Genetic engineering was introduced with several promises, such as fixing nitrogen, resisting drought, improving yield and ‘feeding the world’, which have contributed to build up a multibillion-dollar industry now controlled by a handful of corporate giants. So far, only two simple characteristics account for all the GM crops in the world. The majority of them are tolerant to broad-spectrum herbicides (HT), with companies engineering plants to be tolerant to their own brand of herbicide, while the rest are engineered with bt-toxins to kill insect pests (BT). For example, a great part of the GE seeds sold by Monsanto today are resistant to a single herbicide, glyphosate. These herbicide-resistant seeds and glyphosate—marketed as Roundup Ready by Monsanto—are sold together as a highly profitable, packaged system.
A failed technology
Despite claims that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) will lower the levels of chemicals pesticides and herbicides used, this has not been the case. This is of great concern both because of the negative impacts of these chemicals on ecosystems and humans, and because increased chemical use is causing pests and weeds to develop resistance, requiring even more chemicals in order to manage them.
In the US, farmers have started to switch to crops like Monsanto’s Xtend, resistant to combinations of glyphosate and Dicamba, Dicamba’s extreme volatility has damaged neighbouring soybean fields, as well as other crops and vegetation in 17 States on a 2.5 million acres area (as of August 10, 2017).
In India, Bt cotton was supposed to control the Bollworm pest. Today, the Bollworm has become resistant to Bt cotton. New pests have emerged and farmers are using more pesticides. Farmers are now dying due to pesticide poisoning
Not feeding the world
The vast majority of industrialized crops, such as GE corn and soya are primarily used as animal feed or converted into biofuel. Evidence shows that there has been no significant increase in yields. The industrialization of our food system has produced a relatively small portion of the global food production. It is a fact that most of the world’s population is made up of small farmers and that they produce most of the food we eat.
Genetic engineering is based on an obsolete paradigm of genetic determinism, a linear and deterministic flow of information from genes, called “master molecules,” to proteins. Genetic determinism assumes that genes are atoms of biological determinism, with one gene carrying one trait, and determining the traits in an organism. But these are assumptions that come from the idea of control and domination; this is patriarchal ideology, not science. Cutting-edge science teaches us that these assumptions are false. Genes are fluid, not fixed. Each gene contributes to multiple traits; each trait is an expression of many genes acting in concert.
Majority of the GM seeds are produced by private enterprises and thus are patented. A patent prevent farmers from saving and exchanging seeds, therefore undermining the farmers’ right on seeds. In addition to the chemicals needed to grow these crops, farmers have to buy fresh seeds for every cultivation season, becoming dependent on Multinational Corporations. Patented seeds carry a considerable amount as royalty fees which increases the market price.
The Biotech industry is challenging governments, such as India and Argentina, which patent law excludes plants and animals, essentially biological processes, from being counted as an invention.
in 2013, a group of nearly 300 scientists from the European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility (ENSEER) signed a public statement calling on GMO companies, commentators and journalists to stop repeating the false claim that a “scientific consensus” considers GMOs safe.
“We feel compelled to issue this statement because the claimed consensus on GMO safety does not exist,” they wrote. “The claim that it does exist is misleading and misrepresents the currently available scientific evidence and the broad diversity of opinion among scientists on this issue. Moreover, the claim encourages a climate of complacency that could lead to a lack of regulatory and scientific rigor and appropriate caution, potentially endangering the health of humans, animals, and the environment.”
Golden Rice and GM Banana
Genetically engineered Golden Rice and GMO Bananas are being proposed by corporations hiding behind the cloak of academia as a solution to hunger and malnutrition in the Global South. But these are false miracles. Indigenous biodiverse varieties of food grown by women provide far more nutrition than the commodities produced by industrial agriculture.
GM Cotton (Bt Cotton) – India
Indian cotton farmers are facing a genocide that has resulted in the death of at least 300,000 suicides between 1995 and 2013. This epidemic is concentrated in the cotton belt,
Since Monsanto’s entry into India in 1998, the price of cotton seeds has increased by almost 80,000% (from ₹5 – ₹9/KG to ₹ 1600 for 450 gms). The issue of Seed Price impinges directly on farmers rights. And since the high prices with the high royalty component has driven farmers to suicide, State Governments and the Central Government have acted to bring down the seed prices. Farmers are being trapped in debt and being driven to suicide because seed is too costly and the seed available is also unreliable.
GM Mustard – India
If approved, GM mustard would become the first GMO to enter India’s food chain, opening the floodgates of other GM food crops. Proponents of GM Mustard have pushed it is an indigenous variety developed by an Indian public institution in order to quell cries by environmentalists against the corporate takeover of our food and agriculture but Navdanya as well as multiple campaigners and environmentalists have exposed it to be Bayer’s Trojan horse. Since its introduction for approval, GM Mustard has been shrouded in secrecy. Activists have been demanding greater transparency and calling the government to put biosafety documents in the public domain. The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee has been accused to be an undemocratic, opaque and unscientific body where deep conflict of interests prevail and where GM crop developers are an integral part of decision making.
