New report shouts "The GMO Emperor Has No Clothes!"
Navdanya International has compiled and edited a new Global Citizens' Report on the State of GMOs, with contributions from global civil society networks in 6 continents, including Gaia's partners the African Biodiversity Network. Launched in Europe on 18th October by Dr Vandana Shiva, "The GMO Emperor has no Clothes - False promises and failed technology" brings together scientific research and citizens' experiences from around the globe, demonstrating that Geneticaly Modified (GM) seeds and crops have failed to deliver on their advertised promises.
The full report and the synthesis report can be downloaded from: www.navdanyainternational.it/
Here we summarise some of the reports main findings and conclusions:
A Short History of GMOs
GMOs were first grown commercially in the United States in 1994. Their subsequent spread to 6 continents has been held up as proof of the technology's success in benefiting farmers and food security. Proponents claim that GM will provide the solutions to the growing food, climate and ecological crises faced by our planet.
But after 17 years and 6 continents, an abundance of evidence has accumulated, showing a very different story. Promises to increase crop yields and feed the hungry have proven to be false. Claims of nutritional benefits, and resistance to drought and disease have yet to appear. Genetic engineering to control weeds and pests has created super weeds and super pests. Farmers are indebted and intimidated. Crop diversity is contaminated, chemical use is escalating and ecosystems are disappearing.
Yet, as in the Hans Christian Andersen story of the Emperor's New Clothes, the naked GMO Emperor struts around, hoping the illusion will last and that the courtiers will keep applauding and pretending they see the magnificent robes of the Emperor. But citizens around the world can see the false promises and failures of GMOs. And like the child who speaks up, they are proclaiming "What the Emperor is telling us is not true. This is an illusion. The GMO Emperor has no clothes."
In nearly two decades of commercialisation of GM crops, only two traits have been developed on a significant scale: those resistant to a particular type of herbicide, and those resistant to a particular type of insect. In spite of widespread assumptions and claims, it is clear that GM crops do not increase yields. Research in India by Navdanya shows that contrary to Monsanto's claim of Bt cotton yield of 1500kg per acre, the reality is an average of 400-500 kg per acre. A 3-year study published in 2008 by the University of Kansas showed GM leads to an average reduction in yield of 10%. Studies stretching back to 2001 in Australia by the Network of Concerned Farmers, and 1998 in the US (Lappe and Bailey "Against the Grain") have confirmed that GM produced significantly lower yields than conventional canola and soy. Meanwhile, the Union of Concerned Scientists' 2009 report Failure to Yield has established that genetic engineering has not contributed to yield increases in any US crop, but that any increases are due to improved characteristics through conventional plant breeding, not genetic engineering.
After 20 years of unsuccessful research (but rather more successful PR), hopes that GM will provide crops that are resistant to disease or drought have also proven illusory. No GM drought tolerant or "climate ready" crops have made it to the table in Africa or elsewhere in the world. The complexity of plant physiology means that genetic engineers are unlikely to successfully harness and control the interaction of the estimated 40 genes required for drought tolerance. Instead, GM companies are on the hunt for drought-tolerant varieties developed using by farmers using traditional breeding techniques, and patenting these themselves. They then add their herbicide-or-pest-resistant GM genes to these crops, to claim that they have developed such crops as "GM drought-tolerant maize". Genetic Engineering has also failed to produce disease resistant crops. Monsanto's attempts to develop a virus-resistant sweet potato in Kenya proved embarrassing when 2004 trials revealed that the GM crop was less resistant to disease than conventional varieties. Yet the lore of the GM sweet potato is stil repeated as an example of how millions in Africa can be spared from hunger.
Herbicide tolerant (Roundup Ready) crops were supposed to control weeds, and Bt crops were intended to control some insect pests. In areas where they are widely grown, GM crops are failing, due to the emergence of "superweeds" and "superpests". Superweeds are now recognised as one of the largest threats to US agriculture. USDA data shows that from November 2007 to January 2011, US acreage infested with superweeds resistant to Roundup has more than quintupled, from 2.4 to 12.6 million acres. Surveys of US producers have found that almost 20% of farmers are facing problems of Roundup-resistant weeds, and that 10 resistant weed species can be found in at least 22 states. In Brazil, meanwhile, researchers have reported that nine species have developed tolerance to Roundup.
In India, Bt cotton sold under the trade name "Bollgard" was supposed to control the Bollworm pest. Today, the Bollworm has evolved to become resistant to Bt cotton, forcing Monsanto to develop the Bollworm II variety, with two Bt genes. Now reports are emerging that pests have also evolved resistance to this variety, and Monsanto's planned release of Bollgard III is an attempt to deal with the problem. As early as 1999, Monsanto already faced a lawsuit filed by 25 Texas farmers over Bt cotton planted on 18,000 acres, which suffered extensive destruction from the cotton bollworm to which it was supposed to be resistant. A 2011 World Development study in Warangal, India showed that non-target pest populations in Bt cotton fields have also exploded.
