A Conversation with Bill Gates: Global Development Opportunities
Thursday, February 2, 2012
Question excerpt from Transcript of Q & A Session with Larry Cohen
There were lots of questions that came in regarding GMOs. A lot of people want to know how you balance the opportunity to address food scarcity with the concerns that many have around GMOs.
Right, so genetically modified organisms, that's where you create a new seed by using some biological approach that changes the gene. One example is you can put a gene in that prevents the plant from getting disease. And so a disease that's wiping out the crops of poor people and causing tens of thousands to starve, you can get rid of that. The techniques we're using here were actually invented for human medicine.
And in the case of human medicine, we don't have a total ban on all drugs that are created this way. Nor do we have a total acceptance. What we do is each drug gets created. It's trialed. And then each country has scientists who look at, "Okay, what are the benefits and what are the risks of that new drug?" And they decide. And it's a very sophisticated system that's trying to maximize human welfare.
For plants, it's going to be the same. That is, to a priori say, "No, we don't want that seed that blocks disease--" you know, that's dooming the poorest to never have this kind of tool. And it'd be ironic, since many of these advances are creating things like drought tolerance that poor people only need, because rich people have been emitting so much CO2 that the climate conditions are worse for those poor people.
Now making sure that there's that scientific depth so that they can analyze crop by crop that's something that the foundation is helping to invest in. But each country will have its own decisions. And there are in the pipeline some fantastic crops that need to be looked at. You know, we have decades of experience where rich countries have used GMOs. Some countries like South Africa, Burkina Faso, Egypt are using some GMOs right now. But the big wins are ones that come later. And, you know, each of those should be looked at as a special case, not ruled out or ruled in, based on the general perception.