• Tewolde - quote
  • image
  • Rice and new scientist - quote
  • Former head of Novartis - quote
  • American farmers - silos - quote

GM is not needed

"We say NO to genetically modified foods. We do not need genetically modified seeds. Our indigenous seeds are superior for our taste and style of farming. We small scale farmers farm for people and not for industry!"

Statement of the Small farmers Convergence at the World Summit on Sustainable Development, Johannesburg, 2002.

 

Key Information

Many of the ethical and scientific aspects of GM technology make it extremely worrying, but the most overwhelming argument against it is, quite simply, that we do not need it. Methods of plant breeding that do not use GM are more effective and often quicker as well as safer, and other ways of farming genuinely produce the benefits for the environment and productivity that the GM industry claims for itself.

 

Non-GM plant breeding more effective, cheaper and at least as quick

There is growing evidence that GM technology is much more expensive and less effective than conventional plant breeding.1 GM, after nearly thirty years of research, has essentially produced two traits that are commercially in use – herbicide tolerance and insect resistance.2 Conventional breeding has changed and improved plant varieties in thousands of different ways, and continues to do so. When diversity within a species is maintained it simply isn't necessary to breed plants across species. While GM theoretically lays open a much wider pool of genes because scientists can attempt to use DNA sequences from any living thing, in reality the complexity of genetics means that breeding within a species is usually more effective.3 Even the CEO of Syngenta admitted in 2004 that attempts to genetically modify a species "often failed" while traditional methods often brought excellent results.4 It is true that some non-GM plant biotechnology may carry some of the same risks, both in terms of safety5 and corporate control6, and success stories that don't involve GM still demand a cautious approach. At the same time, the case studies below expose the false claim that we need genetic modification to improve plant varieties.

Case Studies

Rice: floods and heatwaves – using varieties developed by farmers
  • Researchers at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) used a rice variety that was identified 50 years ago in the Indian state of Orissa as being able to withstand being submerged in water for long period without losing yield, and used marker assisted selection (not GM) to cross it with a popular variety grown on millions of hectares in India and Bangladesh.

  • Researchers at the African Rice Centre are using rice varieties that have deep roots, good water efficiency and that tend to flower in the early morning when temperatures are lower, and crossed them with higher yielding Asian rice to produce a variety that combines advantages from both continents.7

  • Navdanaya, a New Delhi-based NGO headed by Vandana Shiva, together with farmers from nine Indian states, has developed a register of over 2 000 indigenous rice varieties, among which are many that are reported to be effective in resisting environmental extremes, pests and disease.8

 

Maize: drought, pests and aflatoxins
  • In the Philippines university researchers have developed a variety of maize that withstood a drought of 29 days, while in Kenya researchers found a variety that was naturally resistant to the large grain borer.9

  • Cati Marielle, Director of the Sustainable Agricultural Systems division of the Environmental Study Group in Mexico city argues that drought tolerant maize varieties already exist, developed by farmers' careful seed selection over many cities, so as to be able to farm in the desert.10

  • In 2009, Nigerian and Kenyan scientists announced a major non-GM breakthrough that could dramatically reduce the cancer-causing, immuno-suppressant aflatoxins often present on maize, cassava and ground-nuts throughout Africa.11

 

Changing how we grow our food

In most cases, improvements to farming are better produced by changing methods than by changing seed varieties. A few case studies below highlight how ecological methods can deliver greater benefits to farmers than the high-tech solutions offered by agro-industry.

 

Case studies

Drought resistance in Zambia

Zambia refused GM aid and GM seeds, and instead there was a national policy promoting ecological farming methods such as mixed farming and conservation farming. Although drought remains a serious issue in Zambia, following this policy, harvests, especially of maize, the country's staple crop, were unusually good.12 Ironically, when Zambia rejected the GM aid, the widespread media coverage was of prime minister Mwanawasa was unilaterally over-riding the wishes of the starving population, being accused by the US of committing "crimes against humanity."13 However, the decision to reject the GM maize had been taken in consultation with farmers, women's groups, church groups, politicians and local NGOs,14 and Zambia not only had the verbal support of civil society organisations representing 45 African countries15 they also received more material help in the form of non-GM aid.

Pesticide-free cotton in India

Andhra Pradesh was known as the "pesticide capital of the world" and since the 1970s people had been growing high-yielding hybrid seeds, which couldn't be saved by farmers, but had to be bought every year on credit.16 Over time the gains of the so-called Green Revolution started to be reversed, the soil became more and more depleted of water and nutrients, and pests became harder to control.17 It was in this context that Monsanto's subsidiary was able to sell its insect resistant cotton, but the failure of this crop to reduce pesticide use or increase productivity has been widely documented.18 19 Another major failure of GM was that it intensified the debt crisis that has so famously driven so many farmers to suicide: the cost of seed and chemicals meant that yields had to be very much higher before farmers could recover the money that they borrowed to buy them.

