Having spent some time in the company of Syngenta this morning I was moved to post this timely reminder:
With the cost of food recently skyrocketing – hitting not just shoppers but the poor and hungry in the developing world – genetically modified (GM) foods are once again being promoted as the way to feed the world. But this is little short of a confidence trick. Far from needing more GM foods, there are urgent reasons why we need to ban them altogether.
1. GM foods won’t solve the food crisis
A 2008 World Bank report concluded that increased biofuel production is the major cause of the increase in food prices. GM giant Monsanto has been at the heart of the lobbying for biofuels (crops grown for fuel rather than food) — while profiting enormously from the resulting food crisis and using it as a PR opportunity to promote GM foods!
“The climate crisis was used to boost biofuels, helping to create the food crisis; and now the food crisis is being used to revive the fortunes of the GM industry.” – Daniel Howden, Africa correspondent of The Independent[ 2]
“The cynic in me thinks that they’re just using the current food crisis and the fuel crisis as a springboard to push GM crops back on to the public agenda. I understand why they’re doing it, but the danger is that if they’re making these claims about GM crops solving the problem of drought or feeding the world, that’s bullshit.” – Prof Denis Murphy, head of biotechnology at the University of Glamorgan in Wales
2. GM crops do not increase yield potential
Despite the promises, GM has not increased the yield potential of any commercialised crops. In fact, studies show that the most widely grown GM crop, GM soya, has suffered reduced yields.
A report that analyzed nearly two decades worth of peer reviewed research on the yield of the primary GM food/feed crops, soybeans and corn (maize), reveals that despite 20 years of research and 13 years of commercialization, genetic engineering has failed to significantly increase US crop yields. The author, former US EPA and US FDA biotech specialist Dr Gurian-Sherman, concludes that when it comes to yield, “Traditional breeding outperforms genetic engineering hands down.”
“Let’s be clear. As of this year , there are no commercialized GM crops that inherently increase yield. Similarly, there are no GM crops on the market that were engineered to resist drought, reduce fertilizer pollution or save soil. Not one.” – Dr Doug Gurian-Sherman[ 7]
3. GM crops increase pesticide use
US government data shows that in the US, GM crops have produced an overall increase, not decrease, in pesticide use compared to conventional crops.
“The promise was that you could use less chemicals and produce a greater yield. But let me tell you none of this is true.” – Bill Christison, President of the US National Family Farm Coalition
4. There are better ways to feed the world
A major UN/World Bank-sponsored report compiled by 400 scientists and endorsed by 58 countries concluded that GM crops have little to offer global agriculture and the challenges of poverty, hunger, and climate change, because better alternatives are available. In particular, the report championed “agroecological” farming as the sustainable way forward for developing countries.
5. Other farm technologies are more successful
Integrated Pest Management and other innovative low-input or organic methods of controlling pests and boosting yields have proven highly effective, particularly in the developing world. Other plant breeding technologies, such as Marker Assisted Selection (non-GM genetic mapping), are widely expected to boost global agricultural productivity more effectively and safely than GM. 
“The quiet revolution is happening in gene mapping, helping us understand crops better. That is up and running and could have a far greater impact on agriculture [than GM].” – Prof John Snape, head of the department of crop genetics, John Innes Centre
6. GM foods have not been shown to be safe to eat
Genetic modification is a crude and imprecise way of incorporating foreign genetic material (e.g. from viruses, bacteria) into crops, with unpredictable consequences. The resulting GM foods have undergone little rigorous and no long-term safety testing, but animal feeding tests have shown worrying health effects. Only one study has been published on the direct effects on humans of eating a GM food. It found unexpected effects on gut bacteria, but was never followed up.
It is claimed that Americans have eaten GM foods for years with no ill effects. But these foods are unlabeled in the US and no one has monitored the consequences. With other novel foods like trans fats, it has taken decades to realize that they have caused millions of premature deaths.
“We are confronted with the most powerful technology the world has ever known, and it is being rapidly deployed with almost no thought whatsoever to its consequences. ” — Dr Suzanne Wuerthele, US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) toxicologist
7. Stealth GMOs in animal feed – without consumers’ consent
Meat, eggs and dairy products from animals raised on the millions of tons of GM feed imported into Europe do not have to be labelled. Some studies show that contrary to GM and food industry claims, animals raised on GM feed ARE different from those raised on non-GM feed. Other studies show that if GM crops are fed to animals, GM material can appear in the resulting products and that the animals’ health can be affected. So eating “stealth GMOs” may affect the health of consumers.
