Greenpeace made this living message by
planting light green, organic buckwheat in a field of organic peas
which were dark green. © Greenpeace / Barbara Tschann
The History of Genetic Engineering
During the second half of the last century, especially in
industrialized countries, as well as large parts of Asia and Latin
America a so-called "Green Revolution" has been underway.
Agricultural output has dramatically increased thanks to
high-yielding varieties of certain crops combined with artificial
fertilizer, pesticides and machinery. These crops include rice,
maize (corn), wheat, cotton and oilseed.
However, this success story of the Green Revolution has come at
a high price with respect to its environmental, social and cultural
consequences, as well as the basic resources upon which it
fundamentally relies: soil and water. Moreover, it has also
substantially reduced the available options to respond to new
challenges and changing conditions.
The Case of Pesticides
Introduced at large scale after World War II with bold support
from government agencies, the concept of chemical control, has
served as a cornerstone of industrial agriculture. A chemical
crusade was waged against weeds and pests, which are the inevitable
result of large-scale planting of single crops. However, this
"chemical warfare" was soon retaliated against by pesticide
resistance, necessitating constant "product innovation," which in
turn was met by equally constant adaptation of pests and resulting
in what is now called the "pesticide treadmill."
Breeding efforts were adapted to this concept of chemical
control as well as chemical fertilizer availability. A global
agrochemical industry today provides resource-rich farmers with
essential products for their success: herbicides, insecticides,
fungicides, chemically treated and conditioned high-yielding hybrid
or patented seeds, complemented by private extension services and
information networks. Lately these inputs include seed varieties
genetically engineered to withstand some broad-spectrum herbicides,
thus allowing for their permanent and relentless application
throughout the growing season as well as pre- and post-harvest
clearing of the land.
When the effects of pesticide use on human health and the
environment came to light, it proved and still proves to be
extremely difficult to remedy the situation. Organic solutions,
bio-control measures, integrated pesticide management concepts and
others threaten the sales and profitability of a powerful industry.
They also tend to require more knowledge and in some cases higher
labor input at the farmer's end. As a result, their implementation
at the farmer level as well as in education and training, research
and development is a constant and bitter-fought struggle rather
than a welcome and jointly supported innovation.
Taking Back Control of our Food
Public involvement, control and decision making at local,
regional and national levels on the way we produce and consume our
food has been eroded and essential decisions on food security, land
use and natural resource management have been entrusted to an
alarmingly small number of companies and actors on the field.
Conflicting interests and disconnects from agriculture's primary
functions have resulted in ill-devised public policies, destructive
market dynamics and outright market failures. Greenpeace believes
it's time that human health and environment take priority over the
interests of big business and we're calling on decision-makers to
listen to the will of the people when it comes to our food.