Open access to science eprints
TheSparc provides both scientists and the general public free open access to scientific papers that are important for the survival of people and planet
ISIS Report 20/08/08
Why Prince Charles is Right
We Need GMO-Free Food and Agriculture for Food Security. Dr.
Vandana Shiva and Dr.
Counteracting biotech industry’s false claims
We are grateful to Prince Charles for cautioning the world
on the blind, head long rush to
spread GM seeds and crops worldwide, especially in the Third World . It has become necessary for him to do so because the
biotechnology industry is using the current food and fuel crisis to push GM
crops on grounds that they will increase yields. This is doubly false. First,
the current crisis is a result of speculation and diversion of food crops
to biofuels, it is not a crisis of production, at least not yet, even though
industrial monoculture has been failing through decades of unsustainable practices
Without Fossil Fuels Now, SiS 38).
Second, genetic engineering so far has only achieved the transfer of single gene traits such as herbicide resistance and Bt-toxin production.
Yield and environmental resilience – most relevant for food security - are
complex multigenic traits, and there is no GM crop currently engineered for
high yields or that produces higher yields. Quite the opposite is the case.
GM crops have been a disastrous failure on all counts.
GM crops bring less income, less yield, more pesticides, more pests, and superweeds;
and are far from safe
Data compiled by the United States Department of Agriculture
and studies carried out in US universities consistently showed that GM crops
not only failed to increase yields, but resulted in yield drags, reduced income
for farmers, and increased pesticide use . New data paint an even grimmer
picture: the use of glyphosate on major crops went up more than 15-fold between
1994 and 2005, along with increases in other herbicides in order to cope with
rising glyphosate resistant superweeds [4, 5]. Similarly, Roundup tolerant
canola volunteers are top among the worries of Canadian farmers [6, 7] (Study Based on Farmers’
Experience Exposes Risks of GM Crops, SiS 38).
A Cornell University study of 481 Chinese farmers warned that the farmers were losing money
due to secondary pests that have emerged after growing Bt cotton for seven
years in the country. These pests have increased so much that farmers were
spraying their crops up to 20 times during a growing season .
More direct evidence has come from witnesses in
the fields. Monsanto has claimed that its Bt cotton in India yields
1 500 kg/acre. Most independent studies have found an average of just 300-400 kg/acre [9, 10] (Organic
Cotton Beats Bt Cotton in India, SiS 27; Message from Andra Predesh:Return to organic
cotton & avoid the Bt cotton trap, SiS 29). Many farmers face
total crop failure due to pest attacks, while some get more than 1 000 kg only if the weather was not
too dry or too wet. Bt. cotton is supposed to control the bollworm, but the
bollworm is evolving Bt resistance, while new
pests that were not previously significant have exploded, requiring higher
doses of pesticides  (Deadly gift from
Monsanto to India, SiS 38), exactly as has been documented in China
. As a pest-control strategy, GM crops have
decisively failed. Integrated pest management [9, 10] and pest control through
mixed cropping have proven much more scientific and effective (see below).
Finally, despite the notorious failure of regulation
and lack of funding for independent research on the health and environmental
impacts of GMOs, substantial evidence has accumulated to indicate that GM
food and feed are far from safe  (see GM Food Nightmare
Unfolding in the Regulatory Sham, ISIS scientific publication). Allergy-like
and other immune responses, illnesses, stunted development, sterility and
deaths have been reported in the scientific literature and by farmers in the
fields. This is the main reason why consumers in Europe and the rest of the world have been rejecting GM in our food chain.
It is supreme irony that the more the industry makes false
claims about GM crops giving higher yields and using less pesticide, the more
they appeal to “science”-based decisions, whereas they have consistently ignored
and suppressed real scientific evidence.
GM crops, farmers’ suicides and global disaster in the making
The UK Environment Minister Phil Woolas was obviously speaking
for the industry when he said that the government had a “moral responsibility”
to investigate whether genetically modified crops could help alleviate hunger
in the developing world , and challenged Prince Charles to provide the
evidence that GM crops have been a disaster.
Not only has Woolas ignored the scientific evidence
on the abysmal failures of GM crops, he seems also oblivious to the massive farmers’ suicides in India  (Indias Agrarian
Suicides, Navdanya Report). The suicides are concentrated in the Bt.
cotton belt. Monsanto’s Bt. cotton is costly, non-renewable, and unreliable.
