Genetically Modified Crops and the global Food System

Summary

It might be hard to believe, given all the hype around this technology, but there have been no benefits whatsoever from GM while the problems are legion and extremely serious. As we have seen:

The technology

  1. GM technology produces life forms that could not have occurred naturally through evolution. It is not a way to speed up what has occurred either naturally or through conventional cross breeding. It adds genes from totally different life forms which have never had a place in the species they are being introduced into, so the claims made by the biotech companies that “it is the same” are simply untrue.
  2. The process of inserting the genes is totally random; damages the existing genetic structure of the plant; may insert the gene once or more often and it (or they) may insert anywhere within the DNA structure. It is then impossible to know how the newly created life form will behave and what side effects will occur. It is ultimately a question of sucking it (planting it out) and seeing. More recently we have understood the epigenetic controls may also have been changed, altering when, how and if genes present will function.

The claimed benefits

  1. There is no yield increase but frequently a yield decrease. GM isn’t helping, nor will it help, to feed the growing world population. As with so many things GM – that was a red herring.
  2. There is no increase in the nutritional value of the crops, but interestingly there is a significant nutritional decrease. We have seen there is always a reduction in the nutrient uptake of GMRR plants which is severe and this has a big impact on human health. As one example, in order for our bodies to make bone (including our teeth) from the calcium gained from the foods we have eaten, we need magnesium. However this nutrient also controls the balance of calcium inside all of us but RR crops have hugely reduced levels of magnesium.
    It is bizarre that we may need to take man made nutrient supplements to provide our bodies with sufficient of the crucial nutrients if we consume man made plants.
  3. There isn’t a single GM crop anywhere that provides health benefits, though there have been several attempts by the biotech companies to create such crops.
  4. Far from reducing the amount of chemical herbicide applied, it has increased considerably, and the amounts being applied – and needing to be applied – are themselves increasing annually. If we allow them to be grown, the coming ‘tiered trait’ GM crops (which would or will be resistant to more than one herbicide) will hugely increase it further.
  5. While there seems to be a marginal reduction in chemical pesticide applied, we have to take into account that the entire crop has become a pesticide – so the amount of pesticide in the environment has increased massively.
  6. There has been no reduction in the amount of energy used to actually grow the crops, and if we take into account the devastation of the land resulting from the new superweeds (see below) then the energy used has increased.

The Problems

  1. The Genetically modified organisms can, will and have escaped. There is no debate about this one and once they have done so – they cannot ever, ever be recovered.
  2. Having escaped they have also corrupted original plant species that we depend on, so over time we may have lost those original species. This is an extremely serious matter. The first GM wheat (produced by the Rothamsted Research Institute) is already being grown in the UK after they told the approving authorities and St Albans District Council that “an escape is extremely unlikely”.
  3. Any GM crop has an extremely limited ‘effective’ lifespan if it were ever ‘effective’ which we have seen it hasn’t been. The time involved seems to have been between 10 and 15 years, after which we are left with the consequences and no crop. This is yet another classic case of a Corporation taking the profit while it is available but leaving humanity to suffer the consequences.
  4. Ever larger areas of agricultural land are now being lost to agriculture due to the evolution of superweeds and superpests, and with the passage of time the list is growing ever faster.
  5. The regime for testing these crops to make certain they are safe before being given approval for general planting – is neither fit for purpose nor functional. It is nothing short of a disgrace.

The Biggest Problem of all

  1. It is already abundantly clear that with certainty we cannot say the crops are safe to eat – either directly as food for humans or indirectly when fed to animals that we will consume. Rather we can say there is every reason to think they are not.
    The health issues cover the spectrum of human health and there is evidence that many of them are going to be passed down through many generations, as yet unborn. Indeed, fertility itself seems to be a major concern.
    It seems remarkable that the various authorities around the world who are tasked to protect the public are singularly failing to do so. This would have either be from incompetence or something worse.

