GE Agriculture: Gambling with Biodiversity

Standard Page - 2011-07-11
The introduction of genetically engineered (GE) organisms into the complex ecosystems of our environment is a dangerous global experiment with nature and evolution.

The introduction of genetically engineered (GE) organisms into the complex ecosystems of our environment is a dangerous global experiment with nature and evolution.

Genetic scientists are altering life itself. The products of genetic engineering are living organisms that could never have evolved naturally and do not have a natural habitat.

These human-made organisms can reproduce and interbreed with natural organisms, thereby spreading to new environments and future generations in an unpredictable and uncontrollable way. Because we know so little about how these novel organisms will act in the environment, and because these living organisms can multiply and spread, the potentially harmful effects of GE organisms may only be discovered when it is too late.

For these reasons, GE organisms must not be released into the environment. They pose unacceptable risks to ecosystems, and threaten biodiversity, wildlife and sustainable forms of agriculture.

A threat to biodiversity

Once GE crops are planted, cross-pollination means that their genetically modified DNA material can end up in other plants. Potentially, the GE material can travel far and wide, altering entire species. This puts at risk, for example, heirloom varieties of corn or rice, which could be necessary to ensure food security in case of plant disease.

But contamination scandals are now commonplace, often originating from farm trials in which the GE crops are unapproved for human consumption.

In 2009, Greenpeace discovered GE papayas being grown on Hainan Island, though they have only been allowed to be commercially grown is in Guangdong province.

That’s why we have to stop GE before we destroy the natural biodiversity of the planet.

Why is crop diversity important?

Crop genetic diversity is critical to the continuing development of varieties resistant to new pests, diseases, and changing climatic and environmental conditions. In this way, diversity is essential for global food security. The lack of genetic diversity, in fact, can be linked to many of the major crop epidemics in human history.

In 1970 the maize crop in the southern US was attacked by a disease called Southern corn leaf blight. Because of genetic uniformity among the maize varieties grown across the US, the loss to this disease was great - in total 15 percent of its harvest - at the time worth around US$1 billion.

According to botanist Jack Harlan, genetic diversity is all that “stands between us and catastrophic starvation on a scale we cannot imagine”.

GE companies threaten farmers’ livelihoods

If threatening biodiversity wasn’t enough, the biotech giants make farmers pay for the privilege of using these human-made organisms.

Farmers planting ancient strains of rice using traditional methods in Jinghong, Yunnan province

The multinational biotech companies such as Monsanto and Bayer Cropscience own the rights to the GE varieties they develop, increasing their stranglehold on global agriculture and allowing them to generate vast profits.

They make even more money by making their crops resistant to just one brand of herbicide – their own.

Farmers in North America and Latin America, where most of the world’s GE agriculture is grown, must sign a contract that specifies that if they save the seeds to plant again the following year or use any herbicide other than the corporation’s own, they are likely to be prosecuted. For example, seed price in the US increased drastically with the introduction of GE seed.