EXCERPTS: "It is important to remember that no commercially grown crop has been genetically modified for higher yield.... There is no evidence... that GM seeds increase yields, either directly or indirectly.
"In the U.S., the most recent look at the question of pesticide use... finds that since 1996 " ... GE crops ... have increased corn, soybean, and cotton pesticide use by 122.4 million pounds, or about four per cent." Further, the rate of increase is increasing - peaking at over 16 per cent in 2004.
"we are turning control of our seed supply over to a tiny number of global transnationals, in return, it is implied, for the benefits of the seeds that they will produce. But since such benefits are nearly absent, we may want to reconsider our bargain..."
GMOs not the silver bullet that'll solve agriculture's problems
The Charlottetown Guardian, September 23, 2005
Danny Hendricken, district director of the National Farmers Union, writes to address some of the points that Eddy Dykerman made in his article 'GMOs can benefit the farmer, society and the environment' (The Guardian, Sept. 19, 2005).
GMOs are not the silver bullet we are seeking to reverse or resolve the problems associated with industrial agriculture (soil degradation and unacceptable low farm incomes, to mention a few).
When are we finally going to come to the realization that when we try to manipulate and control nature, we lose? Early in our education system we were taught that altering our environment in even the slightest manner would have grave consequences on the entire animal kingdom. But here we are today genetically changing plants in a manner that could never happen naturally.
The scientists and the companies that have developed this technology believe that it is preposterous that anyone would question the legitimacy of their research.
Our governments constantly tell us that they make decisions regarding the introduction of new GM foods on the basis of 'sound science'. So Canadians should ask: How sound is the science on human health risks posed by GM foods? How many peer-reviewed papers on the health effects of GM foods have been published in academic journals?
Hendricken says that as of 2003, there existed only 10 such papers. And only five of those studies are independent (not 'performed more or less in collaboration with private companies'). And all five of these independent studies report adverse effects from feeding GM foods to lab animals. These are the findings of a 2003 study by Dr. Ian Pryme and Dr. Rolf Lembcke published in the journal Nutrition and Health.
In the U.S., the most recent look at the question of pesticide use is by Dr. Charles Benbrook in his paper entitled 'Genetically Engineered Crops and Pesticide Use in the United States: The First Nine Years'. Benbrook finds that since 1996 " ... GE crops ... have increased corn, soybean, and cotton pesticide use by 122.4 million pounds, or about four per cent." Further, the rate of increase is increasing - peaking at over 16 per cent in 2004.
It is important to remember that no commercially grown crop has been genetically modified for higher yield. The two most common modifications are resistance to glyphosate (often called 'herbicide tolerant' or 'HT'; or 'Roundup Ready', after the most popular brand of glyphosate) and the expression of the Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) insecticide. Neither of these modifications directly increases yield. The implication is that they can increase yield indirectly - by reducing weed or insect pressures. There is no evidence, however, that GM seeds increase yields, either directly or indirectly.
When GM crops were first introduced, environmental advocates and others raised the prospect of contamination and 'gene flow'. Monsanto and other technology developers said that this could never happen. Now it is universally recognized that GM plants outcross promiscuously.
And even when GM seed companies first admitted that GM crops outcross and contaminate, these companies claimed that it was only over a limited range. Where companies admitted the need for buffer strips, they advocated buffers of just a few yards. Now we understand that GM pollen travels dozens of kilometres. At every turn, and without any data, GM-seed sellers and promoters have recklessly claimed to have knowledge of the environmental safety of GM crops when in fact they were completely ignorant of how such crops will actually act in the biosphere. Even today, they and we remain ignorant.
In terms of increasing our market share for agricultural exports, the general public may be interested in a response to a Canadian Wheat Board survey. The customers that purchase 87 per cent of the Canadian wheat crop said that they will stop buying Canadian wheat if we introduce GM varieties.
Our customers are clear: not only will they refuse to buy GM wheat from Canada, they will cease buying all wheat from us, because they simply did not believe the GM wheat could be segregated from non-GM. Certainly not an overwhelming show of confidence by importing countries.
Around the world, academics, citizens and civil society organizations are raising concerns about a global food system increasingly controlled by corporations such as Cargill, Wal-Mart, and Monsanto. And if corporate control of our food supply is something to be concerned about, control of seed is a key concern. Monsanto and a tiny number of other companies are tightening their grip, not merely on our seeds, but on the genes the building blocks of life. In effect, we are turning control of our seed supply over to a tiny number of global transnationals, in return, it is implied, for the benefits of the seeds that they will produce. But since such benefits are nearly absent, we may want to reconsider our bargain with these companies.
The suggestion that this technology will not have a negative impact on our province, in my opinion, is misleading. As a food producer, I certainly would like to believe it could benefit our industry and society. But by unleashing this into the food system it raises more concerns than it addresses. There may well be a time in the future when we can utilize this technology safely without compromising the integrity of our ecosystems and health, but that time is not currently at hand.