Feb 26, 2010, Josette Dunn
The annual GM industry-funded survey of global GM crops, by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agro-biotech Applications (ISAAA), shows 7 of the 25 GM countries grew less genetically manipulated (GM) crops in 2009. No more countries adopted GM and just 2.7% of global agricultural land was used for GM soy, corn, canola and cotton.
This slowdown in GM crops appears to be largely due to the widespread public concern about the safety of consuming GM foods. “Most GM product goes into animal feed, biofuels or cotton products, as shoppers avoid eating GM foods” says Gene Ethics Director Bob Phelps.
“GM is not a global industry. Just six countries dominate GM cropping, with the USA, Brazil, Argentina, India, Canada and China growing 95% of all GM crops. Though 20 other countries, including Australia, grow some GM they are just dabbling.
“The Cartagena Biosafety Protocol will be completed this year, giving countries more grounds for saying ‘no’ to GM crops. 156 countries are now members of the treaty but Australia is not among them.”
The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety is an international agreement on biosafety, as a supplement to the Convention on Biological Diversity. The Biosafety Protocol aims to protect biological diversity from the potential risks posed by living modified organisms resulting from modern biotechnology.
The Protocol makes clear that products from new technologies must be based on the precautionary principle and allow developing nations to balance public health against economic benefits. It will for example let countries ban imports of a living modified organism if they feel there is not enough scientific evidence that the product is safe; and requires exporters to label shipments containing genetically altered commodities such as corn or cotton.
These policies echo the public’s desire for transparency in GM food labelling as both consumers, food producers and governments want the power to choose whether or not they buy GM goods.
“No new GM crops have been commercialised since 1996. Pushing GM is like peddling Windows ‘95 – the technology and its products are past their use by date,” Mr Phelps says.
“Of 513 million small farmers world-wide, just 2.75% grow any GM. Most farmers will not grow GM as yields are lower than the best conventional varieties, the patented seed is more expensive and it cannot be saved for replanting.
“China’s GM area was 3% lower and Paraguay down 19% in 2009. While Indian Bt cotton expanded a little, the Indian government has banned commercial GM eggplant with insect toxins. In the EU the area of Monsanto’s GM corn fell in Spain, the Czech Republic, Romania and Slovakia and 5 other EU countries banned it outright.
“Over 60% of the modest increase in global GM area last year was GM maize grown in Brazil but this has escalated deforestation of the Amazon and is unsustainable.”
According to Mr Phelps, the issues with GM crops include more than just consumer health concerns: “The ISAAA report fails to assess the escalating resistance of weeds to Roundup’s active ingredient, glyphosate, now an unmanageable problem arising from GM herbicide tolerant crops in North and South America. We have similar problems already in Australia and GM will make them worse as wild radish, turnip and charlock acquire resistance. More weed killers are used since GM cropping began in 1996, increasing carbon emissions from more fossil fuel use.
“There is not one commercial GM crop with increased yield, drought-tolerance, salt-tolerance, enhanced nutrition, a nitrogen-fixing grain or other beneficial trait promised by GM companies for over 25 years. Yet GM crops also hinder the development of real solutions to hunger and climate change by restricting funding and farmer access to seeds and knowledge.
“We need new, smarter GM-free farming systems that feed people without wrecking the planet,” Mr Phelps concludes.
If the data contained in the ISAAA report is anything to go by, it appears that Mr Phelps is not alone in this opinion. Current GM crops seem to create more problems than they solve, and with consumers rejecting GM foods the amount of commercially grown GM crops is not likely to see much growth.
While GM is great in theory, in practice it has not solved the world’s farming problems. We need a new solution to feeding the world that is more environmentally and consumer friendly.