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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Real GM Story is No Happy Meal

The Happy Story of GM Crops

by Jim Goodman

Since the first commercial cultivation of Genetically Modified (GM) crops in 1996, Monsanto and the rest of the big six Biotech seed companies, (Pioneer/DuPont, Syngenta, Dow, BASF and Bayer) have become masters at the art of story telling.

Farmers, always looking for the next big technology fix, loved the stories; the promise of better yields, less chemicals needed for weed control, higher profits and of course, a solution to the elusive goal of feeding the world.

Governments, seeing biotechnology as a huge economic engine, embraced the technology. University research was shifted almost exclusively to biotech crops.

GM was the wave of the future, bankers encouraged planting GM crops to guarantee a "profitable harvest". Crop insurance premiums were lower for farmers planting GM. Everyone bought the story.

In a recent opinion piece in the Wisconsin State Journal former Secretary of Agriculture John Block touted the virtues of GM crops and credited them with producing higher yields, lower pesticide use and solving the ever growing problem of world hunger. Current Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack plugged GM at last weeks USDA Outlook Conference.

Problem is, the promises were just good stories. The believers are missing the truth.

Weeds have become resistant to Monsanto's Roundup herbicide and insects became resistant to the toxins produced by their GM corn.

As GM was planted on more acres, overall pesticide use went up, not down.

A University of Kansas study found that GM crops actually had lower yields than their conventional counterparts.

Even as the problems of GM crops become more apparent, the cost of GM seed continues to rise. Many farmers are backing away from GM, but finding non-GM seed is difficult, considering Monsanto controls roughly 90% of the corn and soy genetics in the U.S.

With corn and soy well under their control, Monsanto now hopes to gain USDA approval for Roundup resistant alfalfa. A perennial crop, alfalfa is the fourth most widely grown crop in the U.S. and again, Monsanto sees profit. The contamination of non-GM and organic alfalfa, the potential for further reduction of bee populations, among other problems, seem of little consequence.

Feeding the world? GM will not do it, even former Monsanto CEO Robert Shapiro admitted "The commercial industrial technologies that are used in agriculture today to feed the world... are not inherently sustainable."

Still, Monsanto bills itself as a leader in global sustainability, ignoring the fact that true sustainability cannot be achieved when your only driving goal is the next quarterly profit report.

The world stands a better chance of feeding itself by using and improving upon farming methods that have been relied upon for centuries. In Africa, for example, if indigenous crops, long adapted to their environment, were put forward as the solution to hunger, studies show that the population could have adequate food supplies and at times, cash income from sales of surplus crops.

So, why do so many continue to believe, to have faith in the story, when the evidence is against them?

When GM crops do not yield as promised?

When a USDA report shows that farmers actually loose income by planting GM crops?

When seed costs are unreasonably high as are the fertilizers and chemicals that are absolutely required to grow GM?

When consumers continue to reject GM foods citing concerns of their serious health risks?

When GM will not feed the world?

The GM story as told by the Biotech giants paints the future as a happy and prosperous place; farmers are profitable, everyone is well fed and the environment is protected.

The real GM story is not so happy, it is a story of market control, of environmental degradation, of deceived farmers and consumers.

Jim Goodman is a dairy farmer from Wonewoc WI and an IATP Food and Society Fellow

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