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Genetic pollution

Background - September 30, 2004
Biodiversity is traditionally understood to be the basis of food security. The more genetic diversity there is within an agricultural system, the more that system is able to accommodate challenges from pests, disease or climatic conditions.

Maize field grown in one of the 15 communities known to be contaminated by genetic pollution spread over 3 states of Mexico.

For millennia farmers around the world have been using environmentally friendly and sustainable farming techniques to protect crops from pests, fungal and viral infections. These include highly sophisticated systems of multiple-cropping. Genetically engineered crops threaten this biodiversity.

Once released, new genetically engineered (GE) organisms can interact with other life forms and reproduce, transfer their characteristics and mutate in response to environmental influences.

In most cases they will never be recalled or contained. The possibility that one or more of these releases causes serious ecological harm increases all the time as more products are approved. Genetic pollution may be passed on to all future generations of life.

One extremely troubling new GE development is the use of crop plants to produce pharmaceuticals and industrial chemicals. These plants could cross-pollinate with related species and contaminate the food supply, and could expose foraging animals, insects and seed-eating birds to a wide range of drugs, vaccines and chemicals.

 

Déjà vu: from the green revolution to gene revolution

The Green Revolution was a massive government and corporate campaign to persuade farmers in the developing world to replace many indigenous crops with a few high yielding varieties, dependent on expensive inputs of chemicals and fertilisers.

While substantially increasing crop yields, farmers were obligated to buy hybrid seeds dependent on chemical inputs and extensive irrigation. But more importantly, the Green Revolution destroyed crop diversity by supplanting local integral crop systems that were based on a wide genetic base and multiple use crops. Green Revolution crops displaced local varieties and forced farmers into a vicious dependency cycle.

The insecticides and herbicides that went along with the use of Green Revolution crops caused the loss of complementary harvests that had previously been provided by the paddy fields, such as fish, shrimp, crabs, edible herbs, frogs and wild plants. The loss of these harvests is seldom taken into account when yields of Green Revolution or GE crops are calculated. Genetic engineering of crops is an extension of this flawed paradigm.

Further reading

Superweeds

Maize Under Threat - GE Maize Contamination in Mexico

Genetic Pollution - A Multiplying Nightmare (Canola)

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