Genetically modified or sustainable agriculture?
There are serious problems with genetically modified (GM) crops, notably health and environmental risks and growing corporate control of our food chain by a handful of companies. Despite this, and major public opposition, there is strong support for GM agriculture in the European Commission. Greenpeace campaigns to end GM agriculture in favour of better support for sustainable farming, the only genuine solution to food security and climate challenges.
GM crops – a bitter harvest
GM crops come with a stack of problems for farmers, consumers and society in general.
-They are inseparable from large-scale intensive farming and reliant on the heavy use of expensive chemicals and machinery. GM agriculture exacerbates food insecurity by degrading soils, polluting water and fuelling climate change.
-Despite decades of hype, no drought or flood-resistant GM crops have been brought to market. Instead, GM agriculture is characterised by monocultures of genetically identical plants that are the most vulnerable to climate and pest stresses.
-Poor farmers in developing countries can ill afford expensive GM agriculture and are vulnerable to falling into cycles of debt. On the other side of the coin, just six companies control almost all GM crops: Monsanto, Dow, Syngenta, Bayer, BASF and Dupont. Together they also control three quarters of the agrochemical market, a massive degree of control over the food chain. Monsanto enforces its patents through a force of private investigators, suing farmers on the slightest suspicion.
-GM crops require pesticides that lead to the emergence of so-called ‘superweeds’ and ‘superpests’. Millions of American farms now have to use greater quantities and stronger chemicals to control these pests in a vicious circle. Besides this problem, intensive agriculture is by definition less biodiverse and pesticide-producing GM crops harm pests and beneficial insects alike.
-Perhaps most worrying, we do not know if GM crops are safe to eat. Independent long-term studies are severely lacking and GM companies have undue influence over research establishments which get much of their funding from corporations. The fact is genetic engineering is a random and imprecise technique. Scientists still understand little about how engineered genes interact and unexpected side effects are frequent. Once grown in the open environment, GM genes spread in an uncontrollable way.
GM technology poses a host of health risks, yet long-term safety testing is shunned.
The European picture
In March 2010, the European Commission broke a 12 year hiatus by approving the cultivation of antibiotic-resistant GM potato Amflora. More than 20 other GM crops are pending authorisation. According to official EU polls, 61 percent of Europeans are against the development of GM food in a trend of rejection that has continued to grow. Some countries have fought against further authorisations, in part because the European authorisation process is flawed, especially the risk assessment of GM crops carried out by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). In December 2008, all 27 environment ministers unanimously stated that risk assessment for GM crops must be strengthened. EFSA’s risk assessment remains insufficient. Instead, in July 2010, the Commission proposed giving governments a new right to ban cultivation of GM crops from their territory.