DAWN OF THE RISKY STACKED GENE ERA: A TASTE OF THINGS TO COME
The African Centre for Biosafety (ACB) has today released a new study titled “The GM stacked gene revolution: a biosafety nightmare” which reveals some startling current and future trends concerning the advent of GM stacked varieties.
Stacked GMOs are those containing more than one gene genetically
engineered into a crop plant. A controversial stacked GMO, Smarstax
containing 8 such genetically engineered genes, was commercially
approved in the US, Canada, Japan and South Korea during 2009. Stacked
gene varieties are highly complex, posing new biosafety risks that
outpace the capacity of regulatory systems. “Stacked GM varieties
also promise unprecedented scope for patents on life forms” said
Gareth Jones, researcher for the ACB.
According to the study by Jones, from 2006 to 2007, the global area
of stacked trait GMOs planted to cotton and maize grew by 66%, with
maize alone increasing by over 100%, from 9 million to 19 million ha.
Plantings of stacked varieties ballooned between 2007 and 2008 at 23%
compared with its single trait counterparts: 9% for herbicide
tolerance and a 6% reduction in planted area for insect resistance. A
total of 26.9 million ha of stacked biotech crops were planted
globally in 2008 compared with 21. 8 million ha in 2007, with the US
having planted 41% (26.7 million ha) of its total biotech area of 65.2
million ha to stacked varieties.
Stacked GMOs deliver nearly twice the rate of profit compared to
their single trait counter parts, often forcing farmers to pay for
traits they neither want nor need. Increased profits further
strengthen the dominant position of the world’s largest biotech
companies; between 1996 and 2007 over 90% of all stacked events
approval globally were owned by a handful of multinational companies,
with Monsanto leading the pack.
In 2006, stacked GMOs accounted for 23.7% (approximately $1.4
billion) of the global GM market, worth $6.5 billion. Monsanto
expected 79% of its maize seed sales in 2009 to be triple stacked
while Syngenta plans to make triple stacked maize account for 85% of
its portfolio for 2011.
South Africa is a fervent supporter of stacked GMOs, granting a
staggering 56 permits for stacked GM maize varieties during 2009
alone. Currently, 19% of South Africa’s GM maize area is planted to
stacked GM varieties, representing a four-fold increase since 2007.
According to Jones, “If the adoption rate of stacked traits between
2005 and 2009 is projected forward, a colossal 81 million ha of
stacked GMOs could be planted by 2015 (an area larger than Mozambique
In 2008 Monsanto announced that it expected its profits to treble to
nearly $3 billion by 2010 and that its new stacked trait releases
would account for the bulk of this. “Despite the rhetoric promising
GM drought tolerant varieties for the poor and the marginalised, it is
clear from the current trends that the game is set for a stacked GM
revolution” said Mariam Mayet, Director of the ACB.
The ACB briefing can be accessed at
Mariam Mayet on 083 269 4309
Gareth Jones on 079 761 5300
Notes to Editors
The biotech industry’s response to several well documented cases of
‘super-weeds’ evolving resistance to herbicides has simply been to
increase the dosage. Recent research from the United States has
revealed that, far from reducing the use of chemical inputs in
farming, since 1996 GMOs have been directly responsible for the
additional application of almost 150,000 tonnes of chemical inputs.
Several GMOs stacked for resistance to up to 6 different herbicides
are currently in development.