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

Bill Gates as funder, author, editor, adviser? Data imperialism: manipulating the metrics

By Dr Amitav Banerjee, MD*  When Mahatma Gandhi on invitation from Buckingham Palace was invited to have tea with King George V, he was asked, “Mr Gandhi, do you think you are properly dressed to meet the King?” Gandhi retorted, “Do not worry about my clothes. The King has enough clothes on for both of us.”

Stagnating wages since 2014-15: Economists explain Modi legacy for informal workers

By Our Representative  Real wages have barely risen in India since 2014-15, despite rapid GDP growth. The country’s social security system has also stagnated in this period. The lives of informal workers remain extremely precarious, especially in states like Jharkhand where casual employment is the main source of livelihood for millions. These are some of the findings presented by economists Jean Drèze and Reetika Khera at a press conference convened by the Loktantra Bachao 2024 campaign. 

Displaced from Bangladesh, Buddhist, Hindu groups without citizenship in Arunachal

By Sharma Lohit  Buddhist Chakma and Hindu Hajongs were settled in the 1960s in parts of Changlang and Papum Pare district of Arunachal Pradesh after they had fled Chittagong Hill Tracts of present Bangladesh following an ethnic clash and a dam disaster. Their original population was around 5,000, but at present, it is said to be close to one lakh.

Anti-Rupala Rajputs 'have no support' of numerically strong Kshatriya communities

By Rajiv Shah  Personally, I have no love lost for Purshottam Rupala, though I have known him ever since I was posted as the Times of India representative in Gandhinagar in 1997, from where I was supposed to do political reporting. In news after he made the statement that 'maharajas' succumbed to foreign rulers, including the British, and even married off their daughters them, there have been large Rajput rallies against him for “insulting” the community.

Magnetic, stunning, Protima Bedi 'exposed' malice of sexual repression in society

By Harsh Thakor*  Protima Bedi was born to a baniya businessman and a Bengali mother as Protima Gupta in Delhi in 1949. Her father was a small-time trader, who was thrown out of his family for marrying a dark Bengali women. The theme of her early life was to rebel against traditional bondage. It was extraordinary how Protima underwent a metamorphosis from a conventional convent-educated girl into a freak. On October 12th was her 75th birthday; earlier this year, on August 18th it was her 25th death anniversary.

What's Bill Gates up to? Have 'irregularities' found in funding HPV vaccine trials faded?

By Colin Gonsalves*  After having read the 72nd report of the Department Related Parliamentary Standing Committee on alleged irregularities in the conduct of studies using HPV vaccines by PATH in India, it was startling to see Bill Gates bobbing his head up and down and smiling ingratiatingly on prime time television while the Prime Minister lectured him in Hindi on his plans for the country. 

A Hindu alternative to Valentine's Day? 'Shiv-Parvati was first love marriage in Universe'

By Rajiv Shah*   The other day, I was searching on Google a quote on Maha Shivratri which I wanted to send to someone, a confirmed Shiv Bhakt, quite close to me -- with an underlying message to act positively instead of being negative. On top of the search, I chanced upon an article in, imagine!, a Nashik Corporation site which offered me something very unusual. 

India's "welcome" proposal to impose sin tax on aerated drinks is part of to fight growing sugar consumption

By Amit Srivastava* A proposal to tax sugar sweetened beverages like tobacco in India has been welcomed by public health advocates. The proposal to increase sin taxes on aerated drinks is part of the recommendations made by India’s Chief Economic Advisor Arvind Subramanian on the upcoming Goods and Services Tax (GST) bill in the parliament of India.

Turkey meet tries to 'resurrect' Maoism, seeks to apply people’s war concept universally

By Harsh Thakor*  An International Maoist Symposium was organized by Umut Publishing on 6-7th April in Turkey commemorating 130th birthday of Mao Tse Tung. On the first day of the symposium two sessions were staged. The first session started with Volkan Yaraşır’s presentation on “Dialectics of the Chinese Revolution and Mao Zedong”.

IMA vs Ramdev: Why what's good or bad for goose should be good or bad for gander

By Dr Amitav Banerjee, MD* Baba Ramdev and his associate Balkrishna faced the wrath of the Supreme Court for their propaganda about their Ayurvedic products and belittling mainstream medicine. Baba Ramdev had to apologize in court. His apology was not accepted and he may face the contempt of court with harsher punishment. The Supreme Court acted on a public interest litigation (PIL) moved by the Indian Medical Association (IMA).