Genetically Modified Crops

What are Genetically Modified Crops?

Genetically Modified (GM) crops are plants that have had genetic material inserted from other living organisms (as part of a “package” or “cassette” with other material substances, usually from viruses and bacteria) to give the crop new and different characteristics.

The organism’s genetic material has been modified in a way not found in nature under conditions of natural recombination or crossbreeding. Examples of modification techniques, by which genetic material prepared outside of the cell is introduced directly in the organism, include microinjection, macro-injection (blasting by a so-called “gene gun”), micro encapsulation, cell fusion, and hybridization procedures—all of which aim to create living cells containing a new combination of genetic material. The modified organism is a biological unit, which is able to multiply itself and to transmit genetic material to other organisms.

The most widely grown GM crops at present are herbicide tolerant or insect resistant, along with combinations of the two. These have been developed for industrial agricultural farming systems, although the industry is trying to get small farmers to adopt them.

GM crops are very different from conventionally-bred crops (as the companies argue to the Patent Office when they seek to obtain a monopoly) and cannot accurately be said to be “substantially equivalent” to conventional crops as regards environmental biosafety and influences on health

Three crucial questions arise in assessing the merits of GM crops:
1) Are they capable of sustainably improving agricultural productivity at a reasonable cost and without imposing severe environmental and human health impacts or unduly disrupting the social and cultural fabric of a society?
2) Have the initial promises and claims of each technological innovation been met?
3) Does a focus on GM crops divert attention in developing nations from other cost-effective, practical and efficient (agro-ecological) means to increase local food security and agricultural production?

Claims and questions about GM technology
GM crops were developed by major agricultural chemical companies such as Monsanto, Syngenta and DuPont. These companies now control the majority of the world’s seed market, and — together with industry lobby groups like CropLife, AfricaBio and AgBioWorld — have presented various arguments for the introduction of GM crops into the global agricultural system. Some of the claims made were:

  • GMOs are “under control” by the scientists and the biotech industry developing them.
  • GM crops would increase food production for the growing global population.
    • Increased yields would then reduce the demand for agricultural land.
    • Less water would be required (to grow them).
    • Drought- and saline-resistant crops could be developed.
    • Poor farmers would be prime beneficiaries.
  • GMOs are environmentally benign (or even beneficial).
  • GM crops would reduce agricultural chemical and pesticide use.
  • GM crops would be more nutritious.
  • GM crops do not require testing as they are equivalent to natural crops.

Although these claims are still largely unsubstantiated more than a decade after the introduction of GM crops, the beliefs are fairly widely-held and persistent that GM crops give higher yields, use less water, chemicals and fertilizer, and can withstand drought.

Portions of the above text is from  GM  agriculture – promises or problems for farming in South Africa? (Glenn Ashton, May 2011, Biowatch South Africa)

More to Read!

COUNTERING CORPORATE PROPAGANDA: A closer examination of the common claims for GMOs (AGRA Watch, February, 2012)

THE GMO EMPEROR HAS NO CLOTHES: A Global Citizens Report on the State of GMOs – False Promises, Failed Technologies (Navdanya International, October, 2011)

Fifty-Five Members Of Congress Call On FDA To Require Labeling Of Genetically Engineered Foods (Center for Food Safety, March 12, 2012) Led by Boxer and DeFazio, Bicameral Letter Calls for Reversal of Two Decade-Old Labeling Policy, Supports CFS Legal Petition. In Only 6 Months, Already 850,000+ Public Comments To FDA In Support Of Labeling.

How to Win a GMO Debate: 10 Facts Why GM Food is Bad (Jeffrey Smith, The Institute for Responsible Technology, December 12, 2011).

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Biotechnology and Intensive Farming (October 31, 2011)

Below, CSIRO scientist, Richard Richards, and Greenpeace give two opposing views of genetic modification:

1) Busting the GM myths: a view from Greenpeace (Janet Cotter, The Conversation, October 17, 2011)
2) Top five myths about genetic modification (Richard Richards, The Conversation, September 9, 2011)

Super weeds pose growing threat to U.S. crops (Carey Gillam, Reuters News Service, September 19. 2011). AOLA, Kansas – Farmer Mark Nelson bends down and yanks a four-foot-tall weed from his northeast Kansas soybean field. The “waterhemp” towers above his beans, sucking up the soil moisture and nutrients his beans need to grow well and reducing the ultimate yield.