Farmers are getting trapped in unpayable debt and are ending their lives.
Vandana visited Krishna Rao Vaidya’s widow on 10th Oct 2007, and it was evident he was driven to suicide because
of debt induced by Bt. cotton. One farmer like Vaidya takes his life every
8 hours in Vidarbha. Over the past decade, 200 000 farmers in India have committed suicide.
Prince Charles said that GM crops and corporate
control over agriculture “risked creating the biggest disaster environmentally
of all time.” Two things were clear in the Prince’s statement. He was addressing
the risk of creating a disaster, not a disaster that has already
occurred. He was also addressing the issue of disaster in a broad and comprehensive
sense not just in a narrow perspective of safety. As he stated  “Relying
on gigantic corporations for mass production of food would threaten, not boost
future food supplies.” He warned that we would end up with “millions of small
farmers all over the world being driven off their land into unsustainable,
unmanageable, degraded and dysfunctional conurbations of unmentionable awfulness.
I think it will be an absolute disaster.”
For Prince Charles, the large scale uprooting
of peasants and small farmers is a social and human rights disaster and tragedy,
as it is for most ordinary people. Corporate monopoly over our food systems
is a food security disaster. And while in some places like India these disasters have already occurred, at a global level, they are a disaster in the making.
Given all the other agronomic and environmental
failures of GM crops, and large doubts over safety, we have little doubt that
further indulgence in GM crops will seriously damage our chances of surviving
the food crisis especially as global warming is taking its toll on food production.
 (see Ban GMOs Now, ISIS Lecture)
It is therefore unscientific and irresponsible
of Phil Woolas to say that Prince Charles must provide “proof”
that a disaster has happened. We would expect the Environment Minister to
be aware of the environmental principle on which the UN Convention on Biological
Diversity and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change rest. It is called
the Precautionary Principle: where there is scientific evidence that an activity
raises threats of serious harm to human health or the environment, measures
to halt or modify the activity may be taken even in the absence of scientific
certainty  (see Use and Abuse
of the Precautionary Principle, ISIS Report).
Organic non-GM agriculture is the answer
The Environment Minister would be far better advised to investigate
whether biodiverse and ecological farming could help
provide a solution to hunger in the developing countries, especially in Africa,
and he would find a lot of supporting evidence in a comprehensive report
presented to the UK Parliament earlier this year [17, 18] (Food
Futures Now: *Organic *Sustainable *Fossil Fuel Free, ISIS publication;
for Food Futures Now, SiS 38). The report documents how organic
biodiverse agriculture out-produces industrial chemically fertilized monoculture
by 30 percent. It came to much the same conclusions as the recently completed
International Assessment on Agriculture Science and Technology: that neither
GMOs nor industrial agriculture is the solution; instead, small scale ecological
agriculture is the answer to poverty and hunger. Mr. Woolas should at least
read that report  (see “GM-Free Organic Agriculture
to Feed the World”, SiS 38).
Yes we want a science-based policy on GMOs
The Environment Minister also said : “Government Ministers
have a responsibility to base policy on science and I do strongly believe
that we have a moral responsibility to the developing world to ask the question:
can GM crops help?”
If the Minister could travel with Vandana through
Vidarbha and see the tears in the eyes of Bt. cotton widows, you would be
compelled to ask the question “Can GM crops harm?” That is your moral responsibility.
It is also your responsibility to sincerely
base your decisions on real science, not pseudo-science supporting corporate
interests. Science-based policy would recognize that an agriculture that
conserves biodiversity also produces more food and nutrition in the same plot
of land. Science based policy would recognize that if Bt. cotton traps farmers
in debt, it is not an instrument for ending poverty, but has become a recipe
for suicides. A science based policy would not blindly spread GM crops to
Africa or anywhere else without assessing their role in India’s
agrarian crisis. A science based policy would not rely on the unscientific
principle of “substantial equivalence”  that prevented independent and
serious testing on the safety of GM food and feed before they are widely released.
The Supreme Court of India has served notice
on the Government of India to ask why a GMO Moratorium should not be imposed
till proper testing protocols and tests and facilities for biosafety are in
We want a science for peace and sustainability
We are proud that Prince Charles will be delivering the
Ninth Howard Memorial lecture for Navdanya this year on 2nd October.
