Saturday, May 2, 2009

Recently, I wrote about the report from the Union of Concerned Scientists about the non-existent benefits of genetically modified crops:

Failure to Yield: Evaluating the Performance of Genetically Engineered Crops
... Despite 20 years of research and 13 years of commercialization, genetic engineering has failed to significantly increase U.S. crop yields. ...
Biotechnology crops, like the Roundup Ready seeds from Monsanto are exacerbating the problems they were supposed to solve:
As more acres of "Roundup Ready" crops are planted, the use of the pesticide has increased. The increased application has led some weeds to develop a resistance to glyphosate, the generic term for the chemical in Roundup. And, in turn, farmers have had to apply stronger doses of pesticide to kill the superweeds.
Nonetheless, we tend to think of technological progress as a net positive. Is biotechnology the answer to the problems of mechanical and chemical technology of the past few decades?

Do we need biotechnology to feed the world?

We've seen that the world already produces enough food for everyone. Hunger is not a result of scarcity, but of inequitable distribution.
... The second fallacy is that genetic engineering boosts food production. Currently there are two principal types of biotechnology seeds in production: herbicide resistant and "pest" resistant. [Herbicide resistant crops] allow farmers to apply [Roundup] in ever greater amounts without killing the crops. ... [The "pest" resistant crop] produces its own insecticide.
genetically engineered seeds do not actually increase overall crop yields. ... [in] more than 8,200 field trials... Roundup ready seed produced fewer bushels of soybeans than similar natural varieties.
(The other troubling aspect of GM foods - the terminator seed technology, is currently under a de-facto ban. It is legally prohibited in India and Brazil.)

Is biotechnology safe?
  • There is no overall reduction in pesticide use with genetically modified crops.
  • GM foods brings its own pollution hazard - biological and genetic pollution. The harmful effects of GM organisms on natural ecosystems is well documented.
  • Genes from modified organisms can spread to other organisms, with unpredictable consequences*.
  • Biotechnology may bring new toxins and allergens into the human food supply.*
Biotechnology is expensive and inefficient:

Despite the billions of dollars spent creating transgenic organisms, biotechnology is yet to bring to market a single product that actually benefits consumers. Why should the public pay for this effort that offers no advantages, but increases risks?

- based on pg 62-63, Fatal Harvest.

* For example the StarLink corn recall: Wikipedia, New York Times, and more stories from the NYTimes.



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