Food now and in the future remains a major problem. The world's population is expected to increase from the present 6 billion to between 9 and 10 billion by the middle of this century, but with changing diets crop productivity needs to double. Yet arable farm land is constantly being lost as people build more houses, roads and work places. Supplies of fresh water are already being pushed to the limit in many areas. Furthermore, around 800 million people are even now malnourished. We need every methodology we can get hold of to increase the world's food production without invading more of the remaining uncultivated land than we absolutely have to do.
Of equal importance are foods improved to provide essential dietary supplements missing from the normal foods of people in many developing countries; people are too poor to buy vitamins and other missing components. "Golden rice" to supplement Vitamin A in rice-eating communities and prevent hundreds of millions of cases of blindness, and the new protein-rich potato recently reported from India are examples of the need and urgency for these products in many parts of the world.
An additional major problem in the developing world is the increasing demand for more meat. This means that there needs to be a significant increase in animal production from already stretched resources.
Vaccines are currently under development for hepatitis, cholera, diarrhoeal infections, HIV, tetanus, rabies and other diseases. These can be produced in food crops (tomatoes or bananas, familiar to the patients) and immunity is evoked by eating a small amount instead of having to receive injections. This is likely to be of enormous importance in poorer countries in which refrigeration for storing vaccines is limited and there are few skilled staff to administer the immunisations. Furthermore, people often do not come back to the clinic for the necessary boosters; giving them food wafers to eat at the appropriate time is much more likely to work. The cost of food-administered vaccines is many times less than using injections.
The use of genetically modified crops in developing countries: a follow up discussion paper. Nuffield Council of Bioethics 2004 (http://www.nuffieldbioethics.org)
Human Development Report 2001. United Nations Development Programme
John Roach (February 15, 2005). Potato Vaccine for Hepatitis B: Syringes off the Menu? National Geographic News (http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2005/02/0215_050215_potato.html)