Great to see an article as incisive as this in the N. American press.
Don't Fall for the Hype Over Biotech
Grand Forks Herald, June 27, 2005
EMERADO, N.D.: Pro-biotech activists such as Al Skogen get pretty frothed up about the alleged wonders of biotechnology. But after 10 years, the real questions are, "Where's the science?" And "Where's the economics?"
Are the markets there for biotech wheat? Of course not. Otherwise, it probably would be on the market now. Wheat customers both in the United States and abroad categorically rejected the proposal of genetically modified wheat. Monsanto responded to massive market rejection of its proposed Roundup Ready hard red spring wheat in May 2004 by suspending field trials and withdrawing permit applications. It was the only rational thing to do.
Lucky for wheat farmers that Skogen wasn't in charge at Monsanto. Lucky for Monsanto, too. He probably would have run both wheat farmers and Monsanto out of business - and blaming the customers who didn't want the product wouldn't have been much consolation.
Speaking of consumers, their attitudes aren't changing very fast, despite the propaganda efforts of Skogen and others. According to a report issued by agricultural economist Dr. Robert Wisner of Iowa State University one year after Monsanto pulled the plug, U.S. farmers still stand to lose one-half of foreign markets and one-third of their wheat price if Roundup Ready wheat were to be introduced.
Also last week, Japan rejected shipments of U.S. corn contaminated with Syngenta Corp.'s BT-10 corn, an unapproved variety suspected of health problems. Many countries around the world have been buying only corn guaranteed free of BT-10, cutting U.S. corn farmers out of those markets and decreasing family farm income.
So, are biotech products safe to eat? There's not much proof - because not much research has been done, and what has been done has been kept secret. Only last week, a British court ordered Monsanto to release a 1,139-page report it kept secret, indicating that a genetically modified corn variety caused disease in rats fed the corn. Hiding research of negative health impacts of genetically modified crops does nothing but instill suspicion of the integrity of the science and public heath regulatory process behind GM foods, and rightly so.
In spite of Skogen's claims, no federal agency conducts scientific research to determine the safety of new biotech crops before they are introduced, and that's the way the companies that market GM crops want it. Other independent research also is rare. Two Norwegian researchers published a review in 2003 of the scanty research on biotech safety and concluded that "much more scientific effort and investigation is necessary before we can be satisfied that eating foods containing GM material in the long term is not likely to provoke any form of health problems."
But at least biotech crops cut down on pesticide, right? Not according to independent researcher Charles Benbrook, whose October 2004 report found that Roundup Ready crops have increased herbicide use on corn, soybeans and cotton by 138 million pounds since 1996 - about nine times the 15.6 million-pound decrease in insecticide applications due to Bt corn and cotton.
Most of the hype surrounding GM foods is just that: hype. It is hype to promote corporate products despite the concerns of food safety and the adverse economic impact to farmers. It's well past time for the United States to catch up on the safety and economic scrutiny of GM foods.
Leake is an Emerado farmer and member of the Dakota Resources Council.