Science hits GM crops (while China stops sowing)

Photo; Navdanya International

Far from putting an end to the hunger in the world and from improving farmer’s quality of life, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are raising food insecurity and health hazards and failing to increase the yields of crops, according to new scientific studies. And now Chinese authorities prepare to ban the commercialization of transgenic rice and wheat for the next five to ten years, as reported the Third World Network (TWN).

“The widely read Economic Observer, a financial weekly publication, citing a source close to the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA), confirmed this move in its Sept. 23 issue,” said TWN in a briefing paper.

The impending ban “seems to be in line with the increased caution over GMO technology that has reached the highest level of the government,” added this organization based in Malaysia and member of the Social Watch network. “At the Fourth International Biosafety Workshop in Beijing in April 2011 co-organised by several Chinese scientific organisations, a senior official of the Ministry of Environment in his opening speech said that Prime Minister Wen Jiabao had called for more caution on GMOs,” remembers the paper.

In the meantime, Chinese daily Global Times quoted Chen Xiaohua, a MOA officer, pledging to ensure safety of GM crops amid scientists' appeals for caution. Yuan Longping, known as the "father of hybrid rice" and interviewed by Nanfang Daily on Sept. 29, warned that "one of the major features of GM crops is their ability to resist insects, but even scientists do not know whether such an ability in these crops will have any effect on human beings".

A month later, a report launched by 20 South-east Asian, African and Latin American civil society organizations proved that GMOs have caused an increase in the use of chemicals that contaminate the ground, and the rapid spread of infertile transgenic “superweeds” to lands where they were not seed.

The study, published under the title “The GMO Emperor Has No Clothes-A Global Citizens Report on the State of GMOs” and coordinated by Navdanya International and the International Commission on the Future of Food and Agriculture with the participation of The Center for Food Safety (CFS), describes genetic engineering as “failed technologies” which “promises to increase crop yields and feed the hungry have proven to be false”.

“Contrary to the claim of feeding the world, genetic engineering has not increased the yield of a single crop. Navdanya’s research in India has shown that contrary to [US firm] Monsanto’s claim of Bt cotton yield of 1500 kg per acre, the reality is that the yield is an average of 400-500 kg per acre,” wrote renowned scholar and activist Vandana Shiva, who led the report among with her colleagues Debbie Barker and Caroline Lockhart.

The report also verified that herbicide tolerant and insect resistant GMOs that were supposed to control weeds and pests “have led to the emergence of super weeds and super pests,” remarked Shiva.

GMO advocates have promised to thwart “major challenges” such as “food crises, natural resource degradation, and climate chaos”, but this technology “has failed to feed the hungry and has contributed to environmental destruction and global warming,” wrote Debbie Barker in the report. On the other hand, she added, “GM crops are not feeding the hungry” because “the overwhelming majority are grown for either animal feed or to produce biofuels”.

“In contrast to the high-tech, very costly GMO industrial system, there are viable, low-cost farming methods that better guard against hunger and poverty,” remarked Barker.

“Genetic engineering is not just a science, a technology, and a business but is also an intellectual fad and to some extent an economic bubble. It is being sold, and therefore oversold, as the latest answer-to-everything: it will solve the problem of hunger [and] it will cure every disease,” wrote Wendell Berry in the report. “Biotechnology also is extremely expensive in comparison to conventional plant breeding and is costly to farmers. Some biotechnology companies are begging for money, while others are giving huge grants to university microbiology departments. The industry’s attitude toward farmers is hostile, as demonstrated by its lawsuits against them and its pursuit of the ‘terminator gene’. Its attitude toward consumers is aggressive and contemptuous, as demonstrated by its campaign against labelling.”

The report warned that, since their commercial introduction in 1996, those crops get to be grown in 29 countries on about 1.5 billion hectares. In China, according to the study, the use of insect-resistant cotton increased 12-fold those population of pests since 1997. And soya growers in Argentina and Brazil need to use twice as much herbicide on their GM as they do on conventional crops. And pesticide use increased 13-fold in India since Bt cotton was introduced.

Another study, published on Sept. 28 by the Washington-based Food and Water Watch and titled "Genetically Engineered Food: An Overview", conclude that GMO’s proliferation into vast lands have caused a slew of environmental and health crises, and actually increased poverty by forcing millions of farmers to "buy" patented seeds at exorbitant prices, reported IPS news agency.

This study, focused on the US situation, says that three US government agencies – the Food and Drugs Administration, the Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency– are complicit in these crises due to shoddy oversight, weak enforcement of regulations and a complete absence of coordination.

A third report, published this month by the African Centre for Biosafety (ACB), warned against the authorisation to conduct the first ever field trials in South Africa involving GM bananas not only because of the biosafety risks “to human and animal health, the environment and to society”, but also because of “the lack of public interest or commercial justification”.

ACB thinks that transgenic disease resistant bananas cannot overcome the problems of land tenure to competition from more ecologically suitable production areas, such as those in Mozambique, a shift in the industry that will mean the loss of 24 000 on farm jobs in South Africa.

This information is based on data from the following sources:
The GMO emperor has no clothes (Synthesis Report, in English and in PDF format):
The GMO emperor has no clothes (Full Report, in English and in PDF format):
GM Banana slips in South Africa: Key issues and concerns:
Biosafety Information Center:
Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy:
The Guardian:
Center for Food Safety: