Sydney Morning Herald
A handful of companies is moving towards
owning every stage of the global food system, writes Gyorgy
Public opposition to genetically modified foods has been a stumbling
block to the commercialization of GM crops and animals. The agri-biotech
industry is hoping GM foods with "consumer-friendly" traits might
overcome some of this opposition.
But they have also been running big advertising campaigns in an
attempt to convince the public that GM foods will be required to
"feed the world". These are the kinds of predictable arguments being
aired at the International Congress of Genetics in Melbourne.
In reality, the new genetic technologies will largely be used to
feed the power and profits of agri-food corporations, and they are
more likely to exacerbate - rather than alleviate - the problems of
widespread hunger and malnutrition in the Third World.
GM products are primarily being developed to fit into large-scale,
chemical-intensive, mechanized and capital-intensive farming
systems. Any increase in yields of crop and animal products will be
headed for its usual destination: well-off consumers.
Research and development of GM products is largely aimed at adapting
crops and animals to the requirements of the global food industries.
For example, producing non-softening fruits for long-distance
transport so well-off consumers can have access to year-round
supplies of out-of-season fruits.
Genetic technologies are also facilitating the rapid corporate
integration and concentration of the food system, as a handful of
corporations move towards the ownership and effective control of
every stage of the global food system. One such strategy for
monopoly control is the patenting of all GM crops, with the aim of
preventing farmers from saving and replanting their own seeds.
Overall, genetic technologies are facilitating a shift from a
chemical-industrial to what I call a "genetic-corporate" form of
agriculture - and this food system is undermining the food security
of the world's poor and malnourished.
Widespread hunger already exists today, in the context of a global
oversupply of food. This is one of the cruelest ironies of the
contemporary era. Most countries with the greatest incidence of
poverty and hunger are net exporters of food. Growing more food can,
in fact, exacerbate food insecurity for the world's poor depending
on how, where and by whom this food is produced.
Genetically engineered crops and animals further threaten the food
security of the poor in a number of ways.
First, to the extent that
they enable large-scale, chemical-industrial farms to increase their
productivity or profitability, this competitive advantage will
enable the further squeezing out of small-scale farmers.
Second, GM crops may accelerate the erosion of farm labouring work
in poor rural areas through the further introduction of labour-replacing
Third, by engineering crops to be sterile, and buying out smaller
seed companies, agri-food corporations aim to diminish the
availability of unpatented and self-reproducing seeds.
Proponents of GM food have celebrated the engineering of vitamin A
rice (so-called "golden rice") as an example of a crop that - if and
when it is made freely available in a decade or so - will help
alleviate malnutrition in the Third World. Here is a breath-taking
example of what I call the "ideology of genetic precision".
Such arguments effectively promote the idea that malnutrition is the
result of the nutritional inadequacy of non-modified foods, and can
be alleviated through the nutritional modification of these foods,
rather than the result of a lack of access to an adequate and
This isn't to deny that genetic technologies could be used to modify
traditional crops in ways that may benefit small-scale, capital-poor
farmers. But that is to miss the big picture in terms of the primary
direction of GE research, and in terms of the primary causes of
hunger and malnutrition.
What is actually required is a redistribution of fertile land, of
incomes and of economic power, rather than access to genetic
There is an obscene arrogance in the idea that GM crops will "feed
the world", or that the poor need to be fed by us. For, in reality,
poor people and communities around the world will either feed
themselves, or they will not feed at all.
Genetic-corporate agriculture is, in fact, a system for feeding on
the world rather than for feeding the world.
corporations and well-off consumers continuing to feed on the food,
the cheap labour and other extractable resources of the Third World
about large-scale industrial producers consuming and displacing more
small-scale and subsistence producers and rural communities
about transnational agri-food corporations feeding on the work of
more farmers by swallowing up and patenting the seeds and knowledge
developed by traditional farmers over thousands of years
Dr Gyorgy Scrinis is a research associate in the