Skip to main content

Global production of GM soybean and GM cotton are declining; GM oilseed rape and GM maize hectarage have stagnated

Angelika Hilbeck*
Genetically engineered (GE) crops were introduced to the world almost three decades ago with great fanfare and the first crops commercialized over two decades ago. We were promised no more nor less than the abolishment of hunger and malnutrition and the creation of plants with higher yields and adapted to the challenges caused by the changing climate.
Despite the rhetoric, GE plants never were designed for the small scale farmer in the first place. However, overall yields of GE crops did not rise beyond those of non-GM crops in countries that chose not to grow GE crops, like in most of Europe.

A sobering reality check of 20 years of GE crop production

Since the first commercial release of GE crops over 20 years ago, four commodity crops containing two types of GE traits produced in the same six countries (called the 'six founder biotech crop countries' by ISAAA 2016) - USA, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, India, China - are making up over 90% of all commercial GE plants grown worldwide to this day. The four countries located in the Americas are by far biggest producer countries growing 85% of all GM crops.
Likewise nothing changed regarding the four commodity crops, soybean, maize, cotton and oilseed rape making up 99% of all GM crops grown globally. There are basically two traits: one based on insecticidal proteins taken from the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), endowing these GE crops with a defense compound against some pest species, and the other a built-in resistance against broad-spectrum herbicides, mostly Glyphosate-based herbicides like Roundup.
Global production of GM soybean and GM cotton are declining and GM oilseed rape and GM maize hectarage have stagnated since years on a lower level, <25% or <30% of global production, respectively (ISAAA 2016).

No benefits for small scale farmers but many misleading claims

Deeper analyses show that it benefited 'small holders' at the upper end of the scale, meaning those with larger land holdings, irrigation systems and better education but failed the poorest of the poor and most vulnerable small scale producers on the lower end of the scale with very small holdings and rainfed cotton systems.
Despite the rethoric, the 'engineering' process does not work in biology as it does in electronic, mechanical engineering and as the 'engineers', often not biologists, had hoped. Organisms are no computers. The DNA 'code' is neither a machine code nor a language with words, sentences and grammar that does have a consistent meaning no matter on what paper you print it.
Burkinabe cotton varieties are world famous and highly valued for their long length lint but cross-breeding the Bt toxin transgene from American cotton varieties into local Burkinabe cotton varieties led to shortened lint length and lower quality of the cotton, bringing down sales and profits of Burkinabe cotton. Since the Burkina Faso government was forced to ban the production of Bt cotton, sales and profits have recovered.

Genetic engineering builds on outdated concepts of genetics

The idea of 'genetic engineering' hinges on the now outdated notion of a deterministic and linearly constructed 'Central Dogma' postulating that a sequence of nucleotides, DNA, acts as hard-wired instruction (a 'gene') for a particular product under all environmental circumstances in the donor and the recipient organims - as it would be for a computer. While many active researchers recognize the outdated status of Central Dogma understanding of inheritance, there is little if any critical evaluation of the scientific basis of genetic engineering in the biotechnology field.
Moreover, not only do the biotechnologists and vocal pro-GM molecular biologists avoid (self)critical reflection and have lost 'organized skepticism', as Prof. Stone puts it, but reflexively attack unfavorable published findings and critical analyses of GM products whose failure to deliver are meanwhile almost impossible to ignore, like the Golden Rice.

Limitations of new genetic engineering technologies

The novelty consists of techniques or tools developed in adapting and redesigning the bacterial CRISPR/Cas9 mechanism for the use in the bioengineering world. In contrast to the older genetic engineering tools, the new ones now allow to guide enzymatic "scissors" to specific DNA sequences (so-called target sites) where they will cut the DNA, mostly with claimed 'increased accuracy'.
Claiming that these tools entail less risk because of increased target efficiency ('precision') is naive at best. Unsafe things can be made with great precision! But it could even turn out more risky at worst.

The world will not be saved with point mutations

The newer genetic engineering techniques suffer from the same limitations as the older ones, since they still can only handle small DNA sequences, presenting at best single-gene solutions. By contrast, the problems that we face in agriculture are always complex, and will not be solved with point mutations.

Issues with India:

1. Small Farms are more prone to contamination.
2. More toxins through Bt crops and HT crops (Due to increased Herbicide)
3. Weeds are useful in many ways and provide rural employment especially to the women.
4. Illegal Introduction: Bt cotton, HT cotton and HT soyabean proves regulatory failure.
5. Implications on trade as no body prefers GM crops
6. Organic Farming is difficult to practice due to contamination threat.
7. Loss of biodiversity and threat of monoculture.
8. Risk to human health.
---
*ETH Zurich, Institute of Integrative Biology, Agroecology & Environmental Biosafety Group

Comments

TRENDING

#MeToo moment in Hyderabad Urdu varsity? Two girl students seek action against authorities

