A recent report published by La Via Campesina, Friends of the Earth International and Combat Monsanto (La Via Campesina Report) demonstrates a growing global awareness of the negative impact of genetically engineered (GE or GM) products on people, animals and the environment and highlights an intense grassroots opposition to Monsanto, the world’s largest seed company whose grip on seeds spans the world. The company, after all, provides technology for 90% of genetically engineered crops world-wide and flexes its muscle to protect that technology with aggressive enforcement of its patent rights against farmers.
The agricultural giants try to lure farmers and win over the public’s approval, here and abroad, with big promises. We are told that GMO seeds will solve world hunger because they increase yield, control pests and weeds, contribute to carbon storage, reduce chemical use, and are drought tolerant. In one sentence, the common PR refrain is that genetically engineered seeds are what the world needs to feed the ever increasing population facing climate change. Farmers are seduced by the promises and the discounts that are initially given to them.
Soon enough, however, after the PR blitz fades and promotions expire, the farmer often finds herself standing before a field of failing crops and mounting debt. In the United States, for example, farmers planting GE glyphosate-tolerant crops are facing an unprecedented number of superweeds as a result of resistance to glyphosate based herbicides such as Monsanto’s Roundup. A comprehensive study just released of Georgia cotton growers and extension agents, examining the practices before and after glyphosate resistance Palmer amaranth pigweed appeared in the cotton fields, found that:
The growers in the survey said about 78 percent of their acres were infested with glyphosate-resistant pigweed, and the county agents’ number was close to 90 percent of total acreage.
Bt corn, which represents approximately 65% of corn planted in the United States, is surrendering to rootworms. Bruce Potter, a University of Minnesota professor and a pest management specialist, recently told Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) that “genetically modified corn is basically backfiring.” Corn rootworm has become known to many as “the billion-dollar pest, a rough estimate of how much money U.S. farmers spend annually to keep it at bay,” reported MPR.
“What we’re talking about here is Darwinian evolution in fastforward,” Mike Owen, a Weed Scientist at Iowa State University, is quoted in another report, The GMO Emperor Has No Clothes, The Global Citizens Report on the State of GMOs (Global Citizens Report).
Similarly, across the globe in India, Monsanto’s promise to increase the yields of farmers planting Bt cotton did not materialize, leaving thousands of farmers in debt. By 2010, the company publicly admitted that its Bt cotton has failed to control the pink bollworm pests in India. To compensate for the resistance, the company is now selling Bollgard II and III with additional toxic genes, reports the Global Citizens Report.
A 2009 report by the Union of Concerned Scientists, Failure to Yield, found:
that genetically engineering herbicide-tolerant soybeans and herbicide-tolerant corn has not increased yields. Insect-resistant corn, meanwhile, has improved yields only marginally. The increase in yields for both crops over the last 13 years, the report found, was largely due to traditional breeding or improvements in agricultural practices.
Small farmers are often pushed into debt when they use genetically modified seeds because they are required to continuously purchase expensive patented seeds and specialized pesticides, a situation made worse when the GE seeds begin to require more and more pesticides because of resistance. In India, for example, “[i]n a decade, Monsanto gained control of 95 percent of the cotton seed market, and seed prices jumped 8,000 percent,” reported the Global Citizen Report. In the United States, “[t]he $70 per bag price set for RR2 soybeans for 2010 was twice the cost of conventional seed and reflected a 143% increase in the price of GM seed since 2001,” documents yet another report, GMO Myths and Truths (GMO Myths Report). Farmers, highlights the GMO Myths Report, have little choice but to,
tolerate such price hikes because of consolidation within the seed industry. In other words, the GM industry dictates which seed varieties are available. In 2008, 85% of GM maize patents and 70% of non-maize GM plant patents in the US were owned by the top three seed companies: Monsanto, DuPont, and Syngenta. Even these three companies are not independent of each other but increasingly network to cross-license GM seed traits.
Moreover, as prices of GM Bt cotton seed have escalated, non-GM varieties – in some cases better-performing than the GM varieties – have been withdrawn from the market.
Seed saving, a practice that has been a fundamental right of farmers for thousands of years, is forbidden for farmers growing GM seeds and local heritage, biodiversity and seed varieties decline because farmers, who once grew a variety of crops now grow commodity GE crops. As the La Via Campesina Report points out, “[t]he end result of these developments is that just a few genetically uniform seed varieties are replacing thousands of local varieties, eroding the genetic diversity that sustains our food systems.”
The industry’s promises have thus far failed to materialize while report after report, compiling a growing body of scientific and other authoritative evidence, contradict the very assumptions used to promote GM seeds. The La Via Campesina Report succinctly sums this up when it states that:
Analysis has shown that there is no evidence that GM crops produce greater yields than conventional crops, and there are no ‘miracle’ crops available that tolerate drought, flooding or salt. Neither do GM crops store more carbon in soils due to decreased tillage or the ‘no-till’ techniques associated with GM crops and pesticides. What has happened though, rather than solving hunger, is that the corporate grip on agriculture has tightened as we head towards one billion people going hungry globally.