Mexico: Want to cut food production? Sow GM seed!
by Silvia Ribeiro
Column: Tortilla con Sal
Rebelin, 21 July 2008*
Monsanto has told the press media over the last few days that the upcoming publication of the so-called special protection regime for maize will allow it to start experiments with genetically modified (GM) maize. What a historic irony that such a regime, instead of protecting maize and its peoples, is yet another gift from the government to multinational companies that have privatized seeds, the key to the whole food network and rural families' legacy to humanity. To cap it all: the seeds are less productive!
After analyzing yields in the US cereal grain belt over the last three years, Kansas University published a study in April 2008. It showed that the productivity of GM crops (soya, maize, cotton and canola) was less than in the era prior to the introduction of GM seeds. Soya showed a drop in yield of up to 10%.
The productivity of GM maize was less in several years, in some the same, or else imperceptibly greater, giving a totally negative result compared with conventional varieties. GM canola and cotton also showed lower yields taken over periods of several years. (In all these cases the seeds are dearer that the conventional seed, for which reason the farmer's profit margin is less.)
This study confirms various earlier ones. In 2007, Nebraska University found that Monsanto's GM soya produced 6% less than the company's same variety in its non-GM version and up to 11% less than the best available variety of non-GM soya. Other studies including one of the US Department of Agriculture in April 2006 show similar results. Categorically, GM seeds are not the most high-yielding.
The main reason, the studies explain, is that genetic modification changes the metabolism of the plants which in some cases inhibits the absorption of nutrients and, in general, demands more energy to express characteristics that are not natural to the plant, denying it the ability to develop fully. Monsanto's explanation faced with the University of Kansas study was "genetically modified seeds are not designed to increase yields". (The Independent, April 4th 2008)
Monsanto, Dupont-Pioneer and Syngenta are the three biggest companies in the world of genetic modification and also in every type of commercial seed. Monsanto controls almost 90% of GM seeds. Together these companies control 39% of the world market in all seeds, as well as 44% of seeds subject to intellectual property.
Why then do these companies - who also own non-GM hybrid seeds - insist on selling their seeds when they yield less and need more agro-chemicals? In part because they are also big agro-chemical producers but above all because, since all the GM seeds are patented by them, GM seed contamination of non-GM crops makes them big business.
Hybrid seeds also cross with native varieties. But they are crosses, for example, of maize with maize. Whereas GM seeds when they are crossed contain genes of bacteria or viruses or whatever else via which they have been genetically modified. But the fundamental difference for these companies is that, with GM seeds, contamination is an offence for which the victims can be blamed.
Any rural farm worker or producer whose seed gets contaminated or who replants GM seed that they bought from Monsanto (exercising the "agriculturalist's right") uses the patent without permission and commits an offence for which they can be sued.Monsanto has already won more than US$21.5 million in lawsuits against farmers in the United States (Centre for Food Safety). Now it has just started a more aggressive lawsuit against a whole farmers' cooperative, the Pilot Grove Elevator Cooperative of Missouri. According to Monsanto, they do not pay enough royalties.
Farmer David Brumback, who describes himself as having been a "loyal buyer" of Monsanto's GM seeds for years, expressed his anger and declared "for Monsanto, we are all guilty." (CBS 4, Denver, July 10th 2008) This is what awaits the farmers of north Mexico who are asking for GM maize. And also those who do not want it, but get contaminated.
Once in the field, GM contamination is inevitable. It is only a question of time. The measures suggested by the shameful "protection regime" sketched out by Semarnat and Sagarpa are not only limited and ill-informed. Immediately, they are nonsensical because, if commercial planting is approved, they will never be reproduced under real conditions in farmers' fields.
The so-called "experiments" are another fallacy, like the law and its regulations favouring Monsanto. Legalizing GM crops for the multinational companies also makes legal wholesale contamination and the persecution of farmers. It strikes at the heart of the people and will cost Mexico it's most important genetic patrimony.
Silvia Ribeiro is a researcher with the Erosion, Technology and Concentration Group
*translation copyleft Tortilla con Sal
EXTRACT: Kansas University published a study in April 2008. It showed that the productivity of GM crops (soya, maize, cotton and canola) was less than in the era prior to the introduction of GM seeds. Soya showed a drop in yield of up to 10%.