(Beyond Pesticides, February 15, 2008) Two studies have just been released, one by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA), a promoter of genetically-engineering crops,Â and the other by the Center for Food Safety (CFS) and Friends of the Earth, each with differing conclusions on the impact of genetically engineered (GE) crops on the health of our food systems. The debate is one that has existed for years, particularly as GE seeds have spread worldwide, now accounting for 280 million acres of cropland in 23 countries.
Reports have historically provided significant documentation of herbicide-resistant weeds developing as a result of heavy reliance on the chemicals crops are bred to tolerate. Insect resistance has also been recently discovered. Legislators have recognized the need to protect farmers from GE contamination and resulting lawsuits from seed developer Monsanto. Concerns over a litany of health and environmental risks from GE crops continue. The timing of these two studies highlights the disparity between how the GE industry represents its product and how public interest groups evaluate the effects and risks they see to farmers and consumers alike.
The ISAAA study, entitled Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2007, celebrates the first twelve years of GE commercialization, claiming the “very high adoption rate by farmers reflects the fact that biotech crops have consistently performed well and delivered significant economic, environmental, health and social benefits to both small and large farmers in developing and industrial countries. Thus, this is a strong vote of confidence from approximately 55 million individual decisions by farmers.”
The report particularly focused on the growth of biotech in developing countries, which it claims have “humanitarian implications” through increased small farmer income. It calls these the “tip of the iceberg,” and concludes by identifying five contributions GE crops can make to the 2015 Millennium Development Goals. Those are: “Increasing global crop productivity to improve food, feed and fiber security in sustainable crop production systems that also conserve biodiversity;” “Contributing to the alleviation of poverty and hunger;” “Reducing the Environmental Footprint of Agriculture;” “Mitigating Climate Change and Reducing Greenhouse Gases;” and “Contributing to the Cost-effective Production of Biofuels.”
The CFS/Friends of the Earth study, Who Benefits from GM Crops?: The Rise in Pesticide Use, is much more skeptical of biotech’s overall benefit to society. A press release by CFS says the report found that “genetically modified (GM) crops have led to a large increase in pesticide use and have failed to increase yield or tackle world hunger or poverty.” CFS disputed ISAAA’s claims, citing misrepresentation of data and exclusion of information on herbicide-resistant crops, increased pesticide use, shrinking numbers of small farmers, and the negative effects of Monsanto’s monopoly over the technology.
“For years, the biotech industry has been trumpeting the benefits of GM crops, but this report shows the true emerging picture,” said Andrew Kimbrell, Executive Director of CFS. “These crops really promote greater use of pesticides, and cause direct harm to the environment and small farmers. More and more, foundations and international aid and development organizations are recognizing the dead end that GM crops represent.”
The report also rejects ISAAA’s projected contributions to the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals. “The biotech industry tells Africans that we need GM crops to tackle the food needs of our population. But the majority of GM crops are used to feed animals in rich countries, to produce damaging agrofuels, and don’t even yield more than conventional crops,” said Nnimmo Bassey, Friends of the Earth International’s GMO coordinator in Nigeria.
With ISAAA saying “the number of biotech crop countries, crops and traits and hectarage are projected to double between 2006 and 2015,” the debate between industry and food safety alliances will only increase. To read more about the continuing development of GE crops, visit our program page, Daily News, and archives.
Source: Washington Post