Hello and welcome to the latest Big Green Debate. We had a break last issue, but now we’re back with another thrilling debate, this time on the issue of GM Crops. As always this is very much a discussion of the issues and doesn’t necessarily represent our view on the subject! Also as previously there is a certain
It is expected that Africa’s population will quadruple by the end of this century. In areas such as Engaruka and Tanzania families remain perilously close to starvation after recent droughts destroyed crops and killed 65% of the livestock. How will these poverty-stricken families cope with more mouths to feed?
Scientists are developing drought-tolerant corn, something that could ease hunger across Tanzania and sub-Saharan Africa. This modified corn is expected to increase yields by 25% during moderate drought. However, strict regulations by the government are effectively blocking the development of this project.
These inflexible regulations have been implemented due to misconceptions that scientists are operating as a front for multinational seed companies. Behind the individual projects, GM opponents suspect a conspiracy to slip American agribusiness into Africa. However, the UK’s environment minister, Owen Paterson, supports the development of GM crops in these countries. He understands that these crops are necessary to help address hunger in the developing world.
In places which have already adopted genetically modified crops, evidence suggests that they do help to alleviate poverty. For example, a recent study by Warwick University found that insect-resistant GM cotton plantations produce many monetary benefits to families in India. Indeed, it was found that aggregate incomes were higher than those of conventional cotton and 60% of the gains were found to accrue to the extremely and moderately poor.
GM crops can also lessen pressure from agriculture on the countryside. For example, hardy plants designed with drought and salinity tolerance may reduce pressure to convert high biodiversity land to agriculture, as they would allow for the cultivation of suboptimal soils. Furthermore, some GM crops tested in the UK were actually found to enhance biodiversity. Thus, tarring all GM crops with the same brush could lead to missed opportunities that could be vital to reduce suffering. Certainly, European activists need to ensure they do not place ideology above Africa’s food security!
Genetically Modified food is described by its supporters as the answer to world hunger and the challenges of feeding a booming population in the midst of climate change. A noble goal you may say, until you realise that the evidence reveals the dangerous, dark and greedy motives of the global agribusiness corporations for control of the global food economy.
Since their introduction in 1996, GM crops have spread to cover 12% of the world’s arable land. So far Europe has resisted powerful corporate pressure to allow GM to be grown commercially.
There are several strong reasons for holding firm on rejecting GM crops. For a kick-off, control of the food chain by a handful of global corporations is a dangerous thing. -The GM model requires farmers to purchase patented seeds each year, forcing them into dependence on the giant companies. Just three of those companies control a staggering 70% of global seed sales.
Thousands of farmers who use herbicide-tolerant GM crops are now struggling with the cost of fighting herbicide-resistant “superweeds”. They are also locked into buying chemical fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides sold by the companies who developed the seeds to r-espond to their chemicals. GM cotton in India has been widely blamed for an epidemic of farmer suicide-s due to spiralling debts from high seed and pesticide costs, and failing crops.
The cost of developing each GM seed variety runs into the millions of dollars and the only way for the corporations to get a return on that investment is to ensure farmers are planting huge monocultures. This is resulting in a dangerous drop in global crop diversity; the world needs maximum genetic seed diversity to meet the challenges ahead.
Most importantly, we don’t need to genetically modify our crops. Traditionally bred crop varieties in Europe are giving higher yields than that of the GM-dominated Midwest of the US. Traditional hybridisation is delivering increasing disease resistance and higher yields at a tiny fraction of the cost.
Every year around 40% of the food the world produces goes to waste. If we can address this problem and reduce our meat consumption, no one need go hungry.