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3-Food: Ten reasons why GMOs won't feed the world



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TITLE:  Ten Reasons Why GMOs Won't Feed the World
SOURCE: The CornerHouse, UK
DATE:   May 19, 1999

----------------- archive: http://www.gene.ch/ ------------------


"Ten Reasons Why GMOs Won't Feed the World"
prepared by The CornerHouse, UK

It is often claimed that genetically engineered crops are the
only way to feed a growing world population. Yet close analysis
suggests that there are at least 10 good reasons why the
widespread adoption of genetic engineering in agriculture will
lead to more hungry people - not fewer.

1.   Feed, Not Food
2.   Engineering for Convenience
3.   Substituting Tropical Cash Crops
4.   Increasing Farm Debt
5.   Promoting Inefficient Farming
6.   Increasing Destitution
7.   Unsustainable Agriculture
8.   Lower Yields
9.   Increased Corporate Contro
10.  Misreading the Problem

1. Feed, Not Food
The two main GE crops grown commercially in the United States -
soybeans and maize (corn) - are used to feed livestock, not
people. This may be good for GE companies and their partners in
the grain trade, but it will do little to relieve world hunger.
Indeed, livestock production in many Southern countries has often
been at the direct expense of poorer people's diets. Egypt, for
instance, encouraged by USAID, invested heavily in livestock from
the 1970s onwards. The country now grows more food for animals
than for humans. Human supplies of grain have been made up
through US imports which contributes to Egypt's external debt.
The consistent beneficiaries have been large US grain merchants
which have exported US grains at hugely subsidised prices to
Egypt.

2. Engineering for Convenience
Much genetic engineering research in food has been directed at
meeting the commercial needs of food processors rather than the
nutritional needs of poorer consumers. A report by the US
Biotechnology Industry Organization suggests that more biotech
effort will be devoted to genetic techniques for delaying
ripening or rotting of fruits and vegetables and for improving
their appearance so that they can be transported over ever longer
distances and kept on supermarket shelves for longer. Maintaining
a system whereby food has to travel such long distances may be
good news for oil companies, airlines and motor manufacturers,
but it is an energy- and resource-intensive system which
contributes little to the nutritional health of hungry people in
either South or North - and does much to undermine it.

3. Substituting Tropical Cash Crops
Using genetic engineering to create substitutes for tropical cash
crops will destroy the livelihoods of the rural poor in many
Third World countries - aggravating poverty and hunger. Several
applications of biotechnology are aimed at growing tropical cash
crops in the North, or at producing in laboratories the
substances currently derived from such crops. Canola, for
example, has been genetically-engineered to produce oils which
would replace coconut and palm oils. Coconut oil provides seven
per cent of the total export income of the Philippines, the
world's largest exporter of coconut oil, and direct or indirect
employment for 21 million people, about 30 per cent of the
country's population. Other tropical crops at risk include
vanilla and cocoa. Although some of these cash crop producers
will be able to switch to growing other crops, many will not.
With their income from export earnings slashed, few Southern
countries will be in a position to compensate such workers and
farmers. They will be left to fend for themselves: many are
likely to become malnourished for lack of cash to buy food.

4. Increasing Farm Debt
Unlike many of the seeds currently grown by Third World farmers,
GE crops do not come free. Attempts through legislation and
genetic engineering techniques to sterilize seeds, and to deny
farmers' their ancient right to save and exchange seeds from
previous harvests will force them to buy their seeds every year.
In addition, farmers will also need to buy chemical herbicides
and fertilizers; without theses the GE seeds will fail to achieve
viable yields. Many small farmers, who are already hard pressed
by competition from heavily-subsidised food imports from the US
and by the removal of subsidies on water and energy under
structural adjustment programmes, will slide into debt. The
result is likely to be yet another wave of farm bankruptcies,
leading to landlessness for poorer farmers and an increased
concentration of land as wealthier farmers and speculators buy up
bankrupted farms. By threatening the farm livelihoods of the very
poor, GE crops can only undermine the food security of small
producers - hardly a policy for "feeding the world".

5. Promoting Inefficient Farming
Proponents of genetic engineering in agriculture argue that farm
bankruptcies are a regrettable but necessary price of greater
efficiency in agriculture. In terms of output per unit of labour,
small farms are less "efficient" than large modernised ones. But
in terms of gross output per unit of land, smaller farms often
outdo larger ones. In Thailand, holdings under one hectare have
been found to be almost twice as productive as holdings over 40
hectares. Arguments for replacing "inefficient" small producers
with "efficient" large producers also fail to take account of the
key role that small farms (particularly household gardens
invariably tended by women) play in efficiently supplying
informal household networks with food. To displace such networks
would almost certainly result in a dramatic fall in the amount of
unmarketed food available to poorer people.

