WHY IS GM IN AGRICULTURE NOT DESIRABLE?
WHAT ARE GENETICALLY MODIFIED ORGANISMS (GMOs)?
The World Health Organisation, defines these as “organisms in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally”. Unlike normal plant breeding, GM technology is across species. Genes are extracted from one organism and forcibly inserted into the cell of another living organism (eg bacterium gene to cotton, fish gene to tomato). The GM crop then spreads rapidly and uncontrollably by pollination, mixture in godowns and marketplaces and deliberate promotion by the seed companies. The enormous complexity of living organisms and their inter-relationships, results in great unpredictability, uncontrollability and irreversibility from the spread of GM traits.
Currently over 98% of all GM crops have only two traits:
1) Production of a pesticide in every cell to kill a target pest. For eg bollworm in Bt cotton;
2) Herbicide tolerance (HT) so that the GM crop can withstand spraying of a herbicide ie weed killing chemical, which destroys weeds and all other plants.
In both the above, the toxins are ingested by humans, livestock and wild species.
Almost all GM seeds are sold by the world’s largest pesticide companies. Pesticides include insecticides, herbicides and fungicides. Though the use of GM crops caused a slight decrease in insecticide use, there was a ten-fold increase in herbicide use in USA (2 million to 23 million tonnes pa) from 1996 to 2011. (Charles Benbrook, Washington State University)
GM in India is only in Bt cotton so far, but there are proposals to introduce GM food crops such as mustard, brinjal, rice, wheat, jowar, groundnut, corn, potato, tomato, cabbage, cauliflower, okra, papaya, watermelon, sugarcane etc.. Mustard may be released shortly.
GM mustard, if commercially released, will be India’s first GM food crop. It has been produced by a team of Delhi University scientists and is being projected as a public sector GM crop for greater acceptability. It has been made with 3 bacterial genes, one of which is a herbicide tolerant gene which will result in herbicide use. The claim of 28% higher yield from this GM food crop is based on comparison with old, low yielding varieties and not with more recent hybrids. The testing protocol was devised by the seed developer and all details have not been put in the public domain. When Bt brinjal data was made publicly available, numerous problems were found which eventually led to a moratorium on its commercial release.
SOME FACTS ABOUT GM CROPS
They were first released in the USA in 1996. Unlike GM in pharmaceuticals, which are contained, carefully tested, monitored and can be withdrawn, GM crops are not labelled. This also means that their impacts cannot be studied in real life, and they cannot be halted once released. Most governments follow the United Nation’s Precautionary Principle and do not grow GM crops as there is no scientific consensus on their safety and their benefits are doubtful. Lobbying for them is intense. Monsanto’s PR agency has disclosed that it paid more than Rs 1 crore ($150,000) since the last quarter of 2015 for lobbying US lawmakers for "issues relating to the regulation of biotechnology products in India" and other specific issues. There is increasing evidence that biotech industry claims of higher yields, lower pesticide use, and GMOs’ safety are false. Many studies now exist showing that GMOs can damage health, environment, agriculture and farm livelihoods.
CLAIMS AND REALITY ABOUT GM (Most statistics are from industry data)
1. India will not be ‘left behind’ without GM crops. In fact, over 94% of all GM crop area is in only 7 countries (USA 39%, Brazil 25%, Argentina 14%, Canada 6%, India 6%, China 2%, Paraguay 2%). The balance 6% is of small areas in 21 countries.
2. No GM is grown by 17 of the 20 Most Developed Countries (HDI) including Japan, Russia, Singapore and most of Europe. Only 28 of the world’s 196 countries grow GM.
3. GM area declined in 2015, with 9 countries decreasing area while only 4 increased. Developing countries, especially India, are the target of lobbying.
4. China, one of the first GM adopters in 1996, reduced its GM area and now has one third of India’s. China has cancelled field trials of GM rice and corn, banned GM food for its army and rejected shipments of ‘unauthorised’ GM corn from USA.
5. Just 4 crops still account for 99% of GM crops grown globally - soy, corn, cotton and canola as consumers are resisting GM globally. Doctors advise against GM.
6. Only 2 traits -Pesticide production (Bt) and Herbicide tolerance (HT)- are in 98% of GM crops. 81% is of HT which only increases chemical usage in farming, apart from several socio-economic implications. Nutrition, drought tolerance etc are best met by other means.
