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Food Security: Any Case Against 'Artificial' Crops? - ThisDay
Wednesday, 31 January 2007

ThisDay Newspapers

Penultimate week, Friends of the Earth International published a new report that shows genetically modified (GM) crops have failed to address the main challenges facing farmers in most countries of the world. Although more than 70 per cent of large scale GM planting is still limited to United States and Argentina, the report alerts other countries on the danger in embracing the GM technology as panacea to food shortages. Godwin Haruna of ThisDay witnessed the presentation in Lagos.


During the presentation of the ten-year report of the performance of genetically modified (GM) crops in Lagos penultimate week, Mr. Nnimmo Bassey, executive director, Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth, Nigeria (ERA/FoEN), did not mince words in exposing the dangers inherent in the GM technology. As Bassey has often maintained in previous fora on the subject matter, he made it clear that any country that embraces that technology in its food production, does so at its peril. He advised the developing countries where food crisis is already manifest not to jeopardise their precarious position by relying on the technology to solve their food crisis.
The Report titled: "Who Benefits from GM Crops? An analysis of the global performance of genetically modified (GM) crops 1996-2006", noted that in 2006, the spread of GM crops worldwide showed signs of stalling. It added that production of GM crops on a large scale continued to be limited to a few crops and countries and have not addressed the main agricultural problems and challenges facing farmers in most countries of the world.
"They have not proven to be superior to conventional cropand in addition, the second generation‚ GM farm crops with attractive food traits promised by the industry has not appeared", he stated.
Bassey said no GM crop on the market today offers benefits to the consumer in terms of quality or price, and to date these crops have done nothing to alleviate hunger or poverty in Africa or elsewhere.
According to him, the great majority of GM crops cultivated today are used as high-priced animal feed to supply rich nations with meat.
As indicated in the report, Bassey stressed that GM crops commercialized today have on the whole increased rather than decreased pesticide use, and do not yield more than conventional varieties. He added that the environment has not benefited, and GM crops will become increasingly unsustainable over the medium to long term.
In 2006 the US Department of Agriculture, a chief proponent of GM crops, for the first time acknowledged that GM crop yields are not greater than those of conventional crops, and a compelling number of studies by independent scientists demonstrate that GM crop yields are lower than, or at best equivalent to, yields from non-GM varieties.
According to the report, in 2006, due to a soybean sector crisis and lower yields in Brazil and Paraguay, Monsanto had to scale down its expectations in both countries. The company was forced to publicly announce in Paraguay a reduction in the royalties they demanded from soy producers. The Ministry of Environment in Paraguay detected higher losses in Roundup Ready soy yields than in the conventional varieties, verifying that the GM varieties were highly sensitive to drought.
The report further noted that in the last decade, cotton production has declined in the majority of countries that have adopted GM cotton like Mexico, Argentina, Colombia, South Africa and Australia, and significant drops in GM cotton production specifically are forecasted in 2006 for South Africa and Mexico.
Also in In 2006 a European Union-wide survey of public views reconfirmed the European public's opposition to GM food. Also, last year, the rice food supply on four continents was contaminated with an illegal GM rice supposedly field-tested only until 2001, proving once again the inability or unwillingness of the biotech industry to control its products.
"No genetically modified crop on the market today has done anything to alleviate hunger or poverty in Africa or elsewhere. The biotech industry fails to provide a shred of evidence to support their figures and conveniently fails to mention the problems associated with growing genetically modified crops. Evidence shows that they need more pesticides, provide lower yields and cause widespread contamination. GM crops are clearly failing to deliver at a time when sustainable solutions are urgently needed to feed the world", Bassey noted.
He further stressed that small farmers and consumers have not benefited from GM crops. "Data from across the world demonstrates that GM crops have often performed worse than conventional varieties in countries including India, Indonesia, Brazil and Paraguay. In recent years, small scale farmers in China have earned more planting conventional cotton than the Bt variety. No GM product commercialized today offers any benefits to the consumer in terms of quality or price. GM feed does not even offer an advantage to the feed industry", he said.
The report noted that in 2006, soy farmers in Brazil and Paraguay -3rd and 4th GM soy producers of the world- had a tough time sustaining their livelihoods due to a combination of low international soy prices, drought, rising costs for inputs and transportation, and a strong local currency. In Brazil the government had to adopt an emergency credit package of US$8 billion in 2006 to help farmers cope with the crisis, costing Brazilian taxpayers an estimated US$705 million. In Paraguay some municipalities were forced to declare a 'state of emergency' in 2006, and the Ministry of Environment has detected higher losses in Roundup Ready soy yields than in the conventional varieties, verifying that the GM varieties were highly sensitive to drought; some areas experienced production losses of between 60 per  cent and 90 cent.
The report stated that GM cotton is not improving the livelihoods of farmers in the majority of countries where it has been commercialized so far, and has proved unable to tackle the fundamental challenges affecting cotton production in those countries.
It gave some comparative analysis of the situation in the following countries begining with South African in 2005/06, which  planted cotton in 39% less hectares than the previous year due to low international prices and a strong Rand against the US dollar at the time of planting. In addition, GM cotton planting decreased from 86% of all commercial cotton in 2004/05 to 77% in 2005/06.
- In Australia the cotton sector has undergone a rough period over the last four years, due particularly to drought and low prices. At the end of November 2006, with planting of the 2006/07 crop almost complete, production is forecasted to be the lowest in 15 to 20 years.
- In Mexico cotton production has been declining since 1996, the same year that GM cotton was approved in Mexico. In addition GM cotton production for 2006/07 is expected to decline to 50,000 metric from 70,000 metric tonnes in 2005/06.
- In Argentina cotton production dropped after mid 90s, coinciding with the adoption of GM cotton. These statistics clearly reflect that GM cotton does not drive Argentinian farmers' production.
- In Colombia, cotton production declined over 20% in 2006 from the area planted in 2005, mainly due to low international prices for cotton, the revaluation of the national currency, higher production costs, and restricted access to credit. Despite having planted Bt cotton, small-scale farmers continue having problems with pest attacks, which damage their crops and increase production costs.
- In China, a 2006 study by Cornell University showed that in 2004 the net revenue of hundreds of Bt farmers was significantly lower than that of non-Bt farmers. The reasons are reportedly linked to the emergence of secondary pests such as mirids, and the need for Bt cotton farmers to spray 15-20 times more pesticide than was previously needed to kill these pests.
- In India despite penetration of Bt cotton due to aggressive marketing by Monsanto and its local subsidiaries, the majority of small farmers are submerged in a circle of poverty and indebtness. Small-scale cotton Indian farmers are facing hard times due to rising input prices combined with falling output prices, exacerbated by frequent crop failure due to unfavourable weather. In 2006 a legal case is pending at the Supreme Court between Monsanto and some Indian states for charging excessive royalties for Bt cotton.
The ERA executive director noted that the 2006 contamination of the world food supply with illegal GM rice in the Americas, Europe, Africa and Asia, which stemmed from experimental trials in the US that were supposedly concluded in 2001, shows the inability or unwillingness of the industry to control its products. "It also shows once again that once you get the genie out of the bottle there is no way to get it back in", he added.
He stated that there was still a lack of comprehensive studies on the performance of GM crops in every country that has commercialized them, and this consequently calls into question their claimed benefits. "No country in the world has produced a comprehensive study of the real impact of GM crops at the farm level. There is no adequate analysis of pesticide use, yields, weed/pest resistance, or effects upon smaller growers over the short, medium or long term that includes a comparison with existing conventional varieties and other agricultural methods such agroecology or organic food production", the report noted.
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