LAST year, Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates gave $US10 million to British scientists to crack a problem he hoped might help solve the looming world food crisis.
Unusually, this time the philanthropy of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was met with howls of outrage from left-leaning politicians and environmental groups that previously had welcomed its efforts to eradicate malaria and alleviate global poverty and hunger.
The reason? The Gates Foundation had dared to suggest that if British scientists could transfer the genes that give some root bacteria the ability to produce nitrogen from soil and air into wheat, corn or rice plants, it might help feed the nine billion people who will inhabit the planet by 2050.
Success would potentially allow wheat, rice, corn and other global food staples to be grown in even the poorest soils of Africa, Asia and South America without the need for costly fertilisers, greatly expanding world food production.But so divisive has the global debate about the merits and safety of using genetically modified crop varieties become that the Gates Foundation's move was met with controversy and derision.
Greenpeace Australia's sustainable agriculture adviser Richard Widows immediately called the donation misplaced. He accused the Gates Foundation of feeding not the world but the profits of its biggest biotech and chemical conglomerates.