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With the cost of food recently skyrocketing— hitting not just shoppers but the poor and hungry in the developing world—genetically modified foods are once again being promoted as the way to feed the world. But this is little short of a confidence game. Far from needing more GM foods, there are urgent reasons why we need to ban them altogether.
Here are ten of them.
1. GM foods won’t solve the food crisis
A 2008 World Bank report concluded that increased biofuel production is the major cause of the increase in food prices. GM giant Monsanto has been at the heart of the lobbying for biofuels (crops grown for fuel rather than food)—while profiting enormously from the resulting food crisis and using it as a PR opportunity to promote GM foods!
“The climate crisis was used to boost biofuels, helping to create the food crisis; and now the food crisis is being used to revive the fortunes of the GM industry,” writes Daniel Howden, Africa correspondent of The Independent.
Professor Denis Murphy, head of biotechnology at the University of Glamorgan in Wales, had this to say about the issue: “The cynic in me thinks that they’re just using the current food crisis and the fuel crisis as a springboard to push GM crops back on to the public agenda. I understand why they’re doing it, but the danger is that if they’re making these claims about GM crops solving the problem of drought or feeding the world, that’s B.S.”
2. Genetically modified crops do not increase yield potential
Despite the promises, GM has not increased the yield potential of any commercialized crops. In fact, studies show that the most widely grown GM crop, GM soya, has suffered reduced yields.
A report that analyzed nearly two decades worth of peer-reviewed research on the yield of the primary GM food/feed crops, soybeans and corn (maize), reveals that despite 20 years of research and 13 years of commercialization, genetic engineering has failed to significantly increase crop yields in the United States. The author, former U.S. EPA and U.S. FDA biotech specialist Dr. Doug Gurian-Sherman, concludes that when it comes to yield, “Traditional breeding outperforms genetic engineering hands down.”
“Let’s be clear,” he wrote in 2008. “As of this year, there are no commercialized GM crops that inherently increase yield. Similarly, there are no GM crops on the market that were engineered to resist drought, reduce fertilizer pollution or save soil. Not one.”
3. GM crops increase pesticide use
Data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows that in the States, GM crops have produced an overall increase, not decrease, in pesticide use compared to conventional crops.
“The promise was that you could use less chemicals and produce a greater yield,” writes Bill Christison, president of the U.S. National Family Farm Coalition. “But let me tell you, none of this is true.”
4. There are better ways to feed the world
A major UN/World Bank-sponsored report compiled by 400 scientists and endorsed by 58 countries concluded that GM crops have little to offer global agriculture and the challenges of poverty, hunger and climate change, because better alternatives are available. In particular, the report championed “agroecological” farming as the sustainable way forward for developing countries.
5. Other farm technologies are more successful than GM farming
Integrated Pest Management and other innovative low-input or organic methods of controlling pests and boosting yields have proven highly effective, particularly in the developing world. Other plant breeding technologies, such as Marker Assisted Selection (non-GM genetic mapping), are widely expected to boost global agricultural productivity more effectively and safely than GM.
“The quiet revolution is happening in gene mapping, helping us understand crops better,” writes Professor John Snape, head of the department of crop genetics at the John Innes Centre. “That is up and running and could have a far greater impact on agriculture [than GM].”