WASHINGTON, Sept. 26 (UPI) -- Genetic modification of rice will be a powerful weapon in eradicating hunger and poverty in the developing world -- and can be done safely, the head of the International Rice Research Institute said Thursday.
Speaking at a Brookings Institution panel on eliminating hunger by 2030, Robert Zeigler said that immediate changes in rice production practices are necessary to offset volatile climates, limited water supply and diminishing agricultural land.
"If we're going to address issues of poverty, rice is going to have to be a part of that equation," Zeigler said, citing a direct overlap between maps highlighting countries with high levels poverty and greater rice consumption.
Rice remains a food staple for more than half of the world's population everyday and more than 75 percent of the poor, especially across Asia, Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa, according to the International Rice Research Institute.
The IRRI proposed ending global hunger by connecting farmers with efficient agricultural practices through online learning, using satellite mapping to education policymakers about rice production and utilizing transgenics -- modifying a plant or animal genetically -- to breed stronger, more nutritional crops.
Zeigler addressed the controversy surrounding genetically modified organisms, urging a critical evaluation of scientific evidence in the face of "woefully inaccurate" information.
"I am so sick and tired of hearing that one side says the world is a sphere and the other says it's flat. The science of GMOs is irrefutable in terms of safely, and that message should unequivocally communicated," he said.
Zeigler added that transgenic advancements can be used to breed rice crops with increased submergence tolerance and nutrients, a crucial step towards not only providing more calories for people to live on, but also for ensuring their optimal health.
"Whether it's ethical or not, I'm very reluctant to get into that area, he said. "I've been to enough countries, cultures and religions to figure out that is a personal choice."