Counterview Desk
Has the #MeToo movement reached Maulana Azad National Urdu University (MAANU)? It would seem so if a recent letter by newly-appointed chancellor Firoz Bakht Ahmed to MAANU vice-chancellor Dr Aslam Parvaiz is any indication. Seeking reinstatement of two girl victims of “sexual harassment and humiliation”, the letter specifically names head of the department of the Media Centre for Journalism, suspecting, the problem could be much deeper.
Text of the letter: It is a matter of utmost perturbation for me to receive the two representations from the girls studying in the MCJ (Media Center for Journalism) regarding their sexual and subsequently, mental and social harassment at the hands of Prof Ehtesham Ahmad Khan, the HOD, MCJ.
We do not know, how many girls have been exploited by him and preferred to be silent for saving their family’s honour; however, there are two brave girls who stood to the depraved advances and misuse by Prof Ehtesham and came up with written complai…

"Ineligible" funding of Sardar Statue in Gujarat: CAG tells Central PSUs, it's not a heritage CSR activity

By Our Representative
The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India, in its recent report on Central Public Sector Enterprises (CPSE), has qualified public sector undertakings’ (PSUs') funding the 182-metre world’s highest Sardar Statue, currently being constructed in the Narmada river downstream of the Sardar Sarovar dam as an “ineligible” corporate social responsibility (CSR) activity.

Gujarat BJP MLAs, youth leader "incited" attack on North Indians: Cong releases video

Counterview Desk
Senior Gujarat Congress leader Shaktisinh Gohil, currently in charge of Bihar and national spokesperson, All-India Congress Committee, has sent a legal notice to chief minister Vijay Rupani threatening criminal case and civil defamation suit for accusing him with "baseless statement" that he was responsible for attacks on north Indians in Gujarat.

29th "NRC-related" suicide in Assam, as Nirod Baran Das takes his life by hanging on a fan

By Our Representative
Reporting 29th case of National Register of Citizens (NRC)-driven suicide in Assam, one of India’s human rights campaign sites has said that, on October 20, tragedy struck Kharupetia town in Darrang district of Assam, when a retired school teacher and advocate Nirod Baran Das “took his life by hanging himself to a fan in his home.” The report adds, “The NRC process has so far claimed over two dozen such lives in the past four months alone.”

"Highly irregular" for PSUs to fund Sardar Statue under Corporate Social Responsibility

Counterview Desk
In a letter to I Srinivas, secretary, Ministry of Corporate Affairs, Government of India, former secretary (economic affairs), Ministry of Finance, EAS Sarma, has raised questions on the funding of the Sardar Patel statue in South Gujarat by Central Public Sector Undertaking (CPSUs) relying on the Comptroller and Auditor General report (No 18/2018).

Murder of Tamil Nadu teenage Dalit girl: "Stoic silence" despite #MeToo movement

Counterview Desk
Brinelle D'souza, who is with the Centre for Health and Mental Health, School of Social Work, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, has prepared a strong statement to protest the brutal murder of 13-year-old Rajalakshmi. "Other than a few media reports, this gruesome killing has not caught national attention despite a very vibrant #MeToo campaign currently underway", regrets D'souza.

Post-MJ Akbar resignation: #MeToo movement and fears of backlash

By Sheshu Babu*
For the last few days, #MeToo movement has picked up momentum and many women are coming out with horrific tales of severe harassment in their past lives. They are not afraid anymore to expose famous persons including those at ministerial levels. As a senior journalist Neeraja Chowdhury opined (“An exit, a beginning”, October 18, 2018, indianexpress.com), "The #MeToo revelations are like the eruption of a volcano which was imminent, given the journey working women have covered. It was not easy to make public what they had gone through,and take on powerful men.”

Bank account frozen, raid on Amnesty office: Govt of India "treating" human rights NGOs like criminal enterprises

By Abhirr VP*
Amnesty India’s bank accounts have been frozen by the Enforcement Directorate, effectively stopping its work. Amnesty India is thus the latest target of the government’s assault on civil society in the country. The accounts of Greenpeace India were frozen earlier this month.

World Bank clarifies: Its 26th rank to India not for universal access to power but for ease of doing business

By Our Representative
In a major embarrassment to the Government of India, the World Bank has reportedly clarified that it has not ranked India 26th out of 130 countries for providing power to its population. The top international banker’s clarification comes following Union Power Minister Piyush Goyal’s claim that India has “improved to 26 position from 99” in access to electricity in just one year.

60 ex-civil servants seek release of CAG reports on Rafale, demonetisation before 2019 polls

Counterview Desk
As many as 60 retired civil servants have asked President Ram Nath Kovind to expedite the release of Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) reports on demonetisation and the Rafale deal. The letter, signed mainly by former Indian Administrative Service, Indian Foreign Service and Indian Police Service officers, regrets that the status of the audit is "unclear”. According to them, “An impression is gaining ground that CAG is deliberately delaying its audit reports on demonetisation and Rafale deal till after the May 2019 elections so as not to embarrass the present government”.