(Beyond Pesticides, February 12, 2009) Genetically modified (GM) crops are benefiting biotech food giants instead of the world’s hungry population, which is projected to increase to 1.2 billion by the year 2025 due to the global food crisis, according to a report released yesterday by the Center for Food Safety and Friends of the Earth International. The report, “Who Benefits From GM Crops: Feeding the Biotech Giants Not the World’s Poor,” explains how biotech firms like Monsanto are exploiting the dramatic rise in world grain prices that are responsible for the global food crisis by sharply increasing the prices of GM seeds and chemicals they sell to farmers, even as hundreds of millions go hungry.
The findings of the report support a comprehensive United Nations’ assessment of world agriculture in the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), which in 2008 concluded that GM crops have little potential to alleviate poverty and hunger in the world. IAASTD experts recommended instead low-cost, low-input agroecological farming methods.
“U.S. farmers are facing dramatic increases in the price of GM seeds and the chemicals used with them,” said Bill Freese, science policy analyst at the US-based Center for Food Safety and co-author of the report. “Farmers in any developing country that welcomes Monsanto and other biotech companies can expect the same fate – sharply rising seed and pesticide costs, and a radical decline in the availability of conventional seeds.”
According to the report, GM seeds cost from two to over four times as much as conventional, non-GM seeds, and the price disparity is increasing. From 80% to over 90% of the soybean, corn and cotton seeds planted in the U.S. are GM varieties. Thanks to GM trait fee increases, average U.S. seed prices for these crops have risen by over 50% in just the past two to three years. Exploitation of the food crisis has been extremely profitable for Monsanto, by far the dominant player in GM seeds. Goldman Sachs recently projected that Monsanto’s net income (after taxes) would triple from $984 million to $2.96 billion from 2007 to 2010.
The exorbitant cost of GM seeds is not the only problem. The vast majority of GM crops are not grown by or destined for the world’s poor, but instead are soybeans and corn used to feed animals, generate biofuels, or produce highly processed food products consumed mostly in rich countries. The report documents that nearly 90% of the global area planted GM crops in 2008 was found in just 6 countries with highly industrialized, export-oriented agricultural sectors in North and South America, with the U.S., Argentina and Brazil responsible for 80% of GM crops. The United States alone produced 50% of the world’s GM crops in 2008.
Despite more than a decade of hype, the biotechnology industry has not introduced a single GM crop with increased yield, enhanced nutrition, drought-tolerance or salt-tolerance. In fact, the biotechnology industry’s own figures show that 85% of all GM crop acreage worldwide in 2008 was planted with herbicide-tolerant crops. Herbicide-tolerant GM crops – chiefly Monsanto’s Roundup Ready varieties used with Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide (active ingredient glyphosate), have increased overall use of chemical weed killers. Roundup prices in the U.S. have more than doubled in the past two years.
Meanwhile, biotech propaganda has obscured the huge potential of low-cost agroecological and organic techniques to increase food production and alleviate hunger in developing countries. The report mentions several such projects, such as push-pull maize farming, practiced by 10,000 farmers in east Africa. The enormously successful push-pull system controls weed and insect pests without chemicals, increases maize production, and raises the income of smallholder farmers.
“GM seeds and the pesticides used with them are much too expensive for Africa’s small farmers,” said Nnimmo Bassey, executive director of Friends of the Earth Nigeria and chair of Friends of the Earth International. “Those who promote this technology in developing countries are completely out of touch with reality.”
TAKE ACTION: Currently the U.S. Department of Agriculture is accepting comments until March 17, 2009 on new rules on GM and pharmaceutical crops that would significantly weaken oversight of all GM crops, and which continue to allow companies to grow feed crops engineered to produce drugs and industrial chemicals, according to the Center for Food Safety. For more information on these proposed rules and to sign a petition for stronger regulations, click here.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is also accepting comments on GM crops. Comments are being accepting until March 6, 2009 on Monsanto’s second application to extend its experimental use permit for GM soybeans engineered with the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt).