Men winnowing rice in southern India. UN

GM food is perhaps one of the most controversial topics in the history of science and technology.  Genetically-modified foods have been restricted by some countries in Europe, Asia and Latin America, but have also been accepted by others within the same regions such as Brazil, China, Spain and India, and are widespread in the US and Canada.  What is often left out of the GM debate is an articulate understanding of the cultural and social contexts that have played a major role in making GM technology so controversial in the first place, especially whether or not it should be used to feed the world.

In many parts of the world the role GM will play in agriculture in the future will depend largely on how it is perceived culturally.  The science — nuts and bolts of GM — is obviously important for understanding its possibilities and risks, but it too is grounded within its own political and social contexts.  Whether it is genetically modified seeds patented by multinational corporations or the attempt to engineer drought resistant crops, GM technology and human values are intertwined.  GMFuturos, a new multidisciplinary research project, will explore some of these complex multiple framings of GM and contribute to scientific and policy debates surrounding GM technology.

Funded by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation, GMFuturos is a cross-cultural comparative study on the debates, perceptions and practices surrounding GM technologies in Mexico, Brazil and India.  The project is led by Professor Phil Macnaghten, Dr Susana Carro-Ripalda and Dr Jonildo Burity and includes collaboration with researchers in Mexico, Brazil and India.

Focusing on local communities within these respective countries, the aim of the research is to examine the broader socio-political, cultural, religious and economic contexts in which GM technologies occur in order to understand the conflicts surrounding their development, implementation, and governance.  What makes GMFuturos particularly unique is that it will be examining both scientific and non-scientific arguments, such as cultural and religious viewpoints, to understand how they can be considered equally in GM debates and governance.  Researchers will conduct case studies within local settings, and will engage small-scale famers, consumers, indigenous and religious groups, women’s associations, NGOs, academics, regulators and agri-businesses in conversations and deliberative settings in order to allow their voices to be heard within forums on GM.

I spoke with Prof Phil Macnaghten about GMFuturos and some of the different debates about GM technology in countries throughout the world.  Here is the audio from that interview.

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Further information and updates from the project will be available at