8. GM crops are a long-term economic disaster for farmers
A 2009 report showed that GM seed prices in America have increased dramatically, compared to non-GM and organic seeds, cutting average farm incomes for US farmers growing GM crops. The report concluded, “At the present time there is a massive disconnect between the sometimes lofty rhetoric from those championing biotechnology as the proven path toward global food security and what is actually happening on farms in the US that have grown dependent on GM seeds and are now dealing with the consequences. “
9. GM and non-GM cannot co-exist
GM contamination of conventional and organic food is increasing. An unapproved GM rice that was grown for only one year in field trials was found to have extensively contaminated the US rice supply and seed stocks. In Canada, the organic oilseed rape industry has been destroyed by contamination from GM rape. In Spain, a study found that GM maize “has caused a drastic reduction in organic cultivations of this grain and is making their coexistence practically impossible”. 
The time has come to choose between a GM-based, or a non-GM-based, world food supply.
“If some people are allowed to choose to grow, sell and consume GM foods, soon nobody will be able to choose food, or a biosphere, free of GM. It’s a one way choice, like the introduction of rabbits or cane toads to Australia; once it’s made, it can’t be reversed.” – Roger Levett, specialist in sustainable development[ 25]
10. We can’t trust GM companies
The big biotech firms pushing their GM foods have a terrible history of toxic contamination and public deception. GM is attractive to them because it gives them patents that allow monopoly control over the world’s food supply. They have taken to harassing and intimidating farmers for the “crime” of saving patented seed or “stealing” patented genes — even if those genes got into the farmer’s fields through accidental contamination by wind or insects.
“Farmers are being sued for having GMOs on their property that they did not buy, do not want, will not use and cannot sell.” – Tom Wiley, North Dakota farmer
1. A Note on Rising Food Prices. Donald Mitchell, World Bank report, 2008. http://image. guardian. co.uk/sys- files/Environmen t/documents/ 2008/07/10/ Biofuels. PDF
2. Hope for Africa lies in political reforms. Daniel Howden, The Independent, 8 September 2008, http://www.independ ent.co.uk: 80/opinion/ commentators/ daniel-howden- hope-for- africa-lies- in-political- reforms-922487. html
3. GM: it’s safe, but it’s not a saviour. Rob Lyons, Spiked Online, 7 July 2008, http://www.spiked- online.com/ index.php? /site/article/ 5438/
4. The adoption of bioengineered crops. Jorge Fernandez-Cornejo and William D. McBride, US Department of Agriculture Report, May 2002, http://www.ers. usda.gov/ publications/ aer810/aer810. pdf
5. Glyphosate-resistan t soyabean cultivar yields compared with sister lines. Elmore, R.W. et al., Agronomy Journal, Vol. 93, No. 2, 2001, pp. 408–412
6. Failure to Yield: Evaluating the Performance of Genetically Engineered Crops. Doug Gurian-Sherman, Union of Concerned Scientists, 2009, http://tiny. cc/eqZST
7. Genetic engineering — a crop of hyperbole. Doug Gurian-Sherman, The San Diego Union Tribune, 18 June 2008, http://www.signonsa ndiego.com/ uniontrib/ 20080618/ news_lz1e18guria n.html
8. Impacts of Genetically Engineered Crops on Pesticide Use: The First Thirteen Years. Charles Benbrook, Ph.D., The Organic Center, November 2009, http://www.organic- center.org/ science.pest. php?action= view&report_id=159
9. Family Farmers Warn of Dangers of Genetically Engineered Crops. Bill Christison, In Motion magazine, 29 July 1998, http://www.inmotion magazine. com/genet1. html
10. International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development: Global Summary for Decision Makers (IAASTD). Beintema, N. et al., 2008, http://www.agassess ment.org/ index.cfm? Page=IAASTD% 20Reports&ItemID=2713
11. International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development: Global Summary for Decision Makers (IAASTD). Beintema, N. et al., 2008, http://www.agassess ment.org/ index.cfm? Page=IAASTD% 20Reports&ItemID=2713
12. Marker-assisted selection: an approach for precision plant breeding in the twenty-first century. Collard, B.C.Y. and D.J. Mackill, Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B, Vol. 363, 2008, pp. 557-572, 2008
13. Breeding for abiotic stresses for sustainable agriculture. Witcombe J.R. et al., Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B, 2008, Vol. 363, pp. 703-716
14. Gene mapping the friendly face of GM technology. Professor John Snape, Farmers Weekly, 1 March 2002, p. 54
15. Here is a small selection of such papers: Fine structural analysis of pancreatic acinar cell nuclei from mice fed on GM soybean. Malatesta, M. et al., Eur. J. Histochem., Vol. 47, 2003, pp. 385–388; Ultrastructural morphometrical and immunocytochemical analyses of hepatocyte nuclei from mice fed on genetically modified soybean. Malatesta, M. et al., Cell Struct Funct., Vol. 27, 2002, pp. 173-180; Ultrastructural analysis of testes from mice fed on genetically modified soybean. Vecchio L. et al., Eur. J. Histochem., Vol. 48, pp. 448-454, 2004; A long-term study on female mice fed on a genetically modified soybean: effects on liver ageing. Malatesta M. et al., Histochem Cell Biol., Vol. 130, 2008, pp. 967-977; Effects of diets containing genetically modified potatoes expressing Galanthus nivalis lectin on rat small intestine. Ewen S.W. and A. Pusztai, The Lancet, Vol. 354, 1999, pp. 1353–1354; New Analysis of a Rat Feeding Study with a Genetically Modified Maize Reveals Signs
Hepatorenal Toxicity. Séralini, G.-E. et al., Arch. Environ. Contam. Toxicol., Vol. 52, 2007, pp. 596-602.