7. Opposition to GM is NOT unscientific. Over 400 peer reviewed and published studies indicate risks to health, agriculture and environment (http://indiagminfo.org)
8. Health impacts take long to manifest, as happens with tobacco, but biosafety tests are done for only 90 days on rodents ie equal to only 10 years of human life. In 2015 the World Health Organisation’s Cancer Research wing said that the glyphosate herbicide used with HT GM crops is ‘probably carcinogenic to humans’. High correlation is shown with increase in cancer, kidney and liver damage, autism, alzheimer’s, obesity etc. in USA, where over 50% of food has GM ingredients (Dr Nancy Swanson)
9. GM contaminates and impacts exports of both organic and non-organic crops as some countries refuse to import any crop of which a GM version is also grown.
10. Yield increase claims are untrue. Yield depends on many factors such as soil, irrigation, basic seed quality etc. The GM trait is put in the best performing seed but no long term studies are done to separate the factors contributing to yield. The Union of Concerned Scientists, USA, studied 13 years of GM corn and soya and found no significant yield increase. The US Dept of Agriculture Report for 2014 says there is no yield increase from GM. Food Insecure people in USA increased from 12% in 1995 to 15% in 2011. Average all India cotton yield grew by 69% from 2000 to 2005, when Bt cotton was less than 6% of all cotton. From 2005 to 2015 yield grew by only 10%, though Bt cotton covered 95% of cotton area. (CAB data) Increased cotton production is largely due to increased area and irrigation.
11. Claims of higher net incomes are questionable, but costs and risks are higher especially in non-irrigated areas. In India, incomes increased when global cotton prices increased. Debts and risks also increased due to higher costs with Bt cotton. Suicides are as high as pre Bt cotton days. In USA over 53% of US farm subsidy of $15 billion in 2011 was for its 3 GM crops. (USDA).
12. Farmers, initially attracted by control of target pest or weeds, later face problems. Unforeseen new pests (eg whiteflies and other sucking pests), insect resistance and herbicide tolerance in weeds occur.
13. Over 33% (61 million acres) of US farmlands are infested by herbicide tolerant weeds (Stratus Agri Marketing Report, 2013)
14. Demand for NON-GM seed in USA increased by 80% in 2013. Area under GM in USA, Canada, China etc declined in 2015 as false claims and risks got exposed. US farmers are refusing to plant GM wheat even after regulatory clearance.
15. Six largest agrochemical companies control almost 100% of GM seed. Seed diversity, farmer innovation and a country’s self-reliance reduce drastically wherever GM seeds have been adopted. Just one crop, Bt cotton, gave revenue of over Rs 10000 crores in royalties and licence fees from India to Monsanto.
16. GM adversely impacts vital pollinators like butterflies and bees, natural pest controllers like ladybugs, etc. Yields eventually fall when pollinators decrease.
17. HT seeds drastically reduce employment from weeding. Weeds are also food, fodder & medicines for many.
18. Consumers and farmers lose their choice to be GM free. Segregation of GM from non GM is impossible in India.
19. Field trials of GM are not safe. Field trials in Indian Agriculture Universities could contaminate priceless germplasm stored by them. (Sopory Committee reported contamination at Dharwad Agricultural University). In 2006 in USA, after GM rice supposedly destroyed after farm trials contaminated other rice, it caused an estimated loss of 1 billion dollars to US farmers; Bayer Crop Science paid them $750 million. GM wheat from Monsanto’s field trials done between 1998 and 2005, re-appeared in farms in 2013 and Monsanto has paid over $2.5 million to settle the wheat lawsuits.
20. GM CLOSES BETTER AGRICULTURAL OPTIONS AND TRADE: The world’s largest scientific study of agricultural technology namely The International Assessment of Agricultural Science & Technology for Development (IAASTD Report 2008) undertaken by 400 scientists for the World Bank, FAO and UN agencies found ecological agriculture (organic farming, non pesticidal management etc) by small farmers and not corporatized GM based farming to be the most effective.
Meanwhile, Organic produce has the fastest growing demand (over 25% pa), is least risky (no organic farmer has committed suicide due to agrarian distress so far), provides 30% higher employment, uses less water and energy, improves soil fertility and provides high and sustainable productivity after initial transition phase of about 3 years. Such farming is more profitable for farmers, sustainable for environmental resources, and provides safer food for consumers. An 8-year long ICAR project concluded that this kind of farming does not pose any threat to food security is is often argued. This is where we need to invest for a win-win for everyone.
For more information contact
Alliance for Sustainable & Holistic Agriculture at email@example.com