Thursday, May 16, 2013

Genetic Engineering: The Dark Side of Climate Ready Crops

Climate change is already affecting food supplies around the world as heat waves and drought reduce grain harvests and food prices soar. For every 1˚ C rise above optimum growing season temperatures, farmers will likely experience a 10 percent decline in their yields. And with a growing global population expected to hit 9 billion by 2050, 80 million more people need to be fed each year.

Between 2008 and 2010, at least 261 patents were filed or issued related to “climate-ready” crops—seeds supposedly able to withstand extreme conditions like droughts and floods; of these patents close to 80 percent were controlled by just six agribusiness giants, (DuPont, BASF, Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer and Dow). This represents an exclusive monopoly and control over the world’s plant biomass.

These large agrochemical and seed corporations are developing “climate-ready crops” and have filed almost two thousand patents for genetically engineered (GE) plants with high tolerance for drought, heat, cold and salinity, As of 2010, almost 366 million acres around the world were planted with GE crops, with the most acreage in the U.S., Brazil, Argentina, India, Canada, and China. Increasingly we are seeing developing countries increasing their using GE crops.

In the US GE soybeans make up 93 percent of the US soybean crop, and GE corn is up to 70 percent of the corn crop. Most of these are used for animal feed but as there is no labeling requirement we just do not know for sure.

As much as 80 percent of US processed foods contain GE crop ingredients such as corn starch, high fructose corn syrup, canola and cottonseed oil, soy flour, etc.

Very few benefits have been found to be associated with GE crops. Some research shows that GE crops do initially reduce the use of herbicides and pesticides. However, the use of GE crops have led to the growth of super-weeds which are resistant to herbicides and pesticides and therefore require more of these toxins. The notion that GE crops increase yields does not appear to be borne out by the research.

There is some evidence to suggest that mammals fed with GE soybeans and maize are more prone to develop liver and kidney problems.

The effects of GE crops on biodiversity are also of concern. Allergens from GE crops can be transferred across crop species, and transgenes can drift from GE crops to organic and non-GE crops. This gene drift could give some plants a selective advantage, allowing them to drive out other varieties. In addition, the Bt toxin in GE crops may harm species not specifically targeted that ingest pollen or plant debris. And because the giant agrochemical and seed companies can make more money from their GE seeds, they will likely stop selling conventional seeds, eventually limiting the variety of seeds available to farmers.

The bottom line is that there is still a lot we don’t know about GE crops. The agro-giants in control of the seeds make it impossible to do the research as to gain access to GE seeds, a buyer must sign an agreement that specifically forbids research.

There are also far reaching socio-economic impacts associated with GE seeds because they are proprietary, farmers must pay royalties to use them and new seeds must be purchased every season. Failure to adhere to these stipulations can result in legal action. As of 2007, Monsanto had filed 112 lawsuits against farmers for patent infringement, including against organic and conventional farmers whose crops were inadvertently contaminated with transgene seeds that blew into their fields.

GM crops need more study, but at present we can say they offer few if any proven benefits.  What is known is the fact that they jeopardize biodiversity and threaten global food sovereignty.

© 2013, Richard Matthews. All rights reserved.

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1 comment:

mmartins said...

These "climate ready" crops maybe a good thing. Because it can withstand natural calamities. But mind you, these are unnatural. If a thing "unnatural" it will always have a negative effect.

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