    The statement here is a snippet of a Summary for an issue of such importance, so reading the full Paper here (Part 4) is really necessary.

Can the Biotech Corporations be trusted?

I am afraid that where money or profit is involved, human integrity goes over the cliff.

Some years ago I was heading to the headwaters of the Amazon in Bolivia to see the state of the forest for myself. It is very difficult to get to, involving a run along the Altiplano (high Andean plateau) followed by a drop off the eastern side. Heading cross country north east of Cochabamba was difficult, especially as an earthquake had dislodged the central pillar of a bridge the day before we had to get over it, but coca leaves were crossing it without difficulty! In huge quantities. Reaching an extremely remote village close to the river where we were to get a boat, the army had been there the day before and 5 local men had been killed during a raid on the coca growing fields. Bolivia received cash from America, but in return had to get rid of the coca growing. The soldiers therefore infrequently visited a coca area where they would use machetes to cut the crop down – leaving the plants to return to cropping rather quickly – but these farmers had become angry!

The purpose of this travelogue is to convey how extremely remote this area is, yet the photos here show how poor the area and – look you here – what was for sale!!!!

picture of a Bolivian shanty village

I was horrified but not surprised as the major Corporations make large amounts of money from the world’s poor. How these people were expected to understand anything about these chemicals, let alone use them safely or in the advised doses, defies belief:

picture of agricultural chemicals in a shop in a Bolivian village
  • Benlate is made by Dupont – a biotech corporation.
  • Greenzit is used to make grass greener!
  • Fernimine is 2,4-D – one constituent in Agent Orange
  • Gramoxone is made by the UK based Zeneca Group and often sold as Paraquat which is poisoning some tribal peoples in Thailand.
  • Karate is also made by Zeneca and is found to be acutely toxic to aquatic organisms. Great considering this was for sale around the Amazon’s headwaters (the Chapare River). Zeneca say “Its toxicity to honey bees is likely to be low risk”
  • Calixin!!!!!! It is a fungicide but it might be that remote peoples don’t know much about it or how to use it: Here is an extract from the US National Library of Medicine on research tests on Calixin: Experimental studies on Wistar rats revealed that the fungicide calixin (N-tridecyl-2.6-dimethylmorpholine) has a teratogenic effect. This effect manifested in edemas, hemorrhages, hematomas, abnormal development of the brain (hydrocephalia), visceral cranium (micrognathia, cleft palate) and genitourinary system (hydronephrosis), in decreased size of pelvic bones, shoulder girdle, front and hind limbs, etc. Marked teratogenic effects was in good agreement with the dose. Threshold and sub threshold doses of calixin in terms of the teratogenic effect were 0.6 and 0.13 mg/kg, respectively. Calixin produces a clear-cut specific teratogenic effect that is evidenced by a wide spectrum of specific action (class I of extremely hazardous substances). The most pronounced changes were induced by calixin administration during the entire period of pregnancy (days 1-20) as compared to its administration during organogenesis (days 7-15).
  • ETC

So if you think the biotech companies have any concerns for anybody, anywhere – you are sorely wrong. I am afraid we have moved to a time when distrust must be the norm and where trust has to be earned.

Envirocide

You are probably wondering what this is, but there is an active group of legal people trying to get a global law passed through the UN for ‘Envirocide’. The principle is that the individual directors and others in the Corporations who can be shown to be directly responsible would be answerable for the environmental damage done by any products they market.

Political Intervention

I have become aware of, though cannot personally prove, that 10 Downing Street was very likely to have been involved in limiting or stopping independent research into GM, focussed on the safety of it entering the food chain. It seems that around 1998/9 two calls were made from 10 Downing Street to a Scottish University where the research was in progress, following which the research team was disbanded and the research stopped.
It is clearly extremely dangerous if political leaders, based on a whim or pressure from elsewhere, intervene to stop independent research. It is certainly clear to me that the political system doesn’t have the knowledge on subjects like these to make personal assessments.

Mike Hillard.