Food Politics: USDA seeks method to compensate farmers for GM contamination (Marion Nestle, Sept, 7, 2011 Marion Nestle’s blog)

Can GMOs Help End World Hunger? (John Robbins, Huffington Post, August 1, 2011)

To abolish hunger and malnutrition, Africa must embrace GM technology (Mark Lynas, (Check Biotech, July 15, 2011). The other side of the argument.

WHITE HOUSE PACT WITH INDUSTRY TO PUSH GE PLANTS — High-Level Working Group Shielding Plan to Force GE Crops onto Wildlife Refuges (Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, July 21, 2011). Washington, DC — In an effort to boost exports, the Obama White House has entered into a joint venture with the agricultural biotechnology industry to remove barriers to the spread of genetically engineered (GE) crops, even on national wildlife refuges, according to documents posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).  Today, PEER sued the White House Trade Representative, Office of Management & Budget (OMB) and the State Department to force release of documents detailing their partnership with industry.  Look at the refuges targeted for GE crops

US ends opposition to GM labeling guidelines (Consumers International, July 5, 2011)
The US delegation to Codex, the UN/World Health Organisation food safety body, has dropped its opposition to the GM labelling guidance document, allowing it to move forward and become an official Codex text. The new Codex agreement means that any country wishing to adopt GM food labelling will no longer face the threat of a legal challenge from the World Trade Organization (WTO). This will have immediate implications for consumers.

Monsanto and Gates Foundation Push GE Crops on Africa (Mike Ludwig, Truthout, July 12, 2011)

FDA Approves Genetically Modified Grass: A Blow to the Organic Movement (Esther Farin, Ft. Lauderdale Examiner, July 10, 2011)

Bayer to pay $750M in genetic rice settlement (Jeannie Nuss, The News Tribune, July 1, 2011). German conglomerate Bayer CropScience agreed to pay up to $750 million to settle several lawsuits with U.S. farmers who claimed a strain of the company’s unapproved genetically modified rice contaminated the food supply and hurt their crop prices.

The cost-effective way to feed the world (Margaret Mellon and Doug Gurian-Sherman , Bellingham Herald, June 20, 2011)

Adoption of Genetically Engineered Crops in the U.S. (USDA Economic Research Service, 2011) This data product summarizes the extent of adoption of herbicide-tolerant and insect–resistant crops since their introduction in 1996. Three tables devoted to corn, cotton, and soybeans cover the 2000-11 period by State.

Loss of Biodiversity and Genetically Modified Crops (Deniza Gertsberg, GMO Journal, June 17th, 2011)

New plant disease linked to GM crops and pesticides (Flint Duxfield, ABC Rural, June 16, 2011)

“Golden Rice,” or Trojan Horse? (Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, Pesticide Action Network, June 2, 2011)

Bt crops and food security in developing countries: realised benefits, sustainable use and lowering barriers to adoption (Alan Raybould & Hector Quemada, Food Sec. (2010) 2:247–259, July 15, 2010)

Gene alarm on GM crops (The Telegraph, Calcutta, India, June 3, 2011)

Family Farmers Amplify Legal Complaint Against Monsanto’s GMOs (Cornucopia News, May 31st, 2011) Biotechnology Giant Fails to Provide Binding Legal Protection; Farmers Threatened by Contamination from Genetically Modified Organisms.

Monsanto Endows Chair at Iowa State University (Dan Piller, Des Moines Register, May 27, 2011)

With No Labeling, Few Realize They Are Eating Genetically Modified Foods (Monica Eng, Chicago Tribune, May 24, 2011)

10 Things Monsanto Doesn’t Want You to Know (Organic Consumers Association)

Failure to Yield: Biotechnology’s Broken Promises (Union of Concerned Scientists. 2009)

The Organic Center – Critical Issue Report: The First Thirteen Years Impacts of Genetically Engineered Crops on Pesticide Use in the United States (Charles Benbrook, 2009)

Effects of Glyphosate-Resistant Crop Adoption on the Connectivity of a Landscape: An Herbicide-Resistant Weed Perspective, Landscape Ecology, (Dauer, J., E. Luschei, and D.A. Mortensen. September, 2009) In press.

Weed management in a glyphosate resistant soybean system: weed species shifts Glycine max.  Weed Technology, (Hilgenfeld, K.L., A.R. Martin, D.A. Mortensen, and S.C. Mason, 2004) 18:284–291.

Northwest Farm Bill Action Group • • 2011
Design based on Missed Spring theme • Rainier image courtesy of USGS/Cascades Volcano Observatory