Genetically modified (GM) crops have not only failed to deliver the promised higher yields, lower costs, less hunger and lower pesticide consumption, they have done the opposite. The high cost of GM seeds has driven up food costs, increasing hunger, while impoverishing Indian farmers to the point of 250,000 suicides. BT resistant "super corn worm"
Moreover, while failing to increase yields, GM crops have led to the development of superweeds and superbugs that require the use of stronger pesticides in increasing amounts. However GM crops have been a great success for Monsanto, Du Pont and Syngenta corporations who have reaped huge profits and now control 70% of the global seed market according to a report released today by a global consortium of NGO's. GM crops benefit no one but the GM industry according to the expert representative of the Friends of the Earth in the video below. GM crops are profitable on large scale monoculture corporate farms, but the higher cost of seeds keeps farmers from increasing profits. However, because of the short term benefits seen in the first few years of use, farmers have adopted GM crops to compete. Monsanto hooks farmers like a drug pusher hooks high school kids. The first few times are so good. However, as weeds and bugs develop resistance, the need to use more and stronger herbicides and pesticides increases over time.
For small scale farmers in developing nations, GM crops have been a catastrophic failure. One quarter of a million farmers in India faced with rising Monsanto GM seed costs but a stable price for their crop have been driven to suicide.
Ten common weeds have now developed resistance in at least 22 US states, with about 6m hectares (15m acres) of soya, cotton and corn now affected. Consequently, farmers are being forced to use more herbicides to combat the resistant weeds, says the report. GM companies are paying farmers to use other, stronger, chemicals, they say. "The genetic engineering miracle is quite clearly faltering in farmers' fields," add the authors.
The companies have succeeded in marketing their crops to more than 15 million farmers, largely by heavy lobbying of governments, buying up local seed companies, and withdrawing conventional seeds from the market, the report claims. Monsanto, Dupont and Syngenta, the world's three largest GM companies, now control nearly 70% of global seed sales. This allows them to "own" and sell GM seeds through patents and intellectual property rights and to charge farmers extra, claims the report.
The study accuses Monsanto of gaining control of over 95% of the Indian cotton seed market and of massively pushing up prices. High levels of indebtedness among farmers is thought to be behind many of the 250,000 deaths by suicide of Indian farmers over the past 15 years.
The causes of the large number of suicides of Indian farmers are an ongoing controversy. Even the number of suicides is in question. A 2009 report determined that BT cotton was not a major factor in Indian suicides. However, no report on the suicides of farmers in India is difinitive given the complexity of the problem and problems with compiling the relevant data.
Results from a new investigation into the tragic phenomenon of Indian farmers' suicides and the alleged link with genetically modified (GM) cotton have been published. The International Food Policy Research Institute's (IFPRI) analysis released in October provides the most robust evidence yet that suicide among farmers in India has several causes, but Bt cotton is not a major factor. Indeed, the authors of the report, Bt Cotton and Farmer Suicides in India: Reviewing the Evidence, argue that insect-resistant cotton encoding the cry1Ac toxin gene from Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) has been very effective in India overall, notwithstanding the significant levels of variation that individual farmers have experienced with the technology. The study is unlikely to be the last word on what remains a highly emotive question, given both the chaotic conditions under which adoption of transgenic hybrid varieties in India proceeded at the start of this decade and the lack of solid data underpinning the very real and complex tragedy of farmer suicide in the country.
Note to readers
Because I do not have expertise in the biosciences, I am unable to critique bioscience reports like these in the same way I can critique reports in the earth sciences based on my many years of education and experience. I wrote up this post to highlight what looks to me to be an important report by a consortium of large number of NGOs in the developing world. I think we need to continue to discuss the practical results of the use GMOs in global agriculture. I appreciate all criticism if it is backed by the results of scientific studies.
Highlights taken from the (uncopyrighted) report
One of the big promises of GMO seed producers - increased yield - has been proven False.
GMO's will cause pests to develop resistance & become "superbugs".
Crops which have been genetically modified to produce the natural pesticide BT will lead to resistance and the development of superbugs which will likely damage the crops of organic growers who use BT as a natural pesticide. GM BT cotton is already being attacked by a superpest. Primary report, 58 page PDF.
