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GM is Not the Way to Sustainability

ISIS Press Release 29/10/08

GM crops are unsound and unsafe; the biotech corporations are still making promises that they cannot keep while their real aim is to tighten their stranglehold on seeds to starve the world. Prof. Peter Saunders

Conventional agriculture is not the answer, neither is GM

“In agriculture, the starting point, I think, has to be the recognition that the commercial industrial technologies that are used in agriculture today to feed the world are technologies that are not inherently sustainable and they have not worked well to promote either self-sufficiency or food security in developing countries.” Most people would be surprised to learn that these are the words of Robert Shapiro, then the CEO of Monsanto [1]:

And earlier [2]: “Loss of topsoil, salinity of soil as a result of irrigation and ultimate reliance on petrochemicals [which are] obviously not renewable. That clearly isn’t sustainable.”

This is the sort of statements you’d expect to come from a campaigning group rather than a big corporation. It’s a solid condemnation of the Green Revolution and a warning that the current attempt to extend it to Africa is misguided. Of course Shapiro was pushing what he saw as the alternative to industrial agriculture, namely genetically modified organisms (GMOs) for crops and livestock.

In fact, the evidence shows that the answer lies neither in conventional industrial agriculture nor in GMOs, but in organic agriculture. The 400 scientists who contributed to the recent report of the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) certainly did not see GM as the answer to the food problem. On the contrary, they concluded it could have at most a relatively minor role [3, 4] (“GM-Free Organic Agriculture to Feed the World”, SiS 38).

The truth about genetic engineering is that it has consistently failed to deliver. It has not increased yields [5]: for example, researchers at the Universities of Kansas in the United States found that the yields of GM soya were about 6 per cent lower than those of their nearest conventional relatives [6], confirming results obtained since 2002 [7] (GM Crops Failed, SiS 13/14). It has not decreased the amount of herbicides and pesticides used. Since Roundup Ready crops have been widely grown in the USA, glyphosate application on major crops has gone up by a factor of 15 [8]. That has not been merely a matter of farmers switching to Roundup (Monsanto’s proprietary formulation of glyphosate); the application of other herbicides has also gone up. And it has not increased the profits of farmers: for example, a study has shown that farmers in the American state of Georgia who grew Bt cotton did not make more money than those who did not [9, 10] (Transgenic Cotton Offers No Advantage, SiS 38) and the mass suicides of cotton growers in India are all too well known (see GM is Dangerous and Futile [11], SiS 40).

The only group that have gained from GM are the biotech companies.

The supporters of GM continue to make extravagant claims for what it can accomplish, and you can easily be taken in if you do not look carefully at the evidence. For example, in the abstract of a recent paper in Science [12] the authors write: “Our data suggest that Bt cotton not only controls H. armigera on transgenic cotton designed to resist this pest but also may reduce its presence on other host crops and may decrease the need for insecticide sprays in general.”

The abstract is all you can read for free on the web, and it is what most commentators are likely to quote, especially if they are supporters of GM. In the full paper, however, the authors report that mirids, podsucking bugs that used to be controlled by spraying and by competition with the bollworm, have now become key pests of cotton in China. They conclude their paper with the statement: “Therefore, despite its value, Bt cotton should be considered only one component in the overall management of insect pests in the diversified cropping systems common throughout China.” That’s not at all what you would infer from the abstract.

Read the rest of this article here
http://www.i-sis.org.uk/GMnotthewaytosustainbility.php


ENDS

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