Navdanya has organized the lecture to honour Sir Albert Howard, the imperial
agriculturist sent to India early last century. His Agricultural
Testament published in 1940 was based on the knowledge on sustainable
farming he learnt from India’s
peasants. The lecture will take place on Gandhi’s birth anniversary to celebrate
non-violent farming which protects all species, the farmers, the soil and
our health [2, 17].
GMOs are the latest offerings in a violent tradition
of industrial agriculture that has its roots in war and has become a war against
the farmers, the land, and our bodies. All that the biotech industry and its
allies in governments can talk about is the smartness of their weapons in
a war against nature. Prince Charles, like many of us, wants this war to end.
It is time they realized the debate is much
wider and deeper. It is about the planet we live on, the societies we are
shaping, the billions condemned to exclusion, the super profits for the gene
giants and giant grain harvesters, while the real harvest in the fields of
real farmers shrink.
GMOs have failed the test of both ecological
sustainability and socio-economic accountability. They have the worst features
of industrial monocultures and more. They are therefore a greater driver of
climate change as well as being more vulnerable to climate change . Prince
Charles is right to warn of this impending catastrophe, and we must take heed.
- “Prince Charles warns GM crops biggest-ever environmental disaster”,
Jeff Randall, 12 August 2008, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/main.jhtml?xml=/earth/2008/08/12/eacharles112.xml
- Ho MW. Food without fossil fuels now. Science in Society 39,
- Benbrook CM. Genetically Engineered Crops and Pesticide Use in
the United States: The First
Nine Years”, BioTech InfoNet, Technical Paper Number 7, 2004
- Who benefits from gm crops? The rise in pesticide
use, executive summary, Friends of the Earth International, Amsterdam, January 2008.
- “Report raises alarm over ‘superweeds’”, Brian Hindo,
Business Week, 13 February 2008, http://www.businessweek.com/bwdaily/dnflash/content/feb2008/db20080212_435043.htm?chan=top+news_top+news+index_businessweek+exclusives%20
- Mauro IJ and McLachlan SM. Farmer knowledge and risk
analysis: postrelease evalulation of herbicide-tolerant canola in Western
Canada. Risk Analysis 2008, 28, DOI:10.1111/j.1539-6924.200801027.x
- Ho MW. Canadian farmers’ experience exposes risks of
GM crops. Science in Society 38,
- “Seven-year glitch: Cronell warns that Chinese GM cotton
farmers are losing moneyBts”, Susan Lang, Chronicleonline, 25 July 2006,
- Gala R. Organic cotton beats Bt cotton. Science in Society 27,
- Gala R. Return to organic cotton & avoid the Bt-cotton
trap. Science in Society 29,
- “Deadly gift from Monsanto to India”, Ram Kalaspurkar,
eye witness report with photographs, Letter to the Editor, Science in Society 38,
SIS 36 - Letters
to the editor), 51, 2008.
- Ho MW, Cummins J and Saunders PT. GM food nightmare unfolding
in the regulatory sham. Microbial Ecology in Health and Disease 2007,
Disease 2007, 19, 66-77.
- “Minister challenges Prince Charles to prove GM crops
threat”, Jenny Percival, The Guardian, 17 August 2007, http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2008/aug/17/gmcrops.greenpolitics
- India’s Agrarian Suicides, Navdanya, 15 July 2004, http://www.navdanya.org/news/04july15.htm
- Ho MW. Ban GM crops now. ISIS
invited Lecture, 4 June 2008, http://www.i-sis.org.uk/banGMOsNow.php
- Saunders PT. Use and abuse fo the Precautionary Principle,
ISIS Report, 11 July 2000, http://www.i-sis.org.uk/prec.php
- Ho MW, Burcher S, Lim LC, et al. Food Futures Now,
Organic, Sustainable, Fossil Fuel Free, ISIS and TWN, London, 2008.
- Burcher S. Full house for Food Futures Now. Science in Society 38,
- Ho MW. “GM-free organic agriculture to feed the world”,
Science in Society 38,
- Ho MW and Steinbrecher R. Journal of Nutritional and
Environmental Interactions 1998, 2, 51-84.
- “SC issues notice to Centre on plea for GM crops' moratorium”
Press Trust India, August 12 2008, http://www.hindu.com/thehindu/holnus/001200808121921.htm