The primary justification for the genetic engineering of Bt into crops is that this will reduce the use of insecticides. Bt cotton is among the ‘miracles’ being pushed by corporations like Monsanto as a solution to the pesticide crisis. One of the Monsanto brochures had a picture of a few worms and stated, “You will see these in your cotton and that’s O.K. Don’t spray.” However, in Texas, Monsanto faced a lawsuit filed by 25 farmers over Bt cotton planted on 18,000 acres which suffered cotton bollworm damage and on which farmers had to use pesticides in spite of corporate propaganda that genetic engineering meant an end to the pesticide era.
In 1996, two million acres in the US were planted with Monsanto’s transgenic Bollgard cotton. However, cotton bollworms were found to have infested thousands of acres planted with the new breed of cotton in Texas. Not only did the genetically engineered cotton not survive cotton bollworm attack, there are also fears that the strategy will create super bugs by inducing Bt – resistance in pests. The question is not whether super-pests will be created, but when they will become dominant.
Summary points from the GMO report on BT
1. The Bt Plant does not merely use ‘sunshine, air, and soil nutrients’. Bt crops are transgenic and have a gene from a bacterium called bacillus thuringiensis (bt) which produces the Bt toxin. In addition it has antibiotic resistance genes and genes from viruses as promoters.
2. The so called ‘biodegradable protein’ is actually a toxin which the gene continuously produces in the plant. This protein has been found in the blood of pregnant women and their fetuses.
3. Insect pests like the cotton bollworm which destroy cotton can actually evolve resistance because of continuous release of the toxin and hence become ‘super pests’.
4. The Bt crop does not affect ‘just one specific pest’. Beneficial insects like bees and ladybirds (ladybugs) can be seriously affected. A Cornell study showed that the Bt toxin affected the Monarch butterfly.
Superweeds growing in a GMO bean field are stealing water & nutrients
Farmer Mark Nelson yanks a four-foot-tall weed from his Kansas soybean field. The “waterhemp” towers above his beans, sucking up the soil moisture and nutrients
his beans need to grow... “When we harvest this field, these waterhemp seeds will spread all over kingdom come” he said. An estimated 11 million acres are infested with “superweeds” some of which grow several inches in a day and defy even multiple dousings of the world’s top-selling herbicide, Roundup, whose active ingredient is glyphosate.
False Promise of Reduced Use of Chemicals with GMOs
Despite claims that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) will lower the levels of chemicals (pesticides and herbicides) used, this has not been the case. This is of great concern both because of the negative impacts of these chemicals on ecosystems and humans, and because there is the danger that increased chemical use will cause pests and weeds to develop resistance, requiring even more chemicals in order to manage them.
• A survey conducted by Navdanya in Vidharbha showed that pesticide use has increased 13-fold there since Bt cotton was introduced.
• A study recently published in the Review of Agrarian Studies also showed a higher expenditure on chemical pesticides for Bt cotton than for other varieties for small farmers. (Are there Benefits from the Cultivation of Bt cotton? Review of Agrarian Studies Vol 1(1) January-June 2011. Madhura Swaminathan* and Vikas Rawal)
In China, where Bt cotton is widely planted:
• Populations of mirid bugs, pests that previously posed only a minor problem, have
increased 12-fold since 1997. A 2008 study in the International Journal of Biotechnology found that any financial benefits of planting Bt cotton had been eroded by the increasing use of pesticides needed to combat non-target pests. (“Benefits of Bt cotton elude farmers in China” GM Watch,
Some animal studies have shown detrimental effects of consumption of GMO feed.
Experiment by Irina Ermakova: influence of GM-soy (Roundup
Ready) on same age rats : control group on left, GM-soy on right
with pups small sizes and weights
The Committee of Independent Research and Information on Genetic Engineering (CRIIGEN) and universities at Caen and Rouen were able to get raw data of Monsanto’s 2002 feeding trials on rats at the European Council order and made
it public in 2005. The researchers found that rats fed with three approved corn varieties of GE corn—Mon 863, insecticide products, Mon 810, and Roundup Ready herbicide —suffered organ damage.
The data “clearly underlines adverse impacts on kidneys and liver, the dietary, detoxifying organs as well as different levels of damages to the heart, adrenal glands, spleen and haematopoietic systems,” according to Dr. Gilles Eric Seralini, a molecular biologist at the University of Caen. (“A Comparison of the Effects of Three GM Corn Varieties on Mammalian Health,” Joel Spiroux de Veu de Mois, Francois Roullier, Dominique Cellise, Gilles Eric Serelini, International Journal of Biological Sciences, 2009, 5: 706-726).