GE crops take a double hit

Feature story - 16 October, 2003
Eagerly awaited scientific studies published by the UK Royal Society have substantiated warnings that genetically engineered (GE) crops can be harmful to the environment. The studies expose the risks of GE crops to the environment and challenge the benefits promised by the GE industry. Monsanto, the GE industry leader has at the same time announced a withdrawal from Europe for "strategic reasons."

Protests at a site of GE Novartis maize.

On the day of the trial announcement, the company that has tried and failed to introduce GE crops to Europe said that it is withdrawing its European cereal and seed business. This is a retreat in the face of GE controversy in Europe and means that GE wheat and barley is unlikely to be grown in Europe for the foreseeable future.

Monsanto also faces strong opposition to its GE wheat elsewhere. In North America both farmers and the wheat industry worry about their markets. Meanwhile, the Canadian Wheat Board has threatened to sue Monsanto in Canada if the company does not drop its plans to introduce GE wheat. Numerous farmers' organizations and wheat producers have put ads in Canadian newspapers in which they clearly state: "We are not ready for Roundup Ready wheat". Roundup Ready is Monsanto's trade name for its genetically modified wheat.

Monsanto says that it is ending its GE pharmaceutical crop experiments. We look forward to the end of these dangerous field trials and to the safe disposal of the experimental materials. We hope others will follow also withdraw from this particularly dangerous GE pharma-crop experiment.

It's been a bad few days all round for GE crops. Earlier this week EU Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom accused US GE companies of "trying to lie" and "force" unsuitable GM technology on Europe. Exposing the myth that GE companies claim they are developing crops to "feed the world" she said: "They tried to lie to people, and they tried to force it upon people. It's the wrong approach. You cannot force it upon Europe. So I hope they have learnt a lesson from this, especially when they now try to argue that this will solve the problems of starvation in the world and so on. But come on ... it was to solve starvation amongst shareholders, not the developing world."

Adding to the woes of the GE industry, two days ago the Southern State of Parana in Brazil adopted a law that prohibits the planting, commercialisation, processing and exports from its port of Monsanto's GE soya.

The trials have vindicated our stance, and that of other environmental groups, who have maintained that GE crops are harmful to the environment and that the industry was promoting mythical benefits.

"These trials... clearly show that the alleged benefits of the use of GE seeds do not exist. For years, the GE corporations have been claiming that their crops would reduce weed killer use and benefit wildlife. Now we know how wrong they are", said Dr. Doug Parr, Science Director of Greenpeace in the UK.

We believe the real comparison should be between GE and organic agriculture. But organic is so obviously better for the environment that the GE industry refused point blank to have this included in the trials. Instead, the trials compared one highly damaging form of agriculture with one that's even worse.

Alternatives

GE crops are being pushed as the only solution to world hunger. However there are different approaches to meeting the demand for environmentally sustainable agriculture. One example comes from China, where efforts to achieve ecological farming show a possible solution which governments should explore. Angus Lam, an expert in ecological farming for Greenpeace in China said: "The UK trials make it clear that the world should close the door on GE for good. GE food is not the solution to world hunger".

Today, together with around 80 other institutions and organisations from Mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, we launched the first Chinese Farming Solutions website, which presents an array of successful ecological farming stories from China. Governments should ban risky GE crop trials and to support the real sustainable solutions to world hunger.