"Agricultural Genetic Engineering and Biodiversity" new NABU Report
Genetic engineering in agriculture still sparks massive controversies in the 13th year of its employment in commercial cultivation. Genetically engineered plants designed for the implementation in monocultures dramatically/significantly accelerate the reduction of biodiversity and economic sovereignty.
Commercial Cultivation of Genetically Modified Plants
Genetic engineering in agriculture still sparks massive controversies in the 13th year of its employment in commercial cultivation. From the perspective of GM proponents agricultural genetic engineering is indispensable in order to supply the world of tomorrow with food and natural resources. The intensive industrial agriculture of recent decades has however resulted in a dramatic decrease of diversity in field fauna and flora. The spreading of high performance cultivars and commercial seeds has eliminated well-adapted local varieties. Farmers are becoming increasingly unable to cultivate their own seed. Genetically engineered super-plants designed for the implementation in monocultures accelerate the reduction of diversity and economic sovereingty. As a consequence, many variants are irretrievably lost.
Four agricultural crop cultures commanding a large volume of trade have been approved for cultivation, namely: soy beans, maize, cotton and rapeseed. The genetic modifications can be retrieved in all plant cells from roots to pollen. They are protected by lucrative patent rights and possess two main characteristics:
Tolerance against total herbicides: e.g. Glyphosate by Monsanto (trade mark: Roundup) or Glufosinate by Bayer (trade marks: e.g. Liberty and Basta). The herbicide resistance (HR) implemented in the plant’s genes makes it possible to employ broad spectrum herbicides throughout the entire cultivation period without harm to the transgenic agricultural crops.
Resistance to a species group of insects: A gene derived from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), which is introduced into the plants, produces a toxic substance. The introduced Bt toxin is then effective in all parts of the plant and is lethal for the caterpillars of, for example, the European corn borer or the cotton bollworm, once they feed on the plant.
Independent studies on the effects of transgenic cultures on beneficial organisms are still scarce. For a long time such issues did not appear on the agenda of researchers focussing on agricultural genetic engineering. Only recently have a few research teams started to investigate them.
The Influence of Transgenic Plants on Eco-Systems and Agricultural Crops
Individual elements such as plants, animals or soil interact with each other within eco-systems. Transgenic plants also become part of the natural habitat. The consequences of interactions between transgenic plants and their natural surroundings may eventually become evident only after several years, in which the fragile equilibrium in the soil, the species’ susceptibility to illnesses or the pollination processes may have changed. Genetically modified plants may spread through natural processes such as pollen flight and hibernation of the seed and may thus become a threat for neighbouring farms or conservation areas. Rapeseed or maize pollen can be transferred by wind and insects over long distances. This may result in a transmission of herbicide and insect resistance to wild or non-GM varieties growing far away. Genetically modified plants and seed are also dispersed by seed drills or during the harvest and get carried off along the trade and proceeding routes in many directions. For large bioengineering concerns in the agricultural industry the cultivation of genetically modified organisms pays off twice over: They do not only earn by selling seeds, but also by selling large amounts of the corresponding total herbicide. Whenever total herbicides are employed in agriculture, they might harm soil and water as well as human beings and animals in the surroundings. The cultivation of Bt-crops may also promote the increase of secondary pests such as bugs and mites, which need to be controlled by insecticides eventually.
Misapprehensions of Agricultural Genetic Engineering
The Influence of Transgenic Plants on Eco-Systems and Agricultural Crops
It has turned out to be a misapprehension that:
** the cultivation of genetically modified crops is entirely beneficial for agricultural practice. In fact the necessity for the deployment of herbicides may be reduced in the first few years, but it normally increases quickly afterwards as the associated weeds grow increasingly resistant. According to data supplied by US authorities the consumption of the total herbicide Roundup increased fifteen-fold due to the cultivation of herbicide- resistant soy, maize and cotton cultures between 1994 and 2005.
** transgenic plants yield large crops. The so-called first generation of genetically engineered plants is still substantially less productive compared to conventional species. Transgenic soy beans yield crops reduced by between six and eleven percent on average.The international report of the World Food Council (IAASTD) as well as a current study of the Office of Technology Assessment at the German Parliament (TAB) proves that assertions cannot be confirmed, according to which agricultural genetic engineering is economically efficient especially for poor farmers in countries of the southern hemisphere.
Global Problems and Risks
Over the past ten years numerous cases of contamination and crop damage or damage to other economic goods as well as damage to biodiversity have been documented. The trend is increasing:
** The large scale cultivation of herbicide-resistant rapeseed in Canada resulted in the contamination of neighbouring fields and crops by genetically modified organisms. Up to five percent of contamination were detected in certified conventional seeds. ** Crossbreeds of Bt-maize originally grown in the U.S. were found in Mexico. The novel characteristics first turned up in regional maize species and cognate wild plants in 2001. ** In Costa Rica, where genetically modified seeds of cotton and soy beans have been reared on an experimental level and cultivated for the global market since 1992, transgenic cotton now grows unhampered along bank slopes, field paths and even in front gardens. ** In Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay, forests are being cleared for the monocultures of glyphosate-resistant soy and subsequently substantial amounts of pesticides are deployed. Wind-blown dispersal of those into neighbouring settlements and onto fields harm human beings, plants and animals and pollute water resources. ** Early in 2008 scientists at the University of Arizona (USA) proved that pests have become resistant against the Bt-toxin in genetically modified cotton plants. ** In South Africa farmers growing Bt-cotton need to deploy insecticides against secondary pests such as aphids or cicadas. New pests have turned up there since 2000. Especially stink bugs account for great damages. ** The introduction of Bt-cotton in India was especially momentous. Resistance and secondary pests have spread there in several growing areas to such an extent that massive crop failure resulted. Thousands of farmers who had got into debt with credits for seeds and pesticides committed suicide as a result. ** Genetically modified plants do not only affect the actual target organisms but also endanger numerous agriculturally important beneficial organisms.
Responsibility ? Negative
The insurance industry keeps refusing to safeguard anyone against the risks of agricultural genetic engineering technology. The companies producing seeds and agricultural chemicals have so far exerted massive pressure to block international provisions regulating liability and claims settlement. Ever since the Cartagena-Protocol on biological safety has come into effect 2003, the countries producing the majority of genetically modified plants have obstructed the passing of a resolution in cooperation with the pressure groups of the concerns in the agricultural genetic engineering industry. In most cases of damages the polluter is thus exempt from punishment. Either claims are not settled as no-one wants to appear as a plaintiff for lack of financial means or the producers as well as the importers and exporters of genetically modified plants rely on passing on the costs to the general public.
The spreading of transgenic products has led the agricultural genetic engineering industry to meet with global criticism. Genetically modified crop growing and trade of such crops are accompanied by protests. They are motivated by the legitimate concern to curtail ecological risks in the crop growing countries as well as the fear of economic losses. Despite the lack of public acceptance, the area on which genetically modified crops are grown still increases – fuelled by an enormous expectation of profits on the part of science, industry and politics.