Science and Agriculture Panel Urged: Don't Be Taken in by GM Hype
GM Freeze, 2 April 2008
GM Freeze has urged the partners in the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) not to be diverted by the exaggerated claims made about genetically modified (GM) crops by their proponents.
The call comes ahead of an Intergovernmental Plenary meeting to finalise the IAASTD's reports taking place in Johannesburg from 7-12 April. The IAASTD bureau and Director Professor Bob Watson (also the UK's Chief Scientist) are likely to come under severe pressure from some national governments, biotechnology companies and pro-GM scientists to alter the reports and talk-up the potential for GM crops in tackling future world food shortages.
Final drafts of the reports, covering over 2000 pages, were posted on the IAASTD web site following the final drafting meeting November 2007. CropLife International (representing biotech companies globally) has announced its withdrawal from the process. Other supporters of genetically modified crops have also withdrawn their support for the latest drafts. An editorial in Nature criticised the biotech companies' decision to pull out.
The latest draft IAASTD reports reflect both the complex demands increasingly being placed on agriculture and farmers and that a single technology alone, such as GM crops, will not provide sustainable solutions:
'New Approaches to Research and Development A problem-oriented approach to biotechnology R&D would focus investment on local priorities identified through participatory and transparent processes, and favor multifunctional solutions to local problems. These processes require new kinds of support for the public to critically engage in assessments of the technical, social, political, cultural, gender, legal, environmental and economic impacts of modern biotechnology. Biotechnologies should be used to maintain local expertise and germplasm so that the capacity for further research resides within the local community. Such R&D would put much needed emphasis onto participatory breeding projects and agroecology.'
Commenting Pete Riley of GM Freeze:
'It is very important that the IAASTD Director, authors and bureau stand up for their current draft, which recognises that malnutrition and food shortages are caused by poverty. Tackling hunger means tackling poverty first and foremost. GM is far from being the silver bullet it is hyped to be by those who stand to profit from its widespread introduction. Farmers in the Global South need a wide variety of support to gain access to land, resources and knowledge. Science has an important role to play but only when accompanied by the social and economic changes that are vital to bring stability and more security to farmers.'
GM Freeze is urging the IAASTD report writers not to change the current wording in the report because so far GM crops have failed to live up to the hype accompanying them in the past decade. For instance:
- Claims about reduced pesticide usage, when US studies show an increase in pesticide amounts applied to GM crops compared with conventionally-bred ones due to the development of weed resistance and secondary pests.
- Claims of increased yields, when there is evidence to show that many GM crops yield the same or less than conventional crops.
- Claims about soil carbon increases due to zero tillage being possible with GM crops, when the technique was already being applied long before herbicide tolerant GM crops were introduced.
- Claims about how GM drought tolerant crops will increase the amount of food grown, when GM is a long way from achieving this.
- Claims about vitamin A rich rice being the solution to Vitamin A deficiency-induced blindness in children in the Global South, when 'Golden Rice' has not been proven to deliver safe and regular doses of beta carotene in diets any better than alternative approaches such as growing green vegetables.
Commenting on the IAASTD findings Pete Riley of GM Freeze said:
'Overall the IAASTD findings recognize the complexities of the problems for agriculture throughout the world in delivering wholesome, safe and affordable food without causing irreparable or long-term harm to the environment in a world when there are likely to be significant climatic changes over the next half century. The findings also recognize the multifuntionality of agriculture in providing services other than just food, fibre, raw materials and biofuels, such as ecosystem functions, landscape, climate and cultures. It also acknowledges the key role local knowledge of farmers, particularly women, should play in developing appropriate technologies. The failure of past technological innovations and trade to benefit the poorest people, yet still to cause harm to the environment, is also acknowledged'.
Calls to Pete Riley 0845 217 8992 or 07903 341065
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1. CropLife International wrote to Dr Jacques Diouf, Director General Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, on 26 October 'to disassociate itself from this assessment project'.
2. For example the Public Research and Regulation Initiative. See www.pubresreg.org
4. See GM Freeze briefing
6. Friends of the Earth International, 2008, Who Benefits from GM Crops? pp11-12 and pp12-14
7. See for instance the Manitoba and North Dakota Zero Tillage Farmers Association, founded in 1982, some 14 years before the first GM crops were commercially grown. See www.mandakzerotill.org/
8. Professor Ossama El-Tayeb, Ph.D. Professor Emeritus of Industrial Biotechnology at the University of Cairo: 'I read with interest and respect Friderike Oehler's message (nr. 56) and fully appreciate her concerns and am similarly convinced of the potential of 'alternatives'. I wish to add that transgenicity for drought tolerance and other environmental stresses (or, for that matter, biological nitrogen fixation) are too complex to be attainable in the foreseeable future, taking into consideration our extremely limited knowledge of biological systems and how genetic/metabolic functions operate. Those who propagate the ideas that any biological function could be genetically manipulated are optimists who are probably victims of a consortium of 'arrogant' scientists and greedy business who have strong control on policy making and the media. Having said that, I feel we should not lose hope of reaching such noble goals and should continue to fund such research whose fruits may be reaped by a future generation. These goals have been used by the proponents of currently available genetically modified organisms (GMOs) under the control of big business, who propose that GM crops will alleviate poverty soon while in fact currently available ones mostly contribute negatively to poverty alleviation and food security and positively to the stock market. The holders of intellectual property rights for present day GM crops keep teasing us about the potential of GMOs resistant to abiotic stresses and the like while doing nothing about developing such crops for this generation. These are simply not easily exploitable in a business market and are accordingly not on their agenda. Basic research in this area is being funded almost exclusively by public funds.'
9. Krawinkel, Michael B, 2007, 'What we know and what we don't know about Golden Rice'. Nature Biotechnology, Vol 25, No 6, June 2007. p623