Economic consequences for farmers
Companies often claim that gmo’s will boost crops and increase yields, but this claim has never been substantiated. In practice, gm crops do not seem to produce better harvests. There are, however, several problems for farmers growing gm crops. Farmers can only buy seeds from the supplier who also manufactures the seeds. Because these seeds are patented, farmers are not allowed to gather seeds to use the next year. To ensure they can only be used once, the seeds are often sterilised using so-called terminator technology. This forces the farmer to spend more money every year.
Farmers can be fined if they reuse gm seeds or if traces of these seeds are detected. There are known cases of fields being accidentally contaminated by gmo’s spread by the wind. Percy Schmeiser, a Canadian farmer, spent years entangled in court battles because Monsanto demanded hundreds of thousands of dollars from him after THEIR Round Up Ready seeds contaminated his canola crop. Farmers growing gm crops are also forced to buy pesticides and herbicides that have only been developed for one crop in particular and which destroy everything except for that specific gm crop. Other pesticides cannot be used because they would kill the plant. Currently about 70% of gm crops are herbicide resistant, and farmers growing them are dependent on the accompanying herbicide.
Contrary to the claims made by gm corporations, the use of resistant gmo’s has not led to a decrease in pesticide use. Intensive pesticide use damages the soil. Not only does it pollute both soil and ground water, but it is causing pests to become resistant to these new methods, initiating a vicious circle wherein increased resistance necessitates more intense pesticide spraying which in turn leads to increased resistance… Advocates of gm crops often promise that farmers in developing countries stand to benefit from gm technology even going so far as to accuse critics of gm of propagating hunger in the global South. However, debacles like the introduction of bt cotton in India expose the fallacy of this argument. Recent research suggests that gm crops perform worse in drought conditions than conventional crops and it is unreasonable to think that the additional expenses which are part and parcel of growing gm crops can be born by small farmers in developing countries. Let’s also not forget Argentina, a country where hunger made its entrance after vast areas of gm soya destined for export ousted varied farming which produced food for local consumption.
ASEED believes that farmers must be given the opportunity to produce healthy food in a sustainable way. Unfortunately, it is almost impossible for farmers to work in this way any more. GM technology is contributing to this loss of sovereignty. In many cases, the large seed suppliers also develop the varieties that they sell. This places them in an extremely strong position from which they can introduce and keep gm crops on the market. It allows them to dictate which crops will be grown, no matter whether or not consumers and farmers want to grow or consume them. It is often difficult for farmers to switch to another supplier because the big companies can supply for the lowest prices. In these difficult times for the agricultural sector, price is often the decisive factor.
Genetically modified seed are patented by the companies that developed them. ASEED is totally opposed to this phenomenon because we do not think that living organisms can or should be owned by corporations or individuals. Such patenting allows companies to obtain a monopoly on crops that already exist. Farmers must have the freedom to grow crops as they see best. Seed must be exchanged freely between farmers so that sufficient amounts of healthy food can be grown for the populace. Corporations can use patenting rights to challenge each non-registered use of gm seeds in court and inflict hefty fines on farmers. This applies to every case wherein the presence of the commercial gene can be proved, even if this is due to contamination from neighbouring fields.
ASEED thinks that it is the companies that should be held liable for cases of involuntary contamination. The farmers are the victims, not the perpetrators – after all their fields are being contaminated with something that no one really wants to eat. We also do not believe in the coexistence of gmo’s next to conventional crops because it is impossible to ensure optimal security. Pollen does not listen to legislation when it is being carried on the wind. Human error during transport cannot be ruled out. Companies should take responsibility for the results of their actions. We have already mentioned terminator seeds which are immediately sterile after the first year and cannot germinate the following year. This is done to prevent the unauthorized use of patented seeds. ASEED is vehemently opposed to this sort of customer binding because it forces farmers to make huge afinancial costs for something that used to be free. In addition to this, the way in which companies make their crops resistant only to the accompanying pesticides and herbicides is an unfair way of bringing products on the market.
Damage to biodiversity
ASEED is worried about the damage gm technology is doing to biodiversity. The commercial distribution of gmo’s is limiting the number of varieties grown. Whereas previously a wide variety of crops were brought on the market by traditional seed suppliers, this number is being steadily reduced. Many food types that have been grown for centuries are being lost this way. Specific regional crops will soon belong to the past and the future will consist of monocultures. The vast amounts of pesticide used in monocultural agriculture do not just kill weeds. Any insects present in the fields are also killed by these chemicals. This is a direct threat to biodiversity. Not only do insects and wild plants disappear, but the animals that feed on them.
The unknown dangers
The European and national institutions that judge the applications for the introduction of gm crops only test them for their possible impact on public health. Any possible effects they could have on the environment or economic damage are not included in these tests. This can in part be blamed on the composition of the commissions like the Dutch Commission on Genetic manipulation (COGEM) and the European Food Authority (EVA). They are mainly composed of scientists and civil servants. Social and environmental organisations are not consulted about this tests. This makes it practically impossible for the government to make an accurate assessment of the risks. The assessment of health risks are made largely on the basis of existing research, most of which has been done by the companies producing the crops. There is no independent research as such. ASEED wants to see the use of impartial test results in these application procedures. Safety and possible dangers should be researched by independent scientists. The institutes conducting this research should have no significant interest in the outcomes and therefore corporate funding of such research should be forbidden. ASEED also thinks that opponents of gmo’s should not have to prove the dangers. This is not our task. The companies and governments releasing these crops should prove and vouch for their safety. Agriculture and food production should be about social responsibility, not about serving corporate interests.
Gene technology as alternative
Groups speaking out against gm often search for alternatives to this technology. ASEED refuses to adopt this position because we think that gm has become an alternative to existing agriculture. We prefer to focus on the advantages of sustainable agriculture. Small-scale, diverse organic agriculture whose produce is sold within the region is our solution to much of the unbalanced economic and political relations in the world. The introduction of gm technology will do nothing to even out these inequalities; instead it will increase them. ASEED doesn’t see why opponents of gm technology have to come up with alternatives before we can critise it. Our rejection of this technology is based on facts about the wide-reaching, irrevocable consequences that it could have on human health, food sovereignty for farmers and the environment. The cultivation and production of gm crops should simply be banned. The risks weigh heavier than the advantages. The search for alternatives only distracts us from the real issue. ASEED wants to draw attention back to the root causes of the problem: intensive agriculture and unfair global trade.
N.B. Throughout this article, gm is referred to exclusively in relation to agricultural crops.