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[yinyang] ecoglobe:     Genetically engineered "food for the world"?
Will genetic engineering provide food for the future? [further issues]
Conquering hunger? September 1, 1999 NEW YORK TIMES
      Why Genetically Altered Food Won't Conquer Hunger
      AKLAND, Calif. -- In the debate over genetically altered foods, proponents like Senator Richard Luger, the Indiana Republican, argue that such products will be essential if we are to feed the world. But this claim rests on two persistent misconceptions about hunger: first, that people are hungry because of high population density, and second, that genetic engineering is the best or only way to meet our future needs.
      In fact, there is no relationship between the prevalence of hunger in a given country and its population. For every densely populated and hungry nation like Bangladesh, there is a sparsely populated and hungry nation like Brazil.
      The world today produces more food per inhabitant than ever before. Enough is available to provide 4.3 pounds to every person every day: two and a half pounds of grain, beans and nuts, about a pound of meat, milk and eggs, and another of fruits and vegetables -- more than anyone could ever eat.
      The real problems are poverty and inequality. Too many people are too poor to buy the food that is available or lack land on which to grow it themselves.
      The second misconception is that genetic engineering is the best way to boost food production. There are two principal technologies on the market. Monsanto makes "Roundup Ready" seeds, which are engineered to withstand its herbicide, Roundup. These seeds -- usually soybeans, canola or cotton -- allow farmers to apply the herbicide widely.
      Monsanto and several other companies also produce "Bt" seeds -- usually corn, potatoes and cotton -- which are engineered so that each plant produces its own insecticide.
      Some researchers have shown that none of the genetically engineered seeds significantly increase the yield of crops. Indeed, in more than 8,200 field trials, the Roundup Ready seeds produced fewer bushels of soybeans than similar natural varieties, according to a study by Dr. Charles Benbrook, the former director of the Board on Agriculture at the National Academy of Sciences.
      Far from being a solution to the world's hunger problem, the rapid introduction of genetically engineered crops may actually threaten agriculture and food security.
      First, widespread adoption of herbicide-resistant seeds may lead to greater use of chemicals that kill weeds. Yet, many noncrop plants are used by small farmers in the third world as supplemental food sources and as animal feed. In the United States, the Fish and Wildlife Service has found that Roundup already threatens 74 endangered plant species.
      Biological pollution from genetically engineered organisms may be another problem. Monsanto is poised to acquire the rights to a genetic engineering technique that renders a crop's seeds sterile, insuring that farmers are dependent on Monsanto for new seed every year. Farming in the third world could be crippled if these genes contaminate other local crops that the poor depend on. And such genes could unintentionally sterilize other plants, according to a study by Martha Crouch, an associate professor of biology at Indiana University. Half the world's farmers rely on their own saved seed for each year's harvest.
      A true solution to the problem of hunger depends on attacking poverty and inequality among both producers and consumers of food. A food system increasingly dependent on genetically altered seeds takes us in the wrong direction.
      Peter Rosset is director of the Institute for Food and Development Policy and co-author of "World Hunger: Twelve Myths."
Biotechnology=Hunger Biotechnology=Hunger

The biotechnology industry promotes itself as the solution to world hunger. In reality, the industry's practices may drive self-sufficient farmers off their land and undermine their food security - increasing poverty and hunger.

The biotechnology industry claims it holds the answer to world hunger: high technology to increase production. But according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), this badly misstates the problem. There is no shortage of food in the world. Per capita food production has never been higher.

The real problem is this:
In a globalized economy, the poorest countries of the world are exporting their food to the already well-fed countries. Global agribusiness corporations, including those involved in biotechnology, are helping to dispossess millions of small, self-sufficient farmers who once sus tained their families and communities. The best lands have been converted to grow luxury crops for the global market: potted plants, flowers, beef, cotton, soya, and exotic fruits and vegetables. Global corporations rarely grow inexpensive staple foods for local people and communities. Left without their own land to grow food, without jobs on high-tech farms (that emphasize technology rather than workers), and with no cash to buy food, the former self-sufficient farmers now swell the ranks of the world's 800 million hungry.

The issues are not merely about technology. The issues are:
Who has access to land?
Who grows the food?
What food do they grow?
To be consumed by whom?
In a globalized economy, food self-sufficiency is replaced by food dependency.

Is biotechnology the answer?
No, it's part of the problem.
Here are four reasons why:
I. Biotechnology threatens farmers
Much of the world's remaining biodiversity now exists in the forests and fields of the southern, poor nations. It's here that small farmers have, for millennia, been cultivating, saving and refining seeds to better feed their communities. But now, global biotechnology companies are on frenzied searches for seeds that they can patent and monopolize. They make small genetic alterations in the seeds, calling those "inventions" to gain the patents. In the U.S., for example, it is now illegal for farmers to save patented seeds without permission or payment of royalties. Corporate ownership of seeds can make it very expensive for poor farmers to survive; millions may soon have to give up their lands, move to cities, seek urban jobs, and join the hunger lines. In 1997, a million such sm all farmers in India took to the streets to protest seed patenting. They called it "biopiracy." All over the world (including India and England), protesters have ripped up biotech crops.

