Food shortage is not the global crisis, lack of access to food is the issue - say NGOs

 Genome editing
02 Nov 2017 18:06:35.400

PA 253/17

‘Genome editing is not the answer to world poverty, because food shortage isn’t the problem’ says a group of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) surveyed by the University of Nottingham.

This is one of three main findings in a report from the School of Sociology and Social Policy at the University, which looks at NGO’s scepticism of genome editing technology.

Genome editing is a rapidly emerging biotechnology gathering hype as a new tool which can be used to develop solutions to a number of global food security issues, vulnerabilities, and problems.

Click here for full story

However, resistance to these technologies is well documented and the debate around agricultural technology has been heated and long-running, with the arguments by Greenpeace and NGOs against the technology, being frequently dismissed as based on ‘emotion’ and ‘dogma’.

As with earlier debates on GM crops, NGOs have increasingly become the subject of intense criticism from leading scientists who support genome editing in agriculture. The debates have provoked passion on all sides, but rarely have they led to a mutual understanding from both parties. There is now a danger that genome editing will be mired in a similarly polarised and intractable debate as the wider field of agricultural technology.

In the report ‘Why are NGOs sceptical of genome editing?’ published in EMBO reports, experts from the University of Nottingham, University of Exeter, and University of Sheffield examine why NGOs are so sceptical through a one-day focus group and nine interviews involving 14 participants from UK and EU-based NGOs.

The findings suggest that opposition to agricultural biotechnology and genome editing cannot be dismissed as being emotional or dogmatic.

Instead, the results of the study found that the view from NGOs on genome editing is based on three specific scepticisms;

  • How      the problem is defined as a lack of food  rather      than a lack of access to food, and the alleged urgency of this crisis;
  • The solutions, particularly whether further      entrenching intensive agriculture through science and technology  can address socio-economic inequalities
  • The motivations for removing genome editing      from GM regulations – are those involved driven purely for the greater      good? Or are they driven by commercial objectives?

Dr Richard Helliwell from the University of Nottingham, and lead author of the report, says: “Sceptical NGOs give alternative problems and solutions with different outcomes, as part of a broader political discussion about policy impacts within society.

“Our research clearly shows that opportunities are needed for open and constructive debate to build a mutual understanding of opposing positions if the goal is to truly assess the potential for genome-edited crops to play a role in addressing the problem of global food vulnerability.”

A full copy of the paper can be found here.


— Ends —

Our academics can now be interviewed for broadcast via our Media Hub, which offers a Globelynx fixed camera and ISDN line facilities at University Park campus. For further information please contact a member of the Communications team on +44 (0)115 951 5798, email or see the Globelynx website for how to register for this service.

For up to the minute media alerts, follow us on Twitter

Notes to editors: 

The University of Nottingham is a research-intensive university with a proud heritage, consistently ranked among the world's top 100. Studying at the University of Nottingham is a life-changing experience and we pride ourselves on unlocking the potential of our 44,000 students - Nottingham was named University of the Year for Graduate Employment in the 2017 Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide, was awarded gold in the TEF 2017 and features in the top 20 of all three major UK rankings. We have a pioneering spirit, expressed in the vision of our founder Sir Jesse Boot, which has seen us lead the way in establishing campuses in China and Malaysia - part of a globally connected network of education, research and industrial engagement. We are ranked eighth for research power in the UK according to REF 2014. We have six beacons of research excellence helping to transform lives and change the world; we are also a major employer and industry partner - locally and globally.

Impact: The Nottingham Campaign, its biggest-ever fundraising campaign, is delivering the University’s vision to change lives, tackle global issues and shape the future. More news…

Story credits

More information is available from Dr Richard Helliwell from the School of Sociology and Social Policy, at

Access to NGO participants was made possible by GM Freeze, the UK’s umbrella campaign on GM in food and farming. For further information or an NGO perspective on the research, please contact Liz O’Neill, Director of GM Freeze on or 07811 211 404.


Charlotte Anscombe – Media Relations Manager (Arts and Social Sciences)

Email:  Phone:+44 (0)115 74 84 417 Location: University Park

Additional resources

No additional resources for this article

Related articles

No related articles

Media Relations - External Relations

The University of Nottingham
YANG Fujia Building
Jubilee Campus
Wollaton Road
Nottingham, NG8 1BB

telephone: +44 (0) 115 951 5798