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

Girl child education: 20 major states 'score' better than Gujarat, says GoI report

By Rajiv Shah
A Government of India report, released last month, has suggested that “model” Gujarat has failed to make any progress vis-à-vis other states in ensuring that girls continue to remain enrolled after they leave primary schools. The report finds that, in the age group 14-17, Gujarat’s 71% girls are enrolled at the secondary and higher secondary level, which is worse than 20 out of 22 major states for which data have been made available.

Savarkar in Ahmedabad "declared support" to two-nation theory in 1937, followed by Jinnah three years later

By Our Representative
One of the top freedom fighters whom BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi revere the most, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, was also a great supporter of the two nation theory for India, one for Hindus another for Muslims, claims a new expose on the man who is also known to be the original proponent of the concept of Hindutva.

Congress 'promises' cancellation of Adani power project: Jharkhand elections

Counterview Desk
Pointing out that people's issues take a backseat in Jharkhand's 2019 assembly elections, the state's civil rights organization, the Jharkhand Janadhikar Mahasabha, a coalition of activists and people’s organisations, has said that political parties have largely ignored in their electoral manifestos the need to implement the fifth schedule of the Constitution in a predominantly tribal district.

Hindutva founders 'borrowed' Nazi, fascist idea of one flag, one leader, one ideology

By Shamsul Islam*
With the unleashing of the reign of terror by the RSS/BJP rulers against working-class, peasant organizations, women organizations, student movements, intellectuals, writers, poets and progressive social/political activists, India also witnessed a series of resistance programmes organized by the pro-people cultural organizations in different parts of the country. My address in some of these programmes is reproduced here... 
***  Before sharing my views on the tasks of artists-writers-intellectuals in the times of fascism, let me briefly define fascism and how it is different from totalitarianism. Totalitarianism is political concept, a dictatorship of an individual, family or group which prohibits opposition in any form, and exercises an extremely high degree of control over public and private life. It is also described as authoritarianism.
Whereas fascism, while retaining all these repressive characteristics, also believes in god-ordained superiority of race, cultur…

Ex-World Bank chief economist doubts spurt in India's ease of doing business rank

By Rajiv Shah
This is in continuation of my previous blog where I had quoted from a commentary which top economist Prof Kaushik Basu had written in the New York Times (NYT) a little less than a month ago, on November 6, to be exact. He recalled this article through a tweet on November 29, soon after it was made known that India's growth rate had slumped (officially!) to 4.5%.

With RSS around, does India need foreign enemy to undo its democratic-secular fabric?

By Shamsul Islam*
Many well-meaning liberal and secular political analysts are highly perturbed by sectarian policy decisions of RSS/BJP rulers led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, especially after starting his second inning. They are vocal in red-flagging lynching incidents, policies of the Modi government on Kashmir, the National Register of Citizens (NRC), the demand for 'Bharat Ratna' to Savarkar who submitted 6-7 mercy petitions to the British masters (getting remission of 40 years out of 50 years' sentence), and the murder of constitutional norms in Goa, Karnataka and now in Maharashtra.

Post-Balakot, danger that events might spiral out of control is 'greater, not less'

By Tapan Bose*
The fear of war in South Asia is increasing. Tensions are escalating between India and Pakistan after the Indian defence minister's announcement in August this year that India may revoke