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Assessment & Impacts » Ecological

Title: GM Crops Fail to Deliver on Promises After 20 Years
Publication date: December 22, 2015
Posting date: December 22, 2015

THIRD WORLD NETWORK BIOSAFETY INFORMATION SERVICE 

Dear Friends and Colleagues 

GM Crops Fail to Deliver on Promises After 20 Years 

Greenpeace has released a new report reviewing evidence of GM environmental risks, market failures, and increased pesticide use for the past 20 years. It says, "Two decades on, the promises are getting bigger and bigger, but GM crops are not delivering any of them." Around 85% of GM crops are cultivated in just four countries in the Americas (US, Brazil, Argentina and Canada), representing only 3% of global agricultural land. 

The report effectively debunks seven myths about GM crops showing that: (1) GM crops are not feeding the world, do not increase yields, can negatively affect the livelihoods of small-scale farmers, and reinforce the industrial agriculture model that has failed to feed the world so far; (2) genetic engineering lags behind conventional breeding in developing plant varieties that can help agriculture cope with climate change; (3) long-term environmental and health monitoring programmes on GM crops either do not exist or are inadequate; (4) GM crops increase pesticide use and herbicide-resistant weeds and super-pests have emerged in response to herbicide-tolerant and insect-resistant GM crops, requiring additional pesticide use; (5) GM seed prices are protected by patents and their prices have soared over the last 20 years; (6) GM crops can contaminate non-GM crops; and (7) GM crops are not only an ineffective type of innovation but they also restrict innovation due to intellectual property rights owned by a handful of corporations. 

The report also stresses that there is no scientific consensus about the safety of GM crops. The paper puts forward ecological farming practices as a proven and sustainable solution to the challenges facing farming and food security. For instance, Western European countries have achieved higher average maize yields per hectare than the GM maize systems in the US and also outperformed GM rapeseed yields in Canada.  

With best wishes, 

Third World Network
131 Jalan Macalister
10400 Penang
Malaysia

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TWENTY YEARS OF FAILURE – WHY GM CROPS HAVE FAILED TO DELIVER ON THEIR PROMISES 

Greenpeace
http://www.greenpeace.org/international/Global/international/publications/agriculture/2015/Twenty%20Years%20of%20Failure.pdf   

(Excerpts) 

Seven Myths About GM Crops, and the Truth Behind Them 

MYTH 1: GM crops can feed the world
REALITY: There are no GM crops designed to deliver high yields. Genetic engineering is ill-adapted to solve the problems underpinning hunger and malnutrition - it reinforces the industrial agriculture model that has failed to feed the world so far. 

MYTH 2: GM crops hold the key to climate resilience
REALITY:
Genetic engineering lags behind conventional breeding in developing plant varieties that can help agriculture cope with climate change. Climate resilience heavily depends on farming practices promoting diversity and nurturing the soil, not on the over-simplified farming system GM crops are designed for. 

MYTH 3: GM crops are safe for humans and the environment
REALITY
: Long term environmental and health monitoring programmes either do not exist or are inadequate. Independent researchers complain that they are denied access to material for research. 

MYTH 4: GM crops simplify crop protection
REALITY:
After a few years, problems such as herbicide-resistant weeds and super-pests emerge in response to herbicide tolerant and insect resistant GM crops, resulting in the application of additional pesticides. 

MYTH 5: GM crops are economically viable for farmers
REALITY:
GM seed prices are protected by patents and their prices have soared over the last 20 years. The emergence of herbicide-resistant weeds and super-pests increases farmers’ costs, reducing their economic profits even further. 

MYTH 6: GM crops can coexist with other agricultural systems
REALITY:
GM crops contaminate non-GM crops. Nearly 400 incidents of GM contamination have been recorded globally so far. Staying GM-free imposes considerable additional, and sometimes impossible, costs for farmers. 

MYTH 7: Genetic engineering is the most promising pathway of innovation for food systems
REALITY:
Non-GM advanced methods of plant breeding are already delivering the sorts of traits promised by GM crops, including resistance to diseases, flood and drought tolerance. GM crops are not only an ineffective type of innovation but they also restrict innovation due to intellectual property rights owned by a handful of multinational corporations. 

