Wednesday, January 26, 2011

British Public Told To Accept GM Crops As Necessary

By Theodora Filis

Monday, a UK government-commissioned study into food security called for urgent action to avert global hunger. The report suggested the British public overcome its fear of "Frankenstein foods" and accept that genetically modified crops are necessary to feed the world's growing population.The Foresight Report on Food and Farming Futures says the current system is unsustainable and will fail to end hunger unless radically redesigned. The report is the culmination of a two-year study, involving 400 experts from 35 countries.

Sir John Beddington, the Government's chief scientific adviser who is leading the team behind the report, said new technologies such as GM crops will have to be used to feed the population. Sir Beddington was among the first to warn of a “perfect storm” of a growing population, climate change and diminishing resources for food production.

The report also calls for new measures to hold governments and food producers to account. This would involve developing objective measures on how well they are doing to reduce hunger, combat climate change and environmental degradation and boosting food production. GM foods are modified to improve pest resistance, herbicide tolerance, disease resistance, cold tolerance, drought tolerance, nutrition, and pharmaceutical use. Using this technology, governments could grow crops at faster rates and feed the masses, ending world hunger all together.

This idea however, has many disadvantages: harm to nature, reduced effectiveness of pesticides, gene transfer to non-target species, health effects on human health, and economic concerns. The environmental community strongly disagrees with the unnatural manipulation of genes, blaming commercial interests as the main culprit. Clearly, implementing this technology earns billions for the engineering sector, the farming sector, and GM seed producers like Monsanto and DuPont.

The many risks and hazards associated with GM crops raise many doubts about its effectiveness. The seeds are often engineered to purposely render no cultivation whatsoever, thus ineffective in reducing world hunger. In fact, recent reports have shown that some crops have been lucratively designed to thrive only for a certain season forcing farmers to repurchase crops altogether.

GM crops are able to grow and multiply, so there are concerns that GM crops will end up in wild plants or in non-GM crops. There are also concerns that altered farming practices used to grow these crops will affect the environment.

Scientists have highlighted the kinds of effects growing GM crops may have on the environment:

o   Other crops and wild plants may become contaminated with the foreign genes added to the GM crop.

o   New 'super-weeds' may evolve which will be difficult or even impossible to eradicate.

o   Pollution arising from the use of harmful chemicals may increase or decrease.

o   Wildlife may be harmed by new toxins in the environment or changes in agricultural practices.

Genetic contamination of conventional crops grown close to GM crops through cross-pollination is a major concern to farmers. In Britain, sugar beet and oilseed rape are two of the GM crops that may be grown first that have wild relatives which could be contaminated.

In tropical countries, where most crops evolved, there is a greater potential for genetic contamination. Already, GM maize imported into Mexico has contaminated native varieties.

Crops grown by organic and non-GM farmers may also be affected. Pollen can travel long distances on the wind or via insects. Separating GM from non-GM fields may help reduce contamination, but farmers and consumers could be forced to accept contamination if GM crops are grown here.

Super-weeds have become a potential risk of growing GM crops as happens when some exotic species are introduced into a new country. In the UK, the introduction of grey squirrels and rhododendrons have caused considerable environmental damage, some of which may never be put right.

The biotechnology industry has claimed that GM crops will allow farmers to use less chemical weedkillers and insecticides. The majority of GM crops being grown worldwide are tolerant to Monsanto's weedkiller, Roundup, or Bayer's weedkiller, Liberty. The companies making the chemicals also sell the GM seed. However, in North America - where GM soybean, cotton and maize are grown on thousands of acres - the use of weedkillers has not been reduced. Sales of Roundup and Liberty have increased and new factories are being built to make more.

The gradual disappearance of birds from our farmland has shown us how agricultural practices can harm wildlife. The UK's farm-scale evaluation with two of the first GM crops that could be grown here, herbicide tolerant oilseed rape and sugar beet, showed that their use would be likely to lead to further declines in farmland wildlife.

UK Environment Secretary, Caroline Spelman, has pronounced herself a supporter of GM foods “in the right circumstances”. Before she became a minister, she was director of a pro-GM food and biotechnology consultancy.

Currently two agricultural systems exist, both claiming to be good for farmers and both claiming to be sustainable. One focuses on conventional farming methods, in the sense of replenishing what gets taken out of the soil. The other is genetically modified seeds that claim to be "sustainable" by selling the seeds to farmers,and not letting farmers save them, and by patenting traits developed through biotechnology, and selling crop protection chemicals.

FACT: This year the world will produce enough food to feed twice the world's population, yet every day almost one billion people will go to sleep hungry.

The Foresight Report on Food and Farming Futures and the “suggestion” the British public overcome its fear of "Frankenstein foods" has nothing to do with ending world hunger - - it has everything to do with who gets to control the food supply.