16. Assessing the survival of transgenic plant DNA in the human gastrointestinal tract. Netherwood T. et al., Nature Biotechnology, Vol. 22, 2004, pp. 204–209.
17. Trans Fats: The story behind the label. Paula Hartman Cohen, Harvard Public Health Review, 2006, http://www.hsph. harvard.edu/ review/rvw_ spring06/ rvwspr06_ transfats. html
18. Report on animals exposed to GM ingredients in animal feed. Professor Jack A. Heinemann, PhD. Prepared for the Commerce Commission of New Zealand, 24 July 2009, http://bit.ly/ 4HcJuJ
19. Detection of Transgenic and Endogenous Plant DNA in Digesta and Tissues of Sheep and Pigs Fed Roundup Ready Canola Meal. Sharma, R. et al., J. Agric. Food Chem., Vol. 54, No. 5, 2006, pp. 1699–1709; Assessing the transfer of genetically modified DNA from feed to animal tissues. Mazza, R. et al., Transgenic Res., Vol. 14, No. 5, 2005, pp. 775–784; Detection of genetically modified DNA sequences in milk from the Italian market. Agodi, A., et al., Int. J. Hyg. Environ. Health, Vol. 209, 2006, pp. 81–88
20. Report on animals exposed to GM ingredients in animal feed. Professor Jack A. Heinemann, PhD. Prepared for the Commerce Commission of New Zealand, 24 July 2009, http://bit.ly/ 4HcJuJ
21. The Magnitude and Impacts of the Biotech and Organic Seed Price Premium. Dr Charles Benbrook, The Organic Center, December 2009, http://www.organic- center.org/ reportfiles/ Seeds_Final_ 11-30-09. pdf
22. Risky business: Economic and regulatory impacts from the unintended release of genetically engineered rice varieties into the rice merchandising system of the US. Blue, Dr E. Neal, report for Greenpeace, 2007, http://www.greenpea ce.org/raw/ content/internat ional/press/ reports/risky- business. pdf
23. Seeds of doubt: North American farmers’ experience of GM crops. Soil Association, 2002, http://www.soilasso ciation.org/ seedsofdoubt
24. Coexistence of plants and coexistence of farmers: Is an individual choice possible? Binimelis, R., Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics, Vol. 21, No. 2, April 2008
25. Choice: Less can be more. Roger Levett, Food Ethics magazine, Vol. 3, No. 3, Autumn 2008, p. 11, http://www.foodethi cscouncil. org/node/ 384
26. See, for example, Marie-Monique Robin’s documentary film, Le Monde Selon Monsanto (The World According to Monsanto), ARTE, 2008; and the website of the NGO, Coalition Against Bayer-Dangers, www.cbgnetwork. org
27. GM company Monsanto has launched many such lawsuits against farmers. A famous example is the case of the Canadian farmer Percy Schmeiser. Just one article on this case is “GM firm sues Canadian farmer”, BBC News Online, 6 June 2000, http://news. bbc.co.uk/ 2/hi/americas/ 779265.stm
26. Monsanto “Seed Police” Scrutinize Farmers. Stephen Leahy, InterPress Service, 15 January 2004, http://www.commondr eams.org/ headlines05/ 0115-04.htm