Recently biotech and chemical industry proponents have redoubled their efforts to bad-mouth organic farmers and consumers.
We are getting a concentrated dose of the standard “organic can’t possibly feed the world” line, along with scolding about organic farms encroaching upon the rain forests.
We are supposed to feel guilty for feeding our children peaches and strawberries free of hormone-disrupting pesticide residues.
The timing is too obvious – a successful campaign to labeling of genetically engineered food on the ballot brought about increased awareness.
I’m looking forward to seeing the Organic Trade Association’s figures for both 2011 and 2012 – I believe that shoppers are already voting with their wallets, resulting in a noticeable loss of market share for non-organic processed foods laden with unlabeled GMOs.
The industrial disinformation campaign will intensify, given the expected $100 million that biotech firms like Monsanto and Cargill are devoting to stopping Proposition 37, the California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act.
It’s time to start setting the record straight.
Forty case studies of programs in 20 countries, sponsored by the UK Government Office of Science Foresight, were published in the International Journal of Agriculture Sustainability (IJAS) (Pretty et al. “Sustainable intensification in African agriculture” 2011).
These are not tiny test plot studies – they involve programs that benefit 10.39 million farmers and their families.
The results are impressive: Yields more than doubled over a three to 10 year period. Practicing “sustainable intensification” provided farmers with alternatives to the crushing debts incurred to purchase patented seeds and the soil-killing and water-polluting chemicals needed to grow them.
Additional studies recently published by the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), compiling the work of over 400 independent scientists, also raised disturbing questions on genetic engineering. Jack A. Heinemann, a professor of genetics and molecular biology at University of Canterbury, New Zealand has written a book, Hope Not Hype, about the findings.
Several chapters are available free at https://sites.google.com/site/therightbiotechnology/Home .
Scientists found no evidence of sustained yield increases from GM crops since their commercial release.
For instance, food production in Brazil decreased slightly while the proportion of GM crops has grown to 65 percent.
Studies at Kansas State University and the University of Nebraska suggest that Roundup Ready soy yields 6 percent to 11 percent less than conventional varieties. The research showed the GE varieties were more, not less vulnerable to drought, an increasing problem throughout the world.
Although the biotech industry boasts of drought and salt tolerance, it’s now being found that conventionally-bred hybrids are more likely to excel in these traits. This includes both selection by farmers and use of marker-assisted selection by plant breeders.
This newer and safer technology is not the same as transferring genes from one species to another – it allows very precise selection of naturally-occurring beneficial mutations.
Genetically engineered crops don’t increase profits or decrease expenses for farmers. The higher upfront costs for GM seeds and the fertilizer and pesticides required actually increase the financial risk from crop failure.
Bankruptcies are still commonplace in the US and in several countries, such as India, suicides by debt-ridden farmers have risen rapidly, a horrifying trend.
Furthermore, according to the Institute for Food and Development Policy, there is already a surplus of food, enough to provide 3,500 calories for each person on the planet.
Even countries with the largest numbers of malnourished people have adequate food – it’s just that many people are too poor to buy it.
Since genetically modified food is not needed to feed the world, it’s important to consider the many reasons we should question the use of this obsolete and ineffective technology.
Industry claims that pesticide use has been reduced are false. Around 85 percent of GM crops are herbicide-tolerant. According to IAASTD, glyphosate use in the United States has increased by 15 times since 1994.
It’s also standard practice for GE seeds to be treated with systemic pesticides. This actually results in an increase in pesticide residue on food.
Monsanto has requested increases in allowable residue, including a request to the EU early this year to increase the allowable glyphosate residue on lentils by 100 times – that is not 100 percent, it’s a 10,000 percent increase!
Predictably the heavy use of herbicides is resulting in herbicide-resistant weeds, which will reduce the production and profits of farmers who do not even grow genetically engineered crops.
In his book, Heinemann points out that a farmer whose crop is contaminated by GMOs is exposed to legal actions, market rejection, and product recalls.
If conventionally-grown or organic crops become contaminated, according to patent law, Monsanto owns those crops and seeds, and can sue the farmers for “patent infringement.”
Their full-time staff of 75 employees has filed lawsuits against hundreds of American farmers, including those who never suspected that their fields had been contaminated.
Farmers typically settle out of court. The average payment to Monsanto is more than $400,000. Those farmers also no longer have the right to either save or plant their own seed or to select for desirable traits.
According to law, the entire genetically engineered plant, including the seeds, are the property of the patent-holder, not the farmer, even if the trait the farmer is selecting for is completely different from, and on a different chromosome from the GE mutation, and even if the gene got into the seed, not through any action of the farmer, but through wind or insect pollination. This violates both fair treatment under the law and common sense.
Domination of the world’s farmers by companies who own patented seeds is damaging to both biodiversity and food security.
The IAASTD provides important new evidence that even without the millions of taxpayer dollars in subsidies and research funding lavished upon biotech, agroecological methods of farming are outpacing industrial practices in feeding the hungry in the places that most desperately need both nutritional variety and the local economic benefits of small family-owned farms.
Roberta Actor-Thomas is a software consultant in Lakeport, Calif., and a member of the Committee for a GE Free Lake County.