By Silvia Ribeiro *
The reality of GMOs shows us that they do not deliver on any of these promises. On the contrary, they produce less, use more chemicals, generate new environmental and health problems, create more unemployment and marginalization, concentrate land ownership, contaminate essential crops of economies and cultures, such as corn, increase economic dependence. and they are an attack on sovereignty.
1. Genetic engineering is based on more uncertainties than knowledge
GMOs are organisms into which genetic material, generally from other species, has been inserted by methods that could never occur in nature.
Recent studies, published in scientific publications (1) postulate that the central dogmas of genetics since the 1950s, could be fundamentally wrong. The serious thing is that about this central dogma, wrong? transgenic organisms are being produced on a large scale that end up in our food, medicine and the surrounding biodiversity.
Genetic engineering technology has so many uncertainties and unpredictable side effects that it could not be called engineering or technology. It is like building a bridge by throwing blocks from one bank to the other, hoping that they will fall in the right place. During the process all kinds of unexpected effects appear and the owners of this work ensure that there is no evidence that they have negative impacts on health or the environment, and that those who question them are not scientists. The reality is worse, because GMOs are not inert, but living organisms that reproduce in the environment, out of the control of those who created them.
2. They carry health risks
If you went to a store and saw an ad for cookies that said "there is no proof that they are bad for you," would you buy them? I do not. And I think no one else. Of course, the biotech industry is not looking for this evidence. Independent scientists, such as Dr. Terje Traavik from Norway, have found alarming results in 2004: allergies in farmers due to inhalation of transgenic corn pollen (2).
But the real Pandora's Box are the unpredictable effects: not even those who build transgenics know what effects they can have on human and animal health, when recombining, for example, with our own bacteria or before the possibility that our organs incorporate part of these transgenics, as has already happened in the lungs, liver and kidneys of rats and rabbits. (3)
3. They have impacts on the environment and crops
There are almost no studies on the impacts on crops and the environment. However, it is clear and sadly demonstrated with the transgenic contamination of corn in Mexico, that once the transgenics are released, they will contaminate other crops, by pollen, wind and insects. Insecticidal crops can affect other species that are not crop pests, just as Bt corn pollen has been shown to affect Monarch butterflies — and in countries with high biodiversity, the risks multiply.
In several of the contaminated corn plants that have been discovered in Mexico, deformations were noted.
4. They do not solve hunger in the world: they increase it
According to the promoters of transgenics, we should accept all these risks, because we need more food for the growing world population. But food production is not the cause of hunger in the world. Currently the equivalent of 3,500 calories per day per inhabitant of the planet is produced: about 2 kilos of food per person per day, enough to make us all obese. (4) Hunger in the world is not a technological problem. It is a problem of social injustice and imbalance in the distribution of food and the land to grow it. GMOs increase these problems.
5. Cost more, yield less, use more chemicals
Since the United States started with GMOs in 1996, the use of agrochemicals has increased by 23 million kilos.
GM crops also produce less. The most widespread crop, which is herbicide-tolerant soybeans (61% of the volume of GMOs in the world), produces 5-10% less than non-GMO soybeans. (5)
GM seeds are more expensive than conventional ones. This means that in some cases, even when there is temporarily a small increase in production, it does not compensate for the extra spending on seed. The biotech industry argues that this cannot be true (even if it is!), Because then US farmers would not use these seeds. The truth is that the majority cannot choose, they no longer have their own seeds, there is a lack of options in the market and they have strong ties with multinational seed companies.
6. They are an attack on sovereignty
Practically all the transgenic crops in the world are in the hands of five transnational companies. They are Monsanto, Syngenta (Novartis + AstraZeneca), Dupont, Bayer (Aventis) and Dow. Monsanto alone controls more than 90% of the sales of GMOs. The same companies control the sale of seeds and are the largest producers of pesticides. (6) Which explains why more than three-quarters of the GMOs that are actually produced - not in propaganda - are tolerant to herbicides and increase the net use of pesticides.
Accepting the production of transgenics means handing over to the farmers, hands tied, the few transnational companies that dominate the business and alienating the countries' food sovereignty.
7. They privatize life
All GMOs are patented, most of them in the hands of the same companies that produce them. This means an ethical attack, since they are patents on living beings, and they are also a flagrant violation of the so-called "Farmers' Rights" recognized in the United Nations as the right of all farmers to save their seed for the next harvest. Patents prevent this and force farmers to buy new seeds every year. If they don't, they become criminals. The multinational transgenic companies have initiated hundreds of lawsuits against farmers in North America, for "improper use of patents."