The rapid evolution of resistant weeds and pests has meant that GM crops have led to spiralling use of ever-stronger herbicides and pesticides. Farmers have had to use escalating quantities of pesticide in spite of propaganda that genetic engineering would mean an end to the pesticide era. A 2008 study in China published in the International Journal of Biotechnology found that any financial benefits of planting Bt cotton had been eroded by the increasing use of pesticides needed to combat non-target pests which had increased in number since the introduction of Bt. A survey conducted by Navdanya in Vidharbha, India confirms this analysis with their findings that pesticide use has increased 13-fold since Bt cotton was introduced in the period 2004-2007. Meanwhile Pest Management Science reported in 2008 that in Argentina, Johnsongrass - which as been described as one of the world's worst weeds - has developed resistant to glyphosate (Roundup). This threatens soybean productivity in Northern Argentina, and now infests around 100,000 hectares. A 2009 study likened efforts to control this to a "transgenic treadmill" with herbicide use escalating. Glyphosate consumption in Argentina rose from 20 million litres in 1996 to around 170 million litres in 2006.
Containment of pollen is impossible, leading to extensive contamination of conventional and organic agriculture from GM crops. Already in 2003, an Agronomy Journal report found that contamination of canola (oilseed rape) in Canada was so severe that 90% of certified non-GM canola seed samples contained GM material. In 2011, Arnold Taylor, Chair of the Organic Agriculture Protection Fund confirmed that "There is no organic canola in Canada any more, virtually none, because the seed stock is basically contaminated… we've lost that crop." Numerous studies in Canada, the US and Australia have all found extensive contamination of canola, soya bean and maize seed with GM material. Mexico, the global centre of diversity for maize, where the crop was domesticated and where the highest diversity of the species exists, was rocked in 2001 by the discovery that native maize varieties had been contaminated with GM genes. Later studies confirmed that the contamination had spread to at least 9 Mexican states. More recently, Burkina Faso's organic cotton farmers have been under pressure from the 2009 discovery that GM genes are widely prevalent in the nation's organic cotton crop.
Contamination and cross-pollination have serious implications for health, safety, markets and superweeds. However, of even greater concern to many farmers is the issue of patenting. GM crops are patented, meaning that farmers are not only forbidden from saving their seed, but are frequently sued if their own crops are accidentally cross-pollinated with GM pollen. Canadian canola farmer Percy Schmeiser is a high-profile victim of Monsanto's aggression. A long-running legal battle found the farmer found guilty of patent infringement when the canola seed he had saved and developed over 50 years was found to be contaminated with Monsanto's GM gene, most likely through accidental wind pollination. The US-based Center For Food Safety report Monsanto vs Farmers found that as of 2007, courts had awarded Monsanto at least $21,500,000 in their lawsuits against farmers. The average award was $117,000, and the largest judgement was $3 million, leading to bancruptcy and fear among farmers. CFS also recognised that out-of-court settlements (with accompanying gag orders) probably accounted for much more, as few farmers have the courage to fight Monsanto when the law is not on their side. As North American farmers have almost no way of protecting their crops from GM contamination and the ensuing intimidation from Monsanto, many feel they have no choice but to grow GM crops on Monsanto's terms.
The high price of GM seed and accompanying chemical use is leading to spiralling debt for farmers.
A 5-year study published in 2005 by Biowatch of the Makathini Flats in South Africa, revealed that Monsanto's initial "success story" of high-yielding Bt cotton farmers was due to high levels of support, subsidies and infrastructure in early years. However, after this support was discontinued, a majority of farmers found themselves in debt from growing the crop. After 5 years, only 20% of the original farmers were still growing Bt cotton. In India, Navdanya expose the devastating scale of the GM tragedy, as 250,000 farmers have committed suicide in the years since Bt cotton was introduced. High GM seed prices and spiralling pesticide use have led farmers into a desperate debt trap from which they feel no chance of escape.
GM companies are racing to patent seeds and genes in which they had no part in developing. ETC Group in Canada have identified over 1,600 patent claims made by biotechnology companies, for gene sequences or even species that confer tolerance to environmental stress factors such as drought, heat, flood, cold and salt. These traits are naturally occuring or have been developed by farmers through traditional breeding techniques - but patenting means that companies such as Monsanto, DuPont and BASF now own and control these traits, and can prevent others' access. With Monsanto's acquisition of the world's largest seed company, Seminis, which in turn has bought up many other seed companies across the globe, the company has gained unprecedented control over the planet's germplasm, and with it the planet's future food supply.
