Feeding the world
One question which has always been present in the debate over GM crops and foods, has been whether they could form an important way to address malnutrition, by increasing productivity, or will have the opposite effect through adverse effects and corporate control. GeneWatch believes that the current generation of GM crops and the context of corporate control make promises of 'feeding the world' unlikely. GeneWatch works to help allow developing countries and their citizens make genuine choices about whether or not and under what conditions they use GM crops.
A poverty trap?
One of the main concerns about the use of GM crops in developing countries is that farmers will be locked into a 'poverty trap', where they are forced to pay more for seed price hikes and expensive chemicals as herbicide-tolerant superweeds or resistant pests develop, or as new pests move in.
GM seeds are patented and saving these seeds is regarded as theft of intellectual property, making farmers increasingly dependent on the major multinational seed companies. Some companies also continue to conduct research into so-called Terminator technology, designed to stop seeds being fertile so they cannot be saved and replanted. There is currently an international moratorium on this technology due to concerns about its potential impacts on poorer farmers.
Broken promises and wasted money?
Complex traits in plants such as salt-tolerance and the ability to fix nitrogen were first promised thirty years ago in a US Office of Technology Assessment report published in 1981. However, the only GM traits that have been commercialised are herbicide tolerance and pest resistance. More complex traits are very difficult to achieve because they depend on the effects of multiple genes and the plants interactions with its environment.
GeneWatch has welcomed the news that DuPont and Syngenta have developed new drought-tolerant corn (maize) varieties using conventional breeding. However, Syngenta plans to market the new seeds only after it has genetically modified them to include resistance to its own-brand herbicide and to pests. This will allow it to patent the seeds and sell them at a premium with its herbicide, restricting access, increasing costs and introducing the environmental problems associated with these crops.
A USDA report has suggested that Monsanto's new GM drought-tolerant corn will perform no better than conventional varieties.
GM crops with enhanced levels of vitamins and minerals to tackle 'hidden hunger' have also yet to be commercialised and raise new safety and environmental issues. Many conventionally-bred varieties are already available.
Lobbying and commercial interests
In 2011, Monsanto announced that it plans a marketing push to try to increase sales of GM seeds in developing countries. Kenya's Daily Nation has reported on US lobbying to introduce GM crops in Kenya, based on a Wikileaks cable. Another Wikileaks cable highlighted the US Agriculture Department's interest in GM crops in Africa.The Gates Foundation is also promoting GM crops in Africa.
Undermining real solutions?
Most GM corn (maize) and soya is used as animal feed or subsidised by the US Government for use in industrial-scale biofuels. The increasing consumption of grain-fed meat and use of land and food crops for biofuels are both thought to be factors in driving global hunger.
There are many important things that need to be done to tackle hunger, such as improving food distribution and tackling food waste, which have nothing to do with GM crops. Better land, soil and water management - including agro-ecological methods to improve yields, sustainability and dietary diversity - must also play a role.
Some of these alternatives have been undermined by the restructuring of the research funding system that has taken place since the 1980s in order to deliver the promised benefits of GM crops. The history of public subsidy for GM crops research in Britain and Europe is documented in the GeneWatch Bioscience for Life? report.
GeneWatch UK submission to Royal Society's study on food-crop production
20th October 2009
Prospect: Revolution on Ice (December 2007)
- Press articles
- The Telegraph: The inconvenient truth about GM (17th May 2013)
- Daily Mail: The 'superwheat' that boosts crops by 30%: Creation of new grain hailed as biggest advance in farming in a generation (12th May 2013)
- Business Mirror: Farmer-scientist group seeks ban on GM crops (3rd April 2013)
- AllAfrica: Uganda: We Do Not Need GMOs - Ugandan Farmers (1st April 2013)
- Farming UK: Feed is contributing to climate change, says crop expert (18th March 2013)
- International Affairs Review: Disentangling U.S. Agriculture and Food Aid: The Failure of Myopic Policy Thinking (18th March 2013)
- AgProfessional: GMO controversy delays approvals in China (11th March 2013)
- FT: India's wheat shortage, sorry, surplus (7th March 2013)
- The Hindu: GM crops will sow food insecurity (19th February 2013)
The Guardian: India's rice revolution (16th February 2013)
Reports on "super yields" of rice and other crops in India using a method of growing crops called System of Rice (or root) Intensification (SRI).
- Dawn.com: World's richest men aid 'Green Revolution' center (14th February 2013)
Farmers Guardian: African farmers can rise to food security challenge (8th February 2013)
UK scientists join GM industry body the Agricultural Biotechnology Council (ABC) to lobby for GM crops in Africa.
