(Beyond Pesticides, October 26, 2011) A new report highlights scientific research and empirical experiences around the globe that demonstrate the failure of genetically modified (GM) seeds and crops to deliver on their advertised promises to increase yields, reduce pesticide usage, and tolerate drought with “climate ready” traits.
A Global Citizens Report on the State of GMOs, “The GMO Emperor has no Clothes,” states that the on-the-ground experience in many countries discloses that GM technology has failed on all fronts, contrary to industry claims. The examples from around the globe include the financial burden borne by farmers. The report describes the cultivation of GM cotton in South Africa where the majority of farmers growing GM cotton are now in debt due to the high costs of seed, chemical, and other farm inputs. The Global Citizens Report confirms that such experiences are repeated in many countries and regions. The stories of Indian farmer indebtedness and increased suicides further emphasize the tragic costs of failed GM technology and its promises.
The prevalence of Roundup Ready GM crops has led to the increases of Roundup resistant weeds in the environment. Farmers and agronomists throughout the world are alarmed by the growing epidemic of “superweeds” developing a resistance to the herbicide. According to the report, from November 2007 to January 2011, infested acreage in the U.S. has more than quintupled, from 2.4 to 12.6 million acres. In Brazil, researchers have reported that nine species have developed tolerance to glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup. The recently released 2010 Agricultural Chemical Use Report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) indicates that the use of glyphosate has dramatically increased over the last several years, while the use of other even more toxic chemicals, such as atrazine, has not declined. Contrary to common claims from chemical manufacturers and proponents of GM technology that the proliferation of herbicide tolerant GM crops would result in lower pesticide use rates, the data show that overall use of pesticides has remained relatively steady, while glyphosate use has skyrocketed to more than double the amount used just five years ago.
Glyphosate has been found to kill human embryonic cells, and can cause kidney and liver damage. Glyphosate is harmful to the environment, particularly aquatic life and water quality and has been linked to intersex frogs, and is lethal to amphibians in concentrations found in the environment. Recently, USDA scientists reported that glyphosate appears to be causing harmful changes in soil and potentially hindering yields of crops that farmers are cultivating.
There has long been a concern that GM crops would threaten and lead to the failure of organic farming systems as an alternative to highly toxic synthetic inputs. Organic farmers have expressed concern since the introduction of GMOs that the overuse of GM technology, which is inevitable when genetically engineered material is incorporated into every cell of a plant, will lead to insect resistance and leave many farmers without the important tool of organic agriculture. For more on genetically modified agriculture read Beyond Pesticides’ article “Ready or Not, Genetically Engineered Crops Explode on Market.”
Similarly, insect species are also becoming resistant to the technology. Studies find rootworms are developing a resistance to GM corn in Iowa and Illinois. And, Monsanto, the undisputed leader in GM seed and crop technology and ownership, has, after several years, finally acknowledged that a bollworm pest has developed resistance to its bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) cotton.
Another common story detailed in the Global Citizens Report describes how GM technology is pushed by intensive lobbying and marketing efforts, “revolving door” influences, and funding of research and educational institutes. As noted in the report, the leading proponents of GM crops ””top food and agricultural biotechnology firms”” spent more than $547 million lobbying the U.S. Congress between 1999 and 2009.
The report also documents increasing scientific evidence and warnings from scientists that GMOs may be harmful to human health, ecosystems and have failed to increase food production. It highlights that, in contrast to GM seeds and crops, agroecological farming systems, like organic farming systems, are proving to be the real answer to food insecurity. A recent study by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food reported that agroecological systems doubled crop yields over a period of three to 10 years in field tests conducted in 20 African countries. The report also cites numerous other studies confirming high yields and reduced chemical use in other regions of the world due to agroecological farming methods.
GMOs and the increased pesticide use that accompanies them have been the source of serious environmental contamination and public health concerns. Beyond Pesticides is currently involved in multiple lawsuits involving Roundup Ready and other GM crops. The first lawsuit is filed against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and seeks to end cultivation of GM crops on twenty-five national wildlife refuges across the U.S. Southeast. The suit is the latest step in a campaign to banish GM crops from all refuges. Filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on August 12, 2011 by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), the Center for Food Safety (CFS), and Beyond Pesticides, the federal suit charges that FWS unlawfully entered into cooperative farming agreements and approved planting of GM crops in eight states without the environmental review required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and in violation of FWS policy. In another case involving GM crops, attorneys for CFS, Earthjustice, Beyond Pesticides, and others filed a lawsuit against USDA in March 2011, arguing that the agency’s unrestricted approval of GM “Roundup Ready” alfalfa violates the Endangered Species Act. USDA announced plans to fully deregulate GM alfalfa in January, despite contamination risks it poses to both organic and conventional farmers.
Beyond Pesticides believes that whether it is the incorporation into food crops of genes from a natural bacterium (Bt) or the development of a herbicide-resistant crop, the GM approach to agriculture and pest management is short sighted and dangerous. There are serious public health and pest resistance problems associated with GM crops. Beyond Pesticides’ goal is to push for labeling as a means of identifying products that contain GM ingredients, seek to educate on the public health and environmental consequences of this technology and generate support for sound ecological-based management systems.
For more news and information on “Roundup Ready” and other GE crops, see Beyond Pesticides’ genetic engineering page.
To learn more about alternatives to GM crops and chemical dependence, visit our organic food and farming page.
Source: Center for Food Safety