Wednesday, 5 May 2010

GM Food: Angel or Devil?

ISIS Press Release 04/05/10

Author: Yimin Publisher: Renmin University Press (May 2010)
Language: Chinese 165 pages

Foreword By Dr. Mae-Wan Ho

It has been 16 years since the first genetically modified (GM) crop - Flavr Savr tomato for delayed ripening - was approved for commercial growing in the USA.

It was also the year that I became a ‘science activist', on realising how science itself was falling prey to corporate manipulation. Flavr Savr was soon withdrawn as a failure; but it was only
a decoy, as agbiotech corporations like Monsanto were after much bigger game.

Genetic modification actually focussed on three major crops and two main traits: herbicide-tolerance (HT) due to glyphosate-insensitive form of the enzyme targeted by the
herbicide - 5-enolpyruvylshikimate-3-phosphate synthase (EPSPS) - derived from the soil bacterium Agrobacterium tumefaciens , and insect-resistance due to one or more toxins derived from another soil bacterium Bt ( Bacillus thuringiensis ).

Commercial planting of these crops began around 1997 in the USA, the heartland of GM crops, and increased rapidly thereafter. Though, thanks to strong resistance from informed citizens in Europe and other parts of the world, GM crops have remained confined, to this day, to less than 3 percent of global agricultural land, with 79 percent of the area planted concentrated in the USA, Argentina and Brazil [1].

In the USA, GM crops now occupy 85-91 percent of the area planted with the three major crops, soybean, corn and cotton. And it is the USA that's now facing an ecological meltdown due to GM crops [2].

HT crops encouraged the use of herbicides sold as a package with the crop, resulting in herbicide-resistant weeds that demand yet more herbicides.

But the increasing use of deadly herbicide and herbicide mixtures has failed to stall the advance of the dreaded palmer superweed that stops combine harvesters and break hand tools. At the same time, secondary pests such as the tarnished plant bug, against which Bt toxin is powerless, became the single most damaging insect for US cotton. The US corn belt, meanwhile, has been ravaged by yet another secondary pest, the western bean cutworm(Striacosta albicosta ).[3]. Farmers are at a loss to deal with the crisis. They are being advised by misguided academics to use an armoury of more deadly herbicides andinsecticides that accomplishes little else than make bigger profits for the same agbiotech companies that sell them the offending GM crops. Those farmers that have held out against planting GM crops, or want to stop planting them, are finding it increasingly difficult, if not impossible to buy non-GM seeds, as corporations like Monsanto have been consolidating their monopoly on seeds in the mean time [4]. In addition, they are offering new GM varieties with up to eight ‘stacked' traits to keep farmers on the transgenic treadmill [5].

The situation is bad enough for farmers in the United States; but it has been deadly in India, where farmers do not have any state subsidies, unlike their counterparts in the USA, and many are already caught in a cycle of indebtedness from the ‘green revolution' agriculture that depends on high chemical inputs.

Bt cotton was approved for commercial planting in India in
2003, and spread rapidly throughout the country despite
strenuous protests from farmers and consumers. Bt cotton
accelerated farm suicides by increasing farmers' burden of
debt. Crop failures or bad harvests for two successive
seasons on top of the exorbitant cost of GM seeds would be
enough to build up debt to a level that drives farmers to
take their own lives. As in the USA, Bt cotton soon created
secondary and new pests, as well as resistant pests, new
diseases, and above all, soils so depleted in nutrients and
beneficial microorganisms that they may cease to support the
growth of any crop in a decade [6, 7].

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