Twenty years ago, the first genetically modified (GM) crops were planted in the USA, alongside dazzling promises about this new technology. Two decades on, the promises are getting bigger and bigger, but GM crops are not delivering any of them. Not only was this technology supposed to make food and agriculture systems simpler, safer and more efficient, but GM crops are increasingly being touted as the key to ‘feeding the world’ and ‘fighting climate change'. 

The promises may be growing, but the popularity of GM crops is not. Despite twenty years of pro-GM marketing by powerful industry lobbies, GM technology has only been taken up by a handful of countries, for a handful of crops. GM crops are grown on only 3% of global agricultural land2. Figures from the GM industry in fact show that only five countries account for 90 % of global GM cropland, and nearly 100% of these GM crops are one of two kinds: herbicide-tolerant or pesticide-producing. Meanwhile, whole regions of the world have resisted GM crops. European consumers do not consume GM foods, and a single type of GM maize is cultivated in Europe. Most of Asia is GM-free, with the GM acreage in India and China mostly accounted for by a non-food crop: cotton. Only three countries in Africa grow any GM crops. Put simply, GM crops are not ‘feeding the world’.  

Why have GM crops failed to be the popular success the industry claims them to be? As the promises have expanded, so too has the evidence that GM crops are ill-adapted to the challenges facing global food and agriculture systems. These promises have proved to be myths: some of these benefits have failed to materialize outside the lab, and others have unraveled when faced with the real-world complexities of agricultural ecosystems, and the real-world needs of farmers. In reality, GM crops have reinforced the broken model of industrial agriculture, with its biodiversity-reducing monocultures, its huge carbon footprint, its economic pressures on small-scale farmers, and its failure to deliver safe, healthy and nutritious food to those who need it.  

It is therefore time to question the myths spun by the GM industry, and to document the flaws and limitations of this technology. Six key myths about the benefits of GM crops will be held up to twenty years of evidence:

MYTH 1 ‘GM crops can feed the world’
MYTH 2 ‘GM crops hold the key to climate resilience
MYTH 3 ‘GM crops are safe for humans and the environment’
MYTH 4 ‘GM crops simplify crop protection’
MYTH 5 ‘GM crops are economically viable for farmers’
MYTH 6 ‘GM crops can coexist with other agricultural systems’ 

It is also time to question the idea that GM technology is the most promising way of harnessing scientific innovation to respond to the challenges facing food systems. The evidence shows that the real innovations for secure and sustainable food systems are not owned by corporations, and will be missed if we stay locked in the GM-industrial agriculture complex. It is therefore essential to tackle one final mega-myth: 

MYTH 7 ‘Genetic engineering is the most promising pathway of innovation for food systems’ 

There are no GM crops designed to increase yields. The evidence that GM crops increase yields compared to conventionally bred crops remains inconclusive, with performance varying according to crop type, country/region and other local conditions (e.g. pest pressure in a given year, farmer training). GM crops can only increase yield by reducing losses to pests in years of high infestation, and this effect is not permanent as pesticide-producing crops lead to resistant ‘superbugs’. Studies examining GM crop yields have often failed to isolate the effects of GM technology from other factors, or to compare like-for-like farms.  

Those farms able to take on the increased costs associated with GM crops are often the biggest and most competitive farms to start with, while the non-GM farmers figuring in comparisons may be lacking credit, training and resources. Genetic modification has not improved the yield potential (i.e. the maximum possible yield) of crops, as this depends more on the breeding stock used to carry the genes. Conversely, reduced yields have been attributed to the GM insertion process. For example, Monsanto’s original Roundup Ready GM soya was found to yield 10% less, when compared against the latest high-performing conventional soya crops. This was thought to be equally due to both the gene or its insertion process and differences in breeding stock.  

Meanwhile, a regional comparison shows that Western European countries have achieved higher average maize yields per hectare than the predominantly GM maize systems in the US, and Western Europe has also outperformed Canada’s GM rapeseed yields, suggesting that under similar conditions, the package of non-GM seeds and crop management practice in Western Europe is more conducive to driving yield gains than GM systems.


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