The struggle between the biotechnology companies who try to ram genetically-modified (GM) crops and food down the throats of farmers and consumers is now being fought out on a global scale. And biotech corporations like Monsanto are not having it all their way own way. A summary of global reaction against GM in 2006, released by Greenpeace International, provides evidence of growing resistance in many countries. "There is irrefutable evidence that governments, farmers and consumers throughout the world recognise that genetic engineering is unreliable, unviable or downright dangerous," said Jeremy Tager of Greenpeace International. Some countries are banning GM altogether. Rumania, for instance, which had 85,000 hectares planted with GM soy in 2005, will drop to zero this year, in keeping with a new government policy banning its cultivation. Farmers in India, France and the Philippines have led the way with protests, uprooting crops and holding demonstrations. There is even a backlash in the United States, where most GM crops are concentrated, following the Bayer LL601 rice contamination scandal. Californian rice producers and a major rice mill in the state, Sunwest Foods, have called for a ban on any cultivation of GM rice, including field trials. Producers and traders lost out massively when the contamination was exposed. Meanwhile, in 2006, the number of regions in the EU declaring themselves GM-free zones went up to 172 and 4,500 local authorities say they want to avoid using GM products.
Herbicide-tolerant crops are engineered to survive the application of a powerful herbicide that would kill a non-engineered crop, making it easier for farmers to use more herbicide to control nearby weeds. Or so the claim goes. The reality is different. Studies by independent scientists demonstrate that GM crop yields are lower than, or at best equivalent to, yields from non-GM varieties. Reduced yields have in particular been found with Roundup Ready (RR) soy. An independent study of US government statistics shows that the three major GM crops have led to a 122 million pound increase in pesticide use since 1996. Until the widespread adoption of RR crops, there were just two confirmed cases of glyphosate-resistant weeds. But by 2005, many different weeds had become resistant in the United States. The International Service for the Acquisition of Agribiotech Applications (ISAAA), an industry-funded body, ignores all this and paints a rosy picture of inevitable success. In its January 2006 report, ISAAA claimed that "the continuing rapid adoption of biotech crops reflects the substantial and consistent improvements in productivity, the environment, economics, and social benefits realised by both large and small farmers, consumers and society". This kind of nonsense is par for the course and is constantly exposed by organisations like GM Watch. This organisation reveals how the biotech industry funds spurious "scientific" research and underhand lobbying to promote GM as absolutely safe and the answer to world hunger (GM Watch also includes a revealing dossier on the dubious ex-Living Marxism group, whose members have with amazing ease penetrated top levels in the media to promote right-wing, libertarian views that often coincide with those of the biotech corporations). Curiously enough, The GM Watch site has been down recently and its staff think it might have been the victim of a malicious attack. Working out a list of suspects shouldn’t take too long. Send your suggestions to email@example.com.
Paul Feldman, communications editor