8. What's Next: Suicide Seeds and Toxic Crops
The next generation of GMOs includes crops manipulated to produce inedible substances such as plastics, spermicides, abortifacs, vaccines. In the United States there are more than 300 secret (but legal) experiments of transgenic production of inedible substances in crops: mainly in corn. Vaccine production in plants is named as if this were a good thing: but what would happen to these drug crops if they inadvertently found their way up the food chain? Most of us have been vaccinated against some diseases - but would you get vaccinated every day? What effects would this have? Accidental releases of these crops have already occurred.
In Mexico, the planting of transgenic corn is prohibited, and yet since 2001, contamination of peasant corn has been found in several states of the republic, in the North, Center and South of the country (7). How will we know that it will not happen with these corn? Who is going to control it, if the very authorities of the Ministry of Agriculture signed in November 2003 an agreement with the United States and Canada that authorizes up to five percent of transgenic contamination in each shipment of imported corn that enters Mexico?
The companies that produce GMOs are developing various types of "Terminator" technology, to make "suicide" seeds and force them to buy them for each planting.
9. Coexistence is not possible and neither is control
Sooner or later, GM crops will contaminate everyone else and find their way into consumption, either in the fields or in the post-harvest process. According to a February 2004 report from the United States Union of Concerned Scientists, a minimum of 50 percent of US corn and soybean seeds that were not GMO are contaminated. The New York Times (1-3-04) commented on this: “To contaminate traditional crop varieties is to contaminate the genetic reservoir of plants on which humanity has depended for much of its history. (…) The most serious example is the contamination of corn in Mexico. The scale of the experiment this country has embarked on - and the potential effects on the environment, the food chain and the purity of traditional seeds - demands vigilance on the same scale.
To detect if there are GMOs, we depend on the company that produces them to provide us with the information, which they are reluctant to do, and for which they impose high costs that burden the victims of contamination. “Coincidentally”, after the pollution scandals have occurred, it has become increasingly difficult to detect them.8
10. Attack on the heart of cultures
The contamination of corn in Mexico, its center of origin, concentrates all the problems that we have described so far, but it is also a violent attack on the very heart of Mexican cultures: on their vast culinary culture and the thousand uses that are given to corn , to their peasant economies, to the bases of indigenous autonomy. With this biological war on traditional corn, the transnationals could appropriate and privatize this millenary and collective treasure of Mesoamericans, forcing the creators of corn to pay to continue using it in the future.
The multinational companies that produce and distribute transgenics, as well as those that favor imports of OGT corn, those who want to lift the moratorium that prevents the planting of OGT corn, or pass a biosafety law to legalize them, assume an immense historical debt that the peoples of Mexico will not allow or forget.
Aldo González Zapotec from Oaxaca, summarizes:
“… We are heirs of a great wealth that is not measured in money and of which today they want to deprive us: it is not the time to beg the aggressor for alms. Each one of the indigenous and peasants know about the contamination by transgenics of our corn and we say with pride: I sow and will sow the seeds that our grandparents inherited from us and I will take care that my children, their children and their children's children continue to grow them. (…) I will not allow them to kill the corn, our corn will die the day the sun dies ”.
(1) Wayt Gibbs, W, "The Unseen Genome" in Scientific American, November 2003. See also grain, "Blinded by the Gene", in Seedling, September 2003, www.grain.org
(2) Ribeiro, Silvia, “Transgenics, health and contamination” in La Jornada, Mexico, 03-20-2004
(3) New Health Dangers of Genetically Modified Food Discovered, Institute for Responsible Technology Press Release, citing studies by Terje Traavik, Norwegian Institute for Gene Ecology, Malaysia, 02-24-2004
(4) Moore Lappé. F, Collins J and Rosset Peter, World Hunger: 12 Myths, Food First Books, United States, Oct. 1998.
(5) Benbrook, Charles, Troubled times amid the commercial success of Roundup Ready soybeans, Northwest Science and Environmental Policy Center, AgBioTech InfoNet, Technical Paper # 4, United States, 2001. http://www.biodiversidadla.org/ arti ...
(6) Grupo etc, etc Communiqué # 82: Oligopolio sa, Nov / Dec 2003, http://www.etcgroup.org/article.asp…
(7) Contamination of corn in Mexico: much more serious. Collective press bulletin of indigenous and peasant communities of Oaxaca, Puebla, Chihuahua, Veracruz, ceccam, cenami, Grupo etc, casifop, unasjo, ajagi, Oct 2003
(8) Heinemann, Jack A. gm Corn in New Zealand: a case study in detecting purposeful and accidental contamination of food. Lecture at the scientific seminar for delegates to the International Cratagena Protocol on Biosafety of the Third World Network and the Institute of Gene Ecology, Malaysia, 02-22-2004.
* Silvia Ribeiro is a researcher at the Etc Group, http://www.etcgroup.org