, European legislators have taken a very cautious attitude towards genetically modified food and animal feedstuff. Currently, the European Commission permits the import of genetically modified cotton, maize, oilseed rape, soybean and sugar beet for human and animal consumption. So far, the European Commission has issued a single licence permitting one variety of GM maize to be grown in Europe.

At present, there are about fifty GM products awaiting approval from the European Commission, of which nineteen are for cultivation. The companies that produce biotech crops want the EC to relax its moratorium on new product approvals. Apart from the obvious commercial opportunities, they argue that if Europe relaxes its attitude towards GM crops, developing nations will be more likely to accept them too, and it’s the developing nations that will be most affected by climate change. In that sense, Europe is becoming a crucial battlefield as companies struggle to get new crops licensed for cultivation.

There is still huge opposition within Europe to genetically modified crops. But is climate change beginning to alter the terms of the debate? If the world is to sustain its current population levels at a time when it's becoming increasingly difficult to cultivate traditional crops, have we now reached the point when Europe needs to take a more tolerant attitude towards the cultivation of GM crops?

Mike and the usual One Planet team are currently on a short break to prepare for the next series. But they'll be back the end of January. You can keep up to date with developments at One Planet HQ by joining in the conversation on Facebook - the link's below. Or alternatively, email the team at

Available now

28 minutes

Last on

Sun 17 Jan 2010 23:30GMT


BBC World Service Archive

BBC World Service Archive

This programme was restored as part of the World Service archive project