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

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Examples of support to Hindu temples, scriptures, saints by 'Muslim' rulers galore

Siya Ram coin issued by Akbar By Bharat Dogra* At a time when the country as well as the world are passing through very difficult times leading to more urgent need for strengthening national unity for meeting several big challenges ahead, unfortunately disputes relating to religious places have been allowed to raise their ugly head once again. It is well-realized by now by many people that it is not historical facts but narrow considerations of political gain and spreading of fanatic ideas of intolerance which are behind such mischief, but due to the increasing threat of mob violence and patronage available at higher levels to groups spreading intolerance many people are reluctant to openly and fearlessly express their views. Hence there is urgent need for broad-based peace committees with wider social support to spread the message of communal harmony and to appeal against the dangers of spreading false messages regarding places of worship which can ultimate

Gyanvapi case: Use of 'illegal' lawfare to keep the communal pot simmering

By Venkatesh Narayanan, Bobby Ramakant, Manoj Sarang* With a steady drumbeat of bad news for the lives of ordinary citizens --  inflation at a multi-year high , rupee at an all-time low , negative job creation and when all forward indicators as seen by industry leaders point to recessionary clouds on the horizon , what’s a serially-incompetent government to do?  Dust out their time-tested-citizen-distraction playbook. The Gyanvapi-Masjid case is all of this -- as a weapon of mass distraction. This zeitgeist of our times is best captured by a recent opinion piece : "The idea is to keep the pot on a perpetual boil, simmering at the top, whirling feverishly beneath. A restless society forever living precariously on the precipice arouses distrst, uneasiness, fear and discomfort, That is a toxic panoply for manufacturing rage, which can then be effortlessly mobilized at short notice. BJP is creating an eco-system of real-time instant delivery of hate-mongers. That is how we are sudde

Targeting mosques, churches: 'Roadmap' for 2025, RSS' centenary year?

416 years old Our Lady of Health Church, Sancoale, Goa  By Fr Cedric Prakash SJ*  Fascists use manipulative strategies aimed at whipping up sympathy and support from the majority community, to which they normally ‘belong’. They do so in a variety of insidious and subtle ways. In the past few months, they have gone overboard in their efforts to denigrate and demonize minorities in India, particularly Muslims and Christians. They have spewed hate and divisiveness through their venomous speeches; incited people to violence and have effectively used officialdom to further their vested interests. The results are there for all to see: greater polarisation of the majority community in a country which prided itself for its pluralism and diversity. Their meticulously planned agenda is in order to gain absolute power of the country in the 2024 national elections. More so it is also a roadmap towards 2025 when the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) will complete one hundred years of its existence.

This varsity succumbed to extra-academic mobocracy, 'ignored' Hindutva archives

By Shamsul Islam* Open letter to Sharda University vice-chancellor Sub: Discarding a Question on Linkages of Hindutva with Nazism/Fascism is blatant Academic Dishonesty! Dear Professor Sibaram Khara Saheb, Namaskaar! According to your esteemed University’s portal: “The name of University, 'Sharda' is synonymous to 'Goddess of knowledge and learning-Saraswati'. She is identified with 'veena', an Indian musical instrument and the ‘lotus’, where she resides. The lotus in our logo symbolizes the seat of learning that the University is created for.  "Variety of colours signify the variety of disciplines the university offers and the overlap between petals creating new colours demonstrate the ethos of collaboration between students and teachers of different programme, nationality, creed and colour working towards creating new knowledge…the University's cherished mission to provide education beyond boundaries and to facilitate the students and faculty to achie

Whither climate goal? Increasing reliance on coal 'likely to worsen' India's power crisis

By Shankar Sharma*  Recent news articles, How to shock-proof India’s power sector and Power minister points finger at states for worsening electricity crisis , have highlighted a few current problems for the ongoing power sector issues as in April 2022. However, there is a lot more to it than a few temporary solutions as indicated in the articles. It should also be emphasised that it is techno-economically impossible to completely shock-proof a highly complex and geographically wide-spread vast power network, such as the one in India, which is only getting more and more complex with the passage of each year due to some irrational policies/ practices in the sector. A business-as-usual (BAU) scenario, wherein more and more of conventional technology power plants, including coal power plants, will be added in the near future, will also necessitate the increased complexity in the integrated national grid, and as a result the instances of power shortage/ disruptions can only escalate for

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

A former Modi ally, Prashant Kishor wanted to enter Congress 'on contract, as trader'

By Anand Sahay*  The Congress Party and the election campaigns specialist Prashant Kishor, whose company has done strategic communications for a host of political parties across ideology, should both count themselves lucky that they could not reach an agreement for Kishor to join the party. News reports suggest that the Congress rejected Kishor’s terms. This is not wholly unexpected. People join a party because they are attracted to it, and wish to serve it in any capacity that the party may see fit. But that isn’t Kishor at all. He gave the impression of entering into a contract, as a trader might. If news reports are to be believed, he sought freedom to report directly to party chief Sonia Gandhi, and sought untrammeled control over party communications. When such ideas did not find favour, the consultant withdrew. It is clear he has no particular love for the Congress, and its ideas, ideology and politics. In contrast, look at the key personae in G-23. They

Govt of India 'compromising' on mandate to regulate gene technologies, protect nature

Counterview Desk  In a letter sent to the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) and other related ministries and departments, the Coalition for a GM-Free India has raised "serious concern" over the guidelines notified for Genome Edited Organisms, in which major exemptions from regulations have been offered to certain categories of Genome Edited Organisms/Plants and products. A letter signed by Sridhar Radhakrishnan and Kapil Shah, co-convenors of the NGO network, addressed to Union Minister for Environment, Forest & Climate Change Bhupender Yadav, said, the Office Memorandum, dated May 17, 2022 of the Department of Biotechnology, Ministry of Science & Technology about Safety Assessment Guidelines, which follows the Office Memorandum dated March 30, 2022 of the MoEFCC, said, the move "essentially amounts to entry of risky GMOs through the backdoor. Text : Coalition for a  GM-Free India is a national volunteer-driven platform of hundre

A Marxian trend that queries undemocratic customs and traditions of capitalism

By Bhabani Shankar Nayak*  A very well-meaning comrade called me a pluriversal Marxist with a wild smile full of English irony, while chairing my book release function in the Marx Memorial Library, London. I dedicate this piece to her… There is no other philosopher who is more abused and misunderstood like Marx. There is no other philosophy like Marxism which is more demonised on a regular basis. The mindless vilification campaign against Marx and Marxism continues without any form of reason. The propaganda and portrayal of Marxism as a devilish doctrine signify its importance as a philosophy of human emancipation from the very forces who demonise it. Marxism is a philosophy of praxis which helps us to understand the centrality of creative power of labour in producing socially meaningful value. It helps us to analyse the laws governing production, distribution, consumption, exchange, market, profit, pricing and private property in the development of class-based society. As a humanist p