by John Vidal
19 October 2011
Report finds genetically
modified crops fail to increase yields let alone solve
hunger, soil erosion and chemical-use issues
Genetic engineering has failed to increase the yield of any food
crop but has vastly increased the use of chemicals and the growth of
"superweeds", according to a report by 20 Indian, south-east Asian,
African and Latin American food and conservation groups representing
millions of people.
The so-called miracle crops, which were first sold in the US about
20 years ago and which are now grown in 29 countries on about 1.5bn
hectares (3.7bn acres) of land, have been billed as potential
solutions to food crises, climate change and soil erosion, but the
assessment finds that they have not lived up to their promises.
Nnimmo Bassey, head
of Friends of the Earth International
dismisses the biotech
industry's claims that GM crops
pesticides and produce higher yields.
The report claims that hunger has reached "epic proportions" since
the technology was developed.
Besides this, only two GM "traits"
have been developed on any significant scale, despite investments of
tens of billions of dollars, and benefits such as drought resistance
and salt tolerance have yet to materialize on any scale.
Most worrisome, say the authors of the Global Citizens' Report
the State of GMOs, is the greatly increased use of synthetic
chemicals, used to control pests despite biotech companies'
justification that GM-engineered crops would reduce insecticide use.
In China, where insect-resistant Bt cotton is widely planted,
populations of pests that previously posed only minor problems have
increased 12-fold since 1997. A
2008 study in the International
Journal of Biotechnology found that any benefits of planting Bt
cotton have been eroded by the increasing use of pesticides needed
to combat them.
Additionally, soya growers in Argentina and Brazil have been found
to use twice as much herbicide on their GM as they do on
conventional crops, and a survey by
Navdanya International, in
India, showed that pesticide use increased 13-fold since Bt cotton
The report, which draws on empirical research and companies' own
statements, also says weeds are now developing resistance to the GM
firms' herbicides and pesticides that are designed to be used with
their crops, and that this has led to growing infestations of "superweeds",
especially in the US.
Ten common weeds have now developed resistance in at least 22 US
states, with about 6m hectares (15m acres) of soya, cotton and corn
Consequently, farmers are being forced to use more herbicides to
combat the resistant weeds, says the report.
GM companies are paying farmers to use
other, stronger, chemicals, they say.
"The genetic engineering miracle is
quite clearly faltering in farmers' fields," add the authors.
The companies have succeeded in
marketing their crops to more than 15 million farmers, largely by
heavy lobbying of governments, buying up local seed companies, and
withdrawing conventional seeds from the market, the report claims.
...the world's three largest GM
companies, now control nearly 70% of global seed sales.
This allows them to "own" and sell GM
seeds through patents and intellectual property rights and to charge
farmers extra, claims the report.
The study accuses Monsanto of gaining control of over 95% of the
Indian cotton seed market and of massively pushing up prices. High
levels of indebtedness among farmers is thought to be behind many of
the 250,000 deaths by suicide of Indian farmers over the past 15
The report, which is backed by,
...among others, also questions the safety of GM
crops, citing studies and reports which indicate that people and
animals have experienced apparent allergic reactions.
But it suggests scientists are loath to question the safety aspects
for fear of being attacked by establishment bodies, which often
receive large grants from the companies who control the technology.
Monsanto disputes the report's findings:
"In our view the safety and benefits
of GM are well established. Hundreds of millions of meals
containing food from GM crops have been consumed and there has
not been a single substantiated instance of illness or harm
associated with GM crops."
"Last year the National Research
Council, of the US National Academy of Sciences,
report, The Impact of Genetically Engineered Crops on Farm
Sustainability in the United States, which concludes that US
farmers growing biotech crops 'are realizing substantial
economic and environmental benefits - such as lower production
costs, fewer pest problems, reduced use of pesticides, and
better yields - compared with conventional crops'."
David King, the former UK chief
scientist who is now director of the Smith School of Enterprise and
the Environment at Oxford University,
has blamed food shortages in
Africa partly on anti-GM campaigns in rich countries.
But, the report's authors claim, GM crops are adding to food
insecurity because most are now being grown for biofuels, which take
away land from local food production.
Vandana Shiva, director of the Indian organization Navdanya
International, which coordinated the report, said:
"The GM model of farming undermines
farmers trying to farm ecologically. Co-existence between GM and
conventional crops is not possible because genetic pollution and
contamination of conventional crops is impossible to control.
"Choice is being undermined as food systems are increasingly
controlled by giant corporations and as chemical and genetic
pollution spread. GM companies have put a noose round the neck
of farmers. They are destroying alternatives in the pursuit of