martes, septiembre 02, 2008

GMOs less promising than adoption of proven agroecological approaches and conventionally-bred plants

Jack A. Heinemann

With the publication of the International Assessment on Agriculture Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD, link: we can take much of the hype and guesswork out of the GMO debate.

The Assessment was a cooperative project involving the World Bank, UN FAO, UNDP, UNEP and other agencies. With an estimated 400 authors, 500 peer-reviewers and under the supervision of a governing bureau that included private industry, government, UN and non-governmental organisations, the Assessment is the largest most credible research-based assessment on agriculture on the planet.

The Assessment asked: will GMOs contribute to a form of agriculture that is environmentally sustainable, locally empowering and capable of reducing poverty? It found this prospect unlikely based on past and current performance.

GMOs are not just made by, they also are controlled by some of the largest corporations on earth through intellectual property rights laws in developed countries. Corporate control of IP is enough to prevent GMOs from feeding the world. The World Bank, the most industry friendly of international bodies, says that with “an increasing share of genetic tools and technologies covered by intellectual property protection and largely controlled by a small group of multinational companies, the transaction cost of obtaining material transfer agreements and licenses can slow public research on and release of transgenics.” —World Bank, 2007.

Moreover, GM crops are not a biotechnology that helps poor people. “Biotechnology thus has great promise, but current investments are concentrated largely in the private sector, driven by commercial interests, and not focused on the needs of the poor” —World Bank, 2007.

The debate should now begin where the Assessment ends. The Assessment found that there was no reliable evidence of a sustained increase in yield from GM crops, even among the icon crops such as cotton, maize and soybean in the US, Canada and Argentina. In fact, there is evidence of yield declines in some crops and in some places. GM crops have not been designed to increase yields. There is equivocal to counter evidence of environmental and financial benefits through simplified pest control. Overall, GMOs have less promise than the adoption of proven agroecological approaches and conventionally-bred plants. No surprise, the small scale or poor farmers have not taken up use of these plants and no animals seem anywhere near to commercial availability.

“While many regions are actively experimenting with GMOs at a small scale, the highly concentrated cultivation of GM crops in a few countries (nearly three-fourths in only the US and Argentina, with 90% in the four countries including Brazil and Canada) is also interpreted as an indication of a modest uptake rate. GM crop cultivation may have increased by double digit rates for the past 10 years, but over 93% of cultivated land still supports conventional cropping.”

With 90% of GM cropping in only four countries and 93% of cropping worldwide not based on GM, the impression that this technology has made profound impacts is not due to wide uptake but to the power of the few countries in which it is widely taken up. After nearly 30 years of promises and 12 years of commercialization, it is time to bet on biotechnologies that deliver. And it is time for governments to return the responsibility for feeding the world to the public.

Jack A. Heinemann
Director Centre for Integrated Research in Biosafety
Prof. School of Biological Sciences
University of Canterbury

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