Sunday, March 10, 2013

GMO - How They are Really Used

Note: The following is a reprint of an article I originally wrote in 2007. I had to remove the old one because I was getting too many spammed comments. The issues still remain relevant to today.

Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO's) are big news today. For a quick refresher, GMO's involve replacing or adding genes from one organism to another in order to add a trait (such as drought resistance) or to to remove an undesirable trait.

Much has been written for and against GMO's and I won't repeat these arguments here. I personally have nothing against GMO's in terms of technology. However, my concern is with how GMO's are used.

The best way to show what I mean is by using some examples. Monsanto, the largest producer of GMO seeds, developed crops which were more tolerant of the herbicide Roundup (also made by Monsanto). After developing this, they then went to the EPA and asked that the legally allowed residual of Roundup on food crops be increased. What??? Did Roundup suddenly become less toxic?! No, they wanted to sell more Roundup.

A second example, is from Brazil. They have produced soybeans which can grow in more diverse environments. So now they are clearing parts of the Amazon basin to grow soybeans where previously they could not grow them.

But the most disturbing of all cases is what is being done to the seed market. For a farmer, you need seeds for your next crop. You basically have two options: use part of your previous crops as seed or buy seeds from a seed company. What the seed companies which sell GMO seed are doing is telling farmers that they cannot use their previous crop of GMO for seed. Some companies are going to the point of providing sterile seeds, which mean that the crops cannot be used for seed at all.

This means that (a) the farmers must buy seed rather than use their own costing them more money, and (b) that they must buy their seeds from one company reducing competition. Where this is very important is in developing countries, here the farmers really do not have the resources to continually purchase seed from big biotech companies.

A final point. GMO's have been mentioned as the second "green revolution". I highly doubt that. Just remember what happened with the first green revolution. Increased use of fertilizers and pesticides with a result of damage to the ecosystem (including the agricultural ecosystem) and increased risk to health.

Update (March 2013): An important court case relevant to the discussion above was just recently argued in front of the US Supreme Court last month. In it Monsanto sued a farmer for using seeds he took from his own crops. The decision will be given later this year.