6. Increasing Destitution
Many vulnerable smallholder producers displaced as a result of
growing genetically-engineered crops are likely to find
themselves in a saturated labour market. If they could get jobs,
they would probably be low-paid, insecure ones in the cities or
on larger farms where workers are generally paid piece rates. In
today's global supermarket, food goes to those who have the money
to buy it. Only those who have the income to translate their
biological needs into "effective demand" get to eat. Those whose
incomes are too low - who cannot grow food for themselves -
inevitably wind up malnourished. The overall result of displacing
"inefficient" small farmers is thus likely to be increased famine
and malnutrition - not a reduction in hunger as the proponents of
genetic engineering promise.

7. Unsustainable Agriculture
Genetic engineering in agriculture is likely to have adverse
environmental impacts which are in turn likely to undermine the
ecological basis of food production. Genetically-engineered crops
will stimulate the evolution of "superweeds" and "superbugs"
which will necessitate higher doses of chemicals and make food
supplies more vulnerable to pest damage. The outcrossing of
engineered traits to other plants also poses a major threat to
food production. In addition, the adoption of genetically
engineered crops is likely to reduce genetic diversity, resulting
in fewer and fewer types of food crops; the narrowing of the
genetic base of food adds to the likelihood of pest and disease
epidemics. Many of these problems stem from the fact that
genetically-engineered crops will be grown in industrial
monocultures. Other forms of agriculture offer far safer, proven
and ecologically-benign means of protecting crops against pest
damage.

8. Lower Yields
The genetically-engineered crops now being cultivated do not have
significantly increased yields. In some cases, yields are lower
than those for conventional varieties of the same crop. In the
first large-scale field trials in Puerto Rico in 1992 of Roundup
Ready plants, Monsanto scientists found statistically significant
reduced yields, averaging some 11.5 per cent, in three of seven
trials. Many of the first growers of Roundup Ready cotton in the
Mississippi Delta of the US complained in 1997 of low yields and
poor quality, noting that bolls dropped prematurely and were
deformed. Over 50 growers filed complaints with the newly-formed
US Seed Arbitration Council; Monsanto has since paid out
substantial compensation. Several analysts conclude that any
further increases in crop yields in modern food crops will almost
certainly come from building on traditional breeding methods -
not from transgenics.

9. Increased Corporate Control
Mergers, takeovers, joint ventures and licensing agreements
between plant breeding companies, seed distributors, grain
traders, chemical companies and genetic engineering interests
have resulted in some genetic engineering companies gaining near
monopoly control over the growing and marketing of some
agricultural commodities. Just ten multinationals (including 
Monsanto) have now cornered nearly 40% of the world seed market.
Monsanto itself estimates that half the US grain industry is now
using its genetically-engineered seed; it expects that by the
year 2000, all soybeans planted in the United States will be of
its Roundup Ready variety. Seed companies may well take
conventional varieties off the market or use existing seed and
patent legislation to restrict farmers growing such varieties.
The result could be a drastic reduction in farm biodiversity -
with a consequent increase in the vulnerability of crops to
disease. Again, hardly a way to ensure food supplies for the
future.

10. Misreading the Problem
Underlying the biotech industry's claim that GE foods are needed
to feed the world lies a fundamentally flawed analysis of the
causes of world hunger. More food will undoubtedly have to be
grown in future if the increasing numbers of people in the world
are to be adequately fed. But the claim that GE crops have a
positive contribution to make is only plausible if one mistakenly
assumes that the hungry must be hungry because there is not
enough food. In fact, more than enough food is already being
produced to provide the world with a nutritious and adequate diet
- according to the United Nations' World Food Programme, one-and
a-half times the amount required.

If one in seven people currently go to bed hungry, it is not
because of an absolute shortage of food, but because inequalities
in political and economic power deny food to people. As long as
access to food depends upon money, and as long as poorer people
are excluded from food markets or from land, significant numbers
of people will be malnourished, hungry and starving - whatever
happens to the global food supply, and whatever happens to the
number of people in the world. Far from addressing these
underlying structural causes of hunger, genetic engineering will
do much to exacerbate them. Ensuring food security worldwide
requires an approach to agriculturethat is, in almost every
respect, the reverse of that being promoted bybiotech companies
and their allies in government and regulatory authorities.

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"Ten Reasons" is extracted from "Food? Health? Hope? Genetic
Engineering and World Hunger", a 28-page briefing prepared by
The Corner House
PO Box 3137
Station Road
Sturminster Newton
Dorset DT10 1YJ, UK
Email <cornerhouse@gn.apc.org>
Email versions available free
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Sarah Sexton/Larry Lohmann/Nicholas Hildyard/Tracey Clunies Ross
THE CORNER HOUSE
PO Box 3137
Station Road
Sturminster Newton
Dorset DT10 1YJ
BRITAIN

Tel: +44 (0)1258 473795
Fax: +44 (0)1258 473748
Email: <cornerhouse@gn.apc.org>
Website http://www.icaap.org/Cornerhouse/ 



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