Monday, March 17, 2008 by: Jo Hartley
Is biotechnology the miracle solution necessary to fix the many problems we face in the world today - world hunger, suffering third world economies, toxic pesticides, and the damaged environment to name a few? The big seed companies are doing everything they can to make you believe this is the case. In fact, they are making claims bordering on emotional blackmail to get you to accept their new technology.
First, they would like you to believe that biotechnology is nothing new, that it is just a natural extension of plant breeding techniques that have been around forever. The big agribusiness corporations insist that genetic engineering is simply a faster and better way of improving crops over traditional methods. It is definitely true that modern biotechnology has produced varieties of plants that did not previously exist. However, the genetic compositions of these new species are new and unknown, and this could produce unpredictable outcomes in many cases.
They would also like you to believe that Genetically Modified (GM) foods are extensively researched and regulated. Here is how that works. In 1992 the FDA decided that genetically engineered foods were no different from conventional foods. Under FDA law, if a food is "Generally Regarded as Safe" (GRAS), no independent safety testing is necessary. Biotech foods have been determined to be GRAS. So, the FDA relies on the biotech companies to do their own safety testing and also to make the determination themselves whether any given product is GRAS.
Big Seed Corporations are telling us that GM crops will allow us to reduce and even eliminate toxic pesticides and fertilizers, hopefully leading us to the conclusion that GM crops are good for the environment. To date this could not be further from the truth. In fact, most of the GM crops growing today have been modified to either withstand herbicide spray or actually produce their own insecticide.
Currently, over 50% of the nation's soybean crops are genetically modified to withstand spraying of the herbicide RoundUp. It has also been disclosed that there is currently no testing of these crops in place for increased herbicide residue. Additionally, the Environment Protection Agency went so far as to raise the allowable residue limits for RoundUp on crops.
Biotechnology is not going to help us eradicate world hunger. Obviously, world hunger is a very big concern, but food scarcity is not the root cause of starvation. According to the UN World Food Program, there is more than enough food produced in the world to feed everyone on earth a healthy diet. The reason this doesn't occur is that nearly 800 million people do not have access to food because they can't afford it or they cannot grow it themselves.
Biotech companies purport that GM crops will rebuild third world economies. So far, this has yet to be seen. In fact, the opposite seems to be occurring. The foundation of genetic engineering has turned the seeds themselves into "intellectual property," so that the farmers planting the seeds don't even technically own them. This new arrangement makes it against the law to save seeds from year to year, something commonly done in third world countries. This places farmers in the position of returning year after year to purchase seeds. Imagine what a financial burden this would create for struggling farmers. Monsanto recently brought this to a head by actually hiring private investigators to take samples of plants from fields of farmers they suspected didn't buy their seeds. Monsanto has also encouraged neighbor to give up neighbor if planting GM seeds without paying for them is suspected.
By turning GM seeds into intellectual property, agribusiness corporations have taken another huge step toward control over the food resources and instead of eradicating world hunger, biotechnology will likely increase it by increasing dependence on the corporate seed companies.