GM Corn – Mexico
For more than a decade Monsanto and other agrochemical industries have been fighting to impose GM corn in Mexico. In 2012, in response to the umpteenth request by Monsanto for authorisation to grow and commercialise GM corn, a coalition of Mexican scientists, the Unión de Científicos Comprometidos con la Sociedad (UCCS) – Union of Socially Concerned Scientists, published a declaration and launched a wide international opposition campaign. The declaration states that “Mexico isn’t only the cradle of corn, the second most important commodity crop in the world, but it also stewards one of the few Centres of Origin and Diversification, from which the world derives the genetic diversity needed to maintain its production in the mist of new plagues and climatic challenges”.
GM Soy – Argentina
In 1996, the government of Argentina approved the cultivation of GMO RoundUp Ready soy produced by Monsanto, resistant to RoundUp. These glyphosate based pesticides are applied through low-altitude airplanes, carpet-bombing not only farmers fields but also agricultural workers and villagers in the adjacent areas. The harm, both to humans and the environment, caused by the intensive use of agrochemicals is portrayed in “The Human Cost of Agrotoxics” by Argentine photographer Pablo Piovano, who denounces the consequences of this agricultural system in the worst affected areas of Argentina.
GM Eggplant (Bt Brinjal) – Bangladesh/India
Since its approval in Bangladesh in 2013 the cultivation of Bt eggplant (Bt brinjal) has been strongly criticised. Farida Akhtar, founder of Ubinig. She declared that Bangladesh is a centre of origin of brinjal and home to over 100 varieties, which now face genetic contamination from the GM varieties through natural cross-pollination”. The same Bt Brinjal was stopped in India in 2010. At the time civil society movements and numerous independent scientists had expressed great concern on how contamination between the GM eggplant and other eggplant traditional varieties would have been rapid and irreversible.
Gene drives are a new biotechnology development that combines the extreme genetic engineering of synthetic biology and new gene editing techniques. Hundreds of millions of dollars are being invested by U.S. Military, companies and foundations on this new technology which have the potential to dramatically transform our natural world and humanity’s relationship to it, wiping out entire species, irreversibly damaging the planet’s life-sustaining biodiversity and altering the genetic balance of the ecosystem. But again we see that ethical considerations and ecological consequences are of no import to those who stand to profit hugely from the development of such a technology, be it militarily as a covert war instrument, or materially in the agribusiness and big pharma worlds of power and profit.
Building on the propaganda about the benefits of chemical agriculture, the agrochemical/biotechnology industry has promoted in the last decades the false promise that its genetically engineered crops would feed the world, produce higher yields, resist climate change and reduce the use of pesticides. But none of these promises has been fulfilled:
- The vast majority of GM crops, such as corn and soy, are primarily used as animal feed or converted into biofuels
- Evidence shows that there has been no significant increase in yields;
- Indigenous seeds are more resilient and practices of seed breeding in synergy with any natural environment conditions maintain the evolutionary potential of crops, which is needed to cope with climate change;
- Pesticides use has increased with the introduction of GM crops, due to weeds and pests developing resistance and needing additional or more powerful chemicals.
Further common myths about GMOs, which are widely spread and promoted by an aggressive PR campaign by the biotech industry have been debunked in the report “GMO Myths and Truths: A Citizen’s Guide to the Evidence on the Safety and Efficacy of Genetically Modified Crops and Foods”, by Claire Robinson, Michael Antoniou PhD and John Fagan PhD. It argues that:
- GMOs are not an extension of natural breeding, they are laboratory-made and pose different risks from non-GM crops;
- GMOs are neither safe to eat nor adequately regulated for safety. They can be toxic, allergenic or less nutritious than their natural counterparts;
- GMOs neither benefit the environment nor can help solve problems caused by climate change. They harm soil quality, disrupt ecosystems, reduce biodiversity and do not offer effective solutions to climate change.
- GMOs do not Reduce energy use, but are as energy-hungry as any other chemically-farmed crops
Furthermore, as Dr. Vandana Shiva has often pointed out:
- Genetic engineering does not create a plant or an organism and therefore GMOs are not an “invention” of corporations that can be patented and owned,; it is merely a tool to transfer genes across species. Living organisms are self-organizing, self-replicating systems. They make themselves. Unlike machines, they cannot be engineered.
- Genetic engineering is not more accurate and precise than conventional breeding. The introduction of genes from unrelated species is a blind technology, neither accurate nor precise. When genes are introduced into the cells of a plant using a gene gun, it is not known if the cell has absorbed the gene or not.
- Genetic engineering is based on an obsolete paradigm of genetic determinism, a linear and deterministic flow of information from genes, called “master molecules,” to proteins. Genetic determinism assumes that genes are atoms of biological determinism, with one gene carrying one trait, and determining the traits in an organism. But these are assumptions that come from the idea of control and domination; this is patriarchal ideology, not science. Cutting-edge science teaches us that these assumptions are false. Genes are fluid, not fixed. Each gene contributes to multiple traits; each trait is an expression of many genes acting in concert.
There is no free choice with GMOs. The myth of “free choice” begins with a “free market” and “free trade.” When a handful of transnational corporations control the seed market, it is not a free market, it is a cartel. When corporations write the rules of “free trade,” it is corporate dictatorship, not free trade. When enforcing patents and intellectual property rights (IPR) laws written by themselves, corporations prevent farmers from saving seed; it is not “free choice,” it is seed slavery.