Enter non-pesticide management – innovative methods to replace the use of chemical inputs, using locally available materials and cheap, freely reproducing seed that farmers could save and re-use each season. For instance people ground the seeds of the local neem tree and used these to disrupt the reproduction of harmful insects, they used 'trap' crops to lure pests away, they used cow dung and urine to combat aphids, and green manures as fertilisers.20 While all of this required time, effort and knowledge to start working, an investigation by the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture demonstrated that it was more effective in controlling pests,21 and in addition it was all cheap enough for farmers to regain their independence, and be able to rely on making a profit each year.22

 

Read about

 

Footnotes

1: GM plant breeding not faster, 20.07.04, http://www.non-gm-farmers.com/news_details.asp?ID=1463, last viewed 10.05.09

2: 'Who benefits from gm crops? The rise in pesticide use', Friends of the Earth International, Executive Summary, January 2008, p4

3: Tippe, Ruth and Then, Christophe, 'The future of seeds and food', April 2009, available at http://www.no-patents-on-seeds.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=91&Itemid=42, last viewed 10.05.09

4: Lawrence, David, quoted on the African Conservation website, ' Syngenta halts genetic engineering projects in Europe', 01.12.04, http://www.africanconservation.org/dcforum/DCForumID35/21.html, last viewed 10.05.09

5: e.g. Batista, Rita; Saibo, Nelson; Lourenco, Tiago and Oliveira, Maria Margarida 'Microarray analyses reveal that plant mutagenesis may induce more transcriptomic changes than transgene insertion', available at http://www.pnas.org/content/105/9/3640.full, last viewed 10.05.09

6: Tippe, Ruth and Then, Christophe, 'The future of seeds and food', April 2009, available at http://www.no-patents-on-seeds.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=91&Itemid=42, last viewed 10.05.09

7: Patenting the "Climate Genes"…And Capturing the Climate Agenda', ETC group communique, Issue 99, May/June 2008, p12

8: 'Non-GM breakthroughs leave GM behind', 27.02.08, http://www.i-sis.org.uk/NonGMLeaveGMBehind.php, last viewed 10.05.09

9: 'Non-GM breakthroughs leave GM behind', 27.02.08, http://www.i-sis.org.uk/NonGMLeaveGMBehind.php, last viewed 10.05.09

10: Quoted in 'Monsanto meet resistance in Mexico', 29.03.08, http://charlesmostoller.gnn.tv/articles/3574/Monsanto_Meets_Resistance_in_Mexico_Part_2, last viewed 01.05.09

11: Scientists Announce Breakthrough in Battle Against Aflatoxin', 30.04.09, http://africasciencenews.org/asns/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1205&Itemid=2, last viewed 10.05.09

12: 'Non-GM breakthroughs leave GM behind', 27.02.08, http://www.i-sis.org.uk/NonGMLeaveGMBehind.php, last viewed 10.05.09

13: 'US calls food aid refusal a crime against humanity', 05.12.02, http://www.trinicenter.com/cgi-bin/selfnews/viewnews.cgi?newsid1030225385,55451,.shtml, last viewed 10.05.09

14: 'GM food aid: Ripple in the WSSD corridors', http://www.twnside.org.sg/title/twr145g.htm last viewed 10.05.09

15: 'African Civil Society Statement on GM 'Food Aid', 31.08.02, http://www.gmfoodnews.com/af310802.txt, last viewed 10.05.09

16: Gala, Rhea, 'Return to Organic Cotton & Avoid the Bt-Cotton Trap', 05.01.06, http://www.i-sis.org.uk/ROC.php, last viewed 10.05.09

17: 'Saying 'No' to chemical farming in India', August 2008, http://www.twnside.org.sg/title2/susagri/susagri050.htm, last viewed 10.05.09

18: Qayum, A and Sakkhari K, Bt Cotton in Andhra Pradesh: a three year assessment, 2005, www.grain.org/research_files/BT_Cotton_-_A_three_year_report.pdf, last viewed 13.03.09

19: 'Bt Cotton Fails Yet Again: An Independent Assessment of Bt Cotton', Centre from Sustainable Agriculture, Permaculture Association of India and AP Rythu Sangam Warangal unit, available at www.csa-india.org/downloads/GE/Bt%20Cotton%20Fails%20Yet%20Again.pdf, last viewed 10.05.09

20: 'Saying 'No' to chemical farming in India', August 2008, http://www.twnside.org.sg/title2/susagri/susagri050.htm, last viewed 10.05.09

21: : 'Bt Cotton Vs. Non Pesticidal Management of Cotton – Findings of a study done by Centre for Sustainable Agriculture', available at www.grain.org/research_files/bt_vs_npm.pdf, last viewed 01.05.09

22: Gala, Rhea, 'Return to Organic Cotton & Avoid the Bt-Cotton Trap', 05.01.06, http://www.i-sis.org.uk/ROC.php, last viewed 10.05.09