- Farmers Weekly: US farmers may stop planting GMs after poor global yields (6th February 2013)
- The Guardian: To stop hunger, it's not enough to change policy; we must challenge power (24th January 2013)
- BBC: Half of all food 'thrown away' claims report (10th January 2013)
- Alaska Dispatch: Genetically modified food: GMO backlash in Latin America (2nd January 2013)
- The Hindu: Biodiversity congress seeks ban on field trials of GM crops (2nd January 2013)
- DNA: Who will pay for failed GM crops? (23rd December 2012)
- Weekly Times (Australia): SA won't 'jeopardise' state with GM crops (18th December 2012)
- The Guardian: More UK aid channelled via investment funds in tax haven of Mauritius (11th December 2012)
- Independent Science News: How Millions of Farmers are Advancing Agriculture For Themselves (3rd December 2012)
- FirstPost.India: Are genetically modified crops finally on their way out of India? (3rd December 2012)
- BizCommunity: African Union requested to ban GM crops in Africa (29th November 2012)
- Kenya Broadcasting Corporation: Importation of all GMO foods banned (21st November 2012)
- The Peruvian Times: Ten Year Ban on Genetically Modified Seeds and Foods Takes Force Thursday (17th November 2012)
Tehelka: Field trials on trial (10th November 2012)
Reports that tough times lie ahead for the GM industry in India with farmers protesting crop trials and an official committee suggesting a 10-year moratorium.
- The Hindu: GM crops should go back to the lab (7th November 2012)
- New Internationalist: Is there a place for GM crops in a sustainable future? (November 2012)
Deccan Herald: Panel for 10-yr halt on GM crop trials (18th October 2012)
In India, a Supreme Court appointed technical expert committee (TEC) on genetically modified (GM) crops has recommended a 10-year moratorium on field trials of GM crops and advocated setting up a powerful regulatory system besides conducting studies on long-term impacts of GM crops on food and environment.
- Farming Online: Finnish research shows halving food losses could feed extra 1bn (12th October 2012)
The Guardian: Why our food is making us fat (11th June 2012)
Reports the link between US corn (maize) farming, the production of high fructose corn syrup, and obesity. Most US maize is now genetically-modified.
- New York Times: As Grain Piles Up, India's Poor Still Go Hungry (7th June 2012)
- Daily News Tanzania: MONSANTO AND SYNGENTA: FUNDING AGRA FOR AFRICA? (3rd June 2012)
- The Hindu: The politics of food for the hungry (30th May 2012)
- Huffington Post: The New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition: Nothing New About Ignoring Africa's Farmers (23rd May 2012)
- Khaleej Times: Bill Gates defends focus on high-tech agriculture (25th January 2012)
- The Hindu: Unconstitutional, unethical, unscientific (28th December 2011)
- Daily Mail: Super weeds 'run rampant in fields near GM crops', scientists warn (21st October 2011)
- Forbes India Magazine: Bt Brinjal and India's Wake-up Call (20th October 2011)
- The Guardian: GM crops promote superweeds, food insecurity and pesticides, say NGOs (19th October 2011)
Financial Times: US ethanol refiners use more corn than farmers (12 July 2011)
US ethanol refiners are consuming more domestic corn than livestock and poultry farmers for the first time, underscoring how a US government-supported biofuels industry has contributed to surging grain demand.
The New Age Online: GM project faces ruin (28th June 2011)
Reports serious problems with a programme to grow GM crops in South Africa.
- Financial Times: Crop science: Global food debate presents opportunity to reap a profit (27th June 2011)
- Food Manufacture: Sir David King 'unethical' and badly informed on GM, says expert (24th June 2011)
The Guardian: Global food crisis: the speculators playing with our daily bread (2nd June 2011)
Dan Basse, president of AgResource (Chicago) states that the promise that biotech seeds would deliver big increases in yields has turned out to be illusory. He also fears that "superweeds are coming on so fast with GM that US farmers are going to have to go back to more traditional cultivation methods [as opposed to the practice with GM seeds of not tilling the soil and simply spraying to control pests] - but they don't have the capacity to do that."
- The Guardian: Eco-farming could double output of poor countries, says UN (8th March 2011)
- Freeport News (Bahamas): 'Event Horizon:' Global debate on Genetically Modified (GM) footstock - 2011 update
- External links
- YouTube: Colin Tudge on GM Crops (4th February 2013)
- War on Want: DFID and agribusiness in Africa: a toxic mix (6th December 2012)
- LEAF Initiative (India): A citizen's initiative on issues related to Livelihood, Environment, Agriculture and Food
- African Centre for Biosafety: African Civil Society calls on the African Union to ban genetically modified crops (25th November 2012)
- Agricultural Policy Analysis Centre: Feeding the world’s hungry and growing population (21st November 2012)
- Friends of the Earth International: A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing? An analysis of the 'sustainable intensification' of agriculture (October 2012)
- Naydanya International: The GM Emperor has no clothes (29 September 2011)
- GeneWatch Reports
- Press Releases
- GeneWatch PR: GeneWatch UK welcomes move to maintain moratorium on Terminator technology 27th March 2006
- GeneWatch PR: GeneWatch UK calls for Syngenta, the new world leader in GM crops, to abandon Terminator and Traitor Technology 11th October 2000
- GeneWatch PR: New GM foods offer no consumer benefits 13th April 2000