After so many years of GM crops, the scarcity of independent peer-reviewed studies on the health and safety impacts of GM foods may seem surprising. But studies on GM crops can only be carried out with the permission of the gene patent owners - the GM companies themselves. It seems that very few studies have met both the strict requirements for independent peer review, and Monsanto's interests. However, a steady trickle of studies on GM safety continue to emerge, revealing alarming concerns. Sadly, scientists who chose to publish such research frequently find themselves the targets of ad hominem attacks and disinformation campaigns. From Dr Arpad Pusztai's findings in 2000 that rats fed GM potatoes had enlarged pancreases, organ damage and compomised immune systems; to Prof Gilles Eric Seralini's 2005 discovery of adverse effects on rats' kidneys, liver, heart, adrenals, spleen and dietary systems when fed on Monsato's approved varieties of GM maize; to 2010 and Prof Andrés Carrasco's discovery of malformations in frog embryos at low-levels of exposure to Roundup. These and others undermine Monsanto's claims that the Bt toxin breaks down in the gut, and that GM foods and chemicals have no negative heath impacts.
One key reason for the lack of food safety studies on GM crops, was a key political decision in the early 1990s. The declaration that GM foods are "substantially equivalent" to conventional foods allowed GM to avoid any legal requirements for food safety testing. The phrase is scientifically meaningless, but was a purely political tool to press on with GM acceptance.
Biotech companies have gained enormous influence over governments through lobbying, campaign donations and "revolving door" policies. A 2010 analysis by Food and Water Watch revealed that food and agricultural biotechnology firms such as Monsanto, Aventis and Syngenta spent more than $547million lobbying US congress between 1999 and 2009. In addition to lobbying efforts, the biotechnology industry has given more than $22million in political campaign contributions since 1999. In Argentina and the US, "revolving door" policies have enabled many former biotech employees to work in government posts, or become official government advisors. In Argentina, Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer, Dow and Pioneer sit on the national panel to advise government on applications for GM crop releases. In the US, numerous examples of former Monsanto employees included the Head of the Food and Drug Agency (FDA) who wrote and approved GM commercialisation; the head of the main research arm for US government agricultural research; and a member of the committee tasked with legalising GM salmon. The regulated are becoming the regulators with predictable results.
Former Managing Director of Monsanto, India, Dr T.V. Jadagisan reveals Monsanto's cloak and dagger business dealings in India, and of the company's aims to control the nation's seed business and agriculture through its Indian subsidiary Mayyco. He points out that many more long-term trials need to be carried out by independent agencies, and cautions against the scientific community rushing into GM technology under the false claim of increasing production without understanding the true consequences.
Reclaiming Food Democracy
Reports from 6 continents show that civil society movements continue to expose the falsehoods of GM technology. Civil society - including farmer, environmental, consumer, unions, public health and social justice groups - actions range from direct actions such as uprooting GM crops to policy and public outreach projects such as GM-Freeze campaigns and GM labelling initiatives. In addition, many regional governments also initiate actions and policies to halt GMOs, including the declaration of GM-free zones across Europe. Networks of scientists - including the European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility, and the US-based Union of Concerned Scientists - provide critical technical information for civil society and governments alike. Legal actions by civil society groups include Biowatch South Africa's challenge against Monsanto over the right to access of information about biosafety and location of GM field trials; the Center for Food Safety's numerous legal challenges to US commercialisation of GM alfalfa, sugar beet and other crops; and Navdanya in India's challenge to companies for biopiracy theft of seeds and indigenous knowledge.
Many groups challenging GMOs do so in the full knowledge and direct experience that agroecological farming practices are more productive than GM and industrial agriculture, and that they ensure the health of humans, biodiversity, ecosystems, soils, livelihoods and food security. The value of their work to revive seed diversity, farmers' rights, indigenous knowledge, organic agriculture techniques and local markets was confirmed at the highest levels by the 2008 International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD). The largest-ever assessment of global agriculture involved more than 400 scientists and 30 governments, and was dismissive of GM's potential to address global hunger. Instead it recognised that the only way to ensure future food, farming and ecosystems was through a wholesale emphasis on agroecological practices. In 2011, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier de Schutter confirmed that small-scale farmers can double global food production within 10 years, through a shift to agroecological and organic methods.
The voices of citizens and movements from across the world renew and reinforce this message. It is time to make our food and farming GMO-free. It is time to build the real solutions to hunger and climate uncertainty. It is time for Food Democracy.