Irradiated crops may avert crisis

The UN atomic agency is urging greater trust and investment for utilising radiation to increase crops’ defences against climate change and disease as a way to save millions of people from hunger, Reuters reported. The agency claims that the process of irradiating plant species -- known as "induced mutation" – is safe and cost effective and has the ability to allow crops to resist threats like disease, pests, saline soil or drought.


"With the advent of biotechnologies as a sort of panacea for (crop productivity), the nuclear technique somehow got pushed to the back-burner in recent times. But it’s time for a concerted effort to revisit it to help feed people," said Chikelu Mba, head of the plant breeding laboratory run jointly by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).


Although crop irradiation has existed since the 1920s and proven effective, its spread has been limited by fears surrounding the words "radiation" and "mutation," the International Atomic Energy Agency said in a statement. However, unlike bio-engineered genetic modification of crops (GM), irradiating plant species does not introduce any foreign genetic material.


To date the process of the irradiation of crops has produced more than 3,000 crop varieties from 170 plant species, including barley that grows at 5,000 meters altitude and rice that thrives in saline soil, the IAEA said. Soaring food prices, partly due to climate change and biofuel production, have reduced millions to hunger and sparked the need to further explore irradiating crops.


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