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Feeding the world: GM is not the answer

By Bob Phelps - posted Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Starvation, malnutrition and poverty continually stalk vulnerable members of the human family. Yet on World Food Day 2007, the Director-General of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, Jacques Diouf, confirmed that, "Our planet produces enough food to feed its entire population". More food production is not the only answer to world hunger.

Propaganda claims Genetically Manipulated (GM) crops, plants and animals will produce more food to “feed the world”. False GM promises take scarce resources away from solving the real systemic problems created by intensive GM, oil-dependent farming, including ecological disruption and hunger.

Multinational GM and agrochemical companies constantly exploit disasters and political upheavals - drought, famine, food prices and disease - to maximise their profits and to justify their private interests in the public's eyes. Without these false promises to allay our fears, GM products have little to offer and cannot be justified.


Corporate disinformation trumpets the 114 million hectares of GM crops grown last year. But that's just 1.3 per cent of the world's productive land area. And GM crops are not the global bonanza for farming that the GM industry claims. Nearly 95 per cent of all GM crops - soy, corn, canola and cotton - are grown in North and South America. The USA grows more than 50 per cent of all GM crops, and Argentina, Brazil, Canada and Paraguay grow most of the rest - mainly for animal feed.

Monsanto, the world's biggest commercial seed company, owns more than 90 per cent of all GM crops, a recipe for monopoly control and profits!

GM soy, corn, cotton and canola were launched in the USA in 1996 - with two traits - Roundup herbicide tolerance and insect killing toxins. In 2008, the same four GM crops and two traits are commercially available. GM crops have stalled as they are not a mature technology with potential to develop. If Windows 95 were still our operating system we'd be wondering too!

False promises about the future of GM in agriculture abound. After more than 20 years of effort, there is little in the GM development pipeline that can be commercialised in the next 10 to 20 years, if ever. Most promises - like the CSIRO's non-browning fruits and vegetables, weevil resistant field peas and invasive viruses to sterilise feral animals - were bright ideas that failed on practical, health and environmental grounds. They cost a lot of money that should have been invested in saving our soils and drought-proofing our farms.

Gene manipulation techniques are crude, unreliable and unstable. Though GM can be used to splice single gene traits such as herbicide tolerance between unrelated organisms, most traits are controlled by the interaction of multiple genes that cannot be cut and pasted. These include the oft-promised crops with salt tolerance, nitrogen fixation and nutritional value. GM is slower, more expensive and less successful than traditional breeding in most plants and animals.

The final report of the United Nations' International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) was launched in Johannesburg in April. More than 400 scientists worked for three years to take stock of the current state of farming globally and chart the path for a sustainable future.


The report calls for fundamental changes in agriculture to better address soaring food prices, hunger, social inequities and environmental catastrophe. Shifting from industrial agribusiness to sustainable farming is essential and means investing in research and development to help farmers optimise their use of land and water resources. Modern farming systems would enhance local traditional knowledge.

The report concluded that: "systems are needed that enhance sustainability while maintaining productivity in ways that protect the natural resource base and ecological provisioning of agricultural systems."

The 2,500 page report found no conclusive evidence that GM crops can increase productivity. Instead, several studies had reportedly found GM soybeans and corn suffer 5-10 per cent reductions in yield. GM crops could not play a substantial role in solving key problems of climate change, biodiversity loss, hunger or poverty. There were no other GM crops close to commercial use that might increase yields or resist droughts. GM companies were full participants in setting up the study but when GM crops were criticised they stormed out.

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About the Author

Bob Phelps is Executive Director of Gene Ethics.

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Related Links
Gene Ethics
Greenpeace - Genetic engineering
Mothers Against Genetic Engineering

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