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PR masquerading as fact
The biotech industry’s mouthpiece, the International Service for the Acquisition of
Agrobiotechnology Applications (ISAAA), has been exposed for grossly inflating the figures of GM crops grown globally. Its
latest report lists countries growing GM crops that do not grow
them, or that have banned them. For example, Iran is down as having grown tens
of thousands of hectares of commercial GM rice in 2006, despite the fact Iran has never
approved or grown GM rice on any commercial scale.
Bob Phelps of Gene Ethics Network criticizes the report for making these unsupported
claims and ignoring the negative impacts of GM crops: “The report emphasizes
that 10.3 million farmers grew GM crops in 2006, but this is just 0.7 percent
of farmers world-wide. And just 600 000 farmers grew 85 percent of all GM crops
on industrial farms in North and South America. Small Third World farmers are
misused as fodder in the ISAAA’s PR war.”
India’s bid to ban all GM field trials
The ISAAA launched the report in India, where the
Supreme Court has recently banned any new GM crop trials until further notice. However, the exception
to the ban, GM mustard developed at Delhi University, involves
a genetic engineering “Terminator” technique called a GURT (Genetic Use Restriction
Technology) that renders the seeds from the plant sterile. (See Chronicle of An Ecological Disaster Foretold,
SiS 16). The Public Interest
Litigation (PIL) group, which instigated the ban on GM crops in India, are now pursuing
a ban even on GM mustard because the University failed to reveal the full
scientific facts to the Court.
are also concerned by the conflict of interest with the body that regulate
GM crops in India, the GEAC (Genetic Engineering Approval Committee), whose co-Chair also sits as a Director
of the ISAAA. There
is deep concern in India from all corners
that their agricultural policy is being manipulated by corporate entities
that have targeted Third World farmers with
the full force of the US Government behind them. The ISAAA report claims cost
reductions for Indian farmers growing GM cotton, which is another outright falsehood that
should be challenged.
In fact, more than 100 000
farmers in India that became involved in growing GM crops have committed suicide in the ten years since
1993 (See Stem Farmers’
Suicides with Organic Farming, SiS 32.) And on average, a further 16 000 farmers
a year have killed themselves since 2003 because of crop failures and debts
incurred by buying the expensive GM cottonseed and herbicides touted around
Indian farms by Monsanto (India's
Bt Cotton Fraud, SiS 26).
(To support the ban please see: http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/no-to-indias-crops-being-genetically-engineered.html)
Romania reduces GM planting to zero and eight other EU countries have imposed
Meanwhile in Europe, Romania has announced
a ban of GM soya as of 1 January 2007, that is, a drop to zero planting, and
is therefore unlikely
to plant the 100 000 hectares listed by the ISAAA.
Gilles-Eric Seralini at Caen University, France, explained
on Radio Romania International that, “The soybeans grown in Romania are treated
with a very powerful pesticide named Roundup Ready, which has a very toxic
effect on human placentas and embryos. Roundup Ready genetically engineered soya is not approved for growing in the EU”
(Glyphosate Toxic & Roundup Worse,
SiS 26; Roundup Ready Sudden Death, Superweeds,
Allergens..., SiS 28). The ban on GM soya coincides with Romania’s inclusion
in the European Union. So far, all GM crops grown in Romania have been
unregulated, untraceable and unlabelled. The lack of regulation is also a
serious threat to farmers who may find their produce restricted from entering
into the EU market. Furthermore it also hinders the potential for organic
proposed decontamination of GM crops in Romania is a process
likely to take many years, and may also become a test case of whether such
decontamination is possible.
ISAAA has also glossed over the ban of GM maize in Austria, and in a
further seven European countries, including Germany, that have
banned one or more GM crop.
Poland pushes for rejection of GM
Seeds Catalogue has already banned genetically engineered seeds from its collection
in 2006. In the European Parliament in January 2007, a resolution towards
the use of more GM technology was supported by 22 MEPs, but rejected by 15 MEPs with 6 abstentions.
However, the Polish vice-Chairman of the Agricultural Committee in the European
Parliament, Janusz Wojciechowski, announced recently that he fully rejects
the resolution and supports a completely GM-free Europe. The ICPPC
- International Coalition to Protect the Polish Countryside -is therefore
hopeful that there is time for more MEPs to be informed of the facts before
the resolutions’ final plenary session on 14 March 2007. (For more
information and for a letter to send to your MEP to reject the motion, see
GM crops grown mostly in North and South America
Despite the ISAAA’s claims that agrobiotechnology
is a global industry, only 8 countries worldwide are
growing 99 percent of GM crops commercially. These are: USA 53.5 percent,
Argentina 17.6 percent, Brazil 11.3 percent,
Canada 6 percent, India 3.7 percent,
China 3.4 percent, Paraguay 2 percent
Africa 1.4 percent.
The ISAAA figures for China’s planting under GM are 3.4 million hectares, but
Kraft Foods, the world second largest food producer has committed to supply
China with GM-free foods from 1 January 2007. The Chinese Biosafety Committee
has also stymied GM rice crops approval for another year while more data on
safety are assessed.
Brazil is listed as growing 11.5 million hectares of GM soybean and cotton,
but it continues to resist the GM industry’s attempts to gain approval for GM
South Africa’s hugely hyped figures called into question
South Africa is hyped up
as having a massive increase in
biotech crops from 500 000 hectares in 2005 to 1.4 million hectares in 2006.
But according to a press release from Monsanto three months earlier, the 2006
area was a much more modest 609 000 ha. As Mariam Mayet of the African Centre
of Biosafety points out, it would mean an additional 800 000 ha planted in
the space of three months if ISAAA figures were to be believed.
South Africa has already rejected field trials of GM sorghum to protect their
own local varieties from contamination. The South African wine industry has
also closed ranks against the Biotech companies by opposing two applications
for field trials of GM yeasts and GM grapevines in 20 wine producing regions
both in the Southern and Western Cape  (For more on GM wines, see Self-Cloned' Wine Yeasts
Not Necessarily Safe and GM
Grapevines & Toxic Wines, SiS 33).
in the world, rice suppliers in Thailand and Vietnam are committed
to keeping rice exports GM free. So is the world’s largest rice processor, Ebro Puleva. This
is a strategic move to capitalise on the market opportunities that have opened
up after the contamination of US long grain rice stocks with an unapproved
genetically engineered variety LLRICE601 (USDA Poised to Deregulate Illegal
GM Rice, SiS 32). The Bayer rice scandal was financially
disastrous for US rice producers, as it met with strong disapproval from rice
farmers, processors, and governments worldwide. The Rice Producers
of California have called for a ban on the cultivation of GM rice, be it for
commercial purposes or for field trials.
Basmati farmers burn down GM rice
The All India Rice Exporters Association
has lobbied the Indian Government to prohibit field trials of GM rice in many basmati rice growing
states, including Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and the
Punjab. So strong is the desire
to keep their fields GM-free
that Indian farmers burnt down the GM test plots that could potentially contaminate
their rice fields.
Rakesh Tikait, a national spokesperson for one of the
largest farming groups in India, the Bharathiya Kisan Union, explained the
extreme reaction of rice farmers. He said, “The threat to farmers’ livelihoods
is clear. Examples from across the country of Bt cotton failures show that
this technology is unsafe for humans and the environment, and that it can
neither be controlled nor regulated. We consider the threat serious enough
to warrant the destruction of test fields of GE rice to stop its introduction
and to protect ourselves”.
Goodbye biotechnology, hello nature
The ISAAA and the biotech industry may delude themselves
with the ‘successes’ of genetic engineering and the constant expansion of acreages planted to GM
crops. The stark reality, however,
is that the global market has remained steadfastly hostile to GM crops, as
the recent tainted rice episode so amply demonstrates. And far from benefiting
the poor as the report claims, GM crops cost the poor at least 3 times more
in terms of seed and herbicide, misappropriation of land and precious
water resources, and incalculable
harm to human, animal, and environmental health.
Greenpeace concludes that the rejection of GM crops by farmers, processors,
consumers and governments alike reiterates the global message to the biotech
industry that there is no place in our future for genetic engineering.