Corporate scientists are also working toward the day when food won't be grown in fields by farmers at all. In the high tech, biotech future, your broccoli may be grown indoors, from tissue cultures. The companies will no longer worry about weather or nature (or protesters); they will have total control. Real farmers may become obsolete.

II. Biotech suicide plants
If anyone still believes that the biotechnology industry is motivated by a desire to feed a hungry world, consider the new "terminator" technology being developed by several companies and the U.S. government. This is a plant that's genetically engineered to produce a sterile seed. A "suicide plant." Why would they want to create such a thing? Here's why.

For millennia, small farmers have cut costs and bred for local conditions by saving seeds for later replanting. "Terminator" seeds will make that impossible. Small farmers will have to buy new seeds annually from biotech companies. The cost could drive many out of business.

III. Vulnerable to failure
For all the billions that have gone into biotechnology, its performance is pathetic. Some biotech crops have been spectacular failures, leading to lawsuits against biotech companies. For example, in 1997, tens of thousands of acres of biotech cotton withered and died. Farmers sued the companies that produced the biotech product, finally settling for up to $5 million. Similar problems have been seen with other biotech products including rBGH, which some dairy farmers inject into their animals to increase the milk supply. According to a 1998 report commissioned by Health Canada, cows injected with rBGH showed about a 50% increase in the risk of clinical lameness, a 25% increase in the risk of mastitis, a 40% increase in the risk of infertility, and a 20-25% increase in the risk of being "culled" (slaughtered for under-productivity). Several U.S. dairy farmer associations and consumer groups have recently taken action to rescind the FDA's approval of this hormone based on its adverse affects to animal and human health.

Another risk comes from the fact that biotech farming promotes monoculture, a single crop covering many acres. As happened with the infamous Green Revolution's chemical technologies that once promised to "feed the hungry," new chemical dependent biotech monocultures have replaced mixed, rotational cropping which formerly kept the soil healthy. Monocultures are notoriously vulnerable to weather events and to insect blights. Failures can be catastrophic.

IV. Ecological roulette
The biotech industry says it is "ecological" because biotech decreases the need to use chemical sprays. At the same time they make that case, one biotech giant, Monsanto, is marketing the number one chemical herbicide in the world: Roundup. And they are genetically engineering certain crops to resist Roundup. It's a pretty slick deal. On the one hand, Monsanto sells the Roundup to farmers to kill weeds. On the other hand, it sells a genetically engineered herbicide resistant crop that Roundup can't kill.
As a result, farmers use even more Roundup since the cash crop is protected from it. Other biotech companies are doing the same thing with their own herbicide products. Is this what they call ecological agriculture? Are we missing something here?
The true effect is to increase the use of pesticides and thereby increase pollution of the soil, air, water table, rivers and oceans. Pesticides make water undrinkable, kill fish by the millions, and in the long run can turn the soil sterile.

One more point. Genetically engineered crops are difficult to control. They can cross-pollinate with other plants, or migrate, or mutate. If a pest- or herbicide-resistant strain one day spreads from crops to weeds, a super weed could multiply and be nearly impossible to stop, threatening the world food supply. One hundred U.S. scientists took this danger seriously enough to warn that "it could lead to irreversible, devastating damage to the ecology."

Obviously, the biotechnology industry is not trying to feed the hungry. That's just their advertising theme. They are trying to feed themselves. If the world really wants to feed the hungry, the way to do it is to put farmers back on the land, growing staple crops for themselves, their families and communities, not export crops for wealthy nations. Rather than destroying people's abilities to feed themselves, we should be encouraging it.

If you would like further information on how you can help the many organizations really trying to feed the hungry, and to regulate the behaviors of the biotechnology industry, please contact us at the number below.

Food First / Institute for Food & Development Policy
International Center for Technology Assessment
Organic Consumers Association
Friends of the Earth
Institute for Agriculture & Trade Policy
Greenpeace USA
Humane Society USA
International Forum on Food and Agriculture
Pesticide Action Network
Religious Campaign for Forest Conservation
Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology
Sierra Club
International Forum on Globalization
Mothers & Others for a Liveable Planet
Mothers for Natural Law
Council for Responsible Genetics
Earth Island Institute
Food & Water
Rural Vermont
Center for Ethics and Toxics
Center for Food Safety
Idaho Sporting Congress

Signers are all part of a coalition of more than 60 non-profit organizations that favor democratic, localized, ecologically sound alternatives to current practices and policies. This advertisement is the last in a series on Genetic Engineering. Other ad series discuss the extinction crisis, economic globalization, industrial agriculture and megatechnology. For more information, please contact

Turning Point Project, 310 D St. NE, Washington, DC 20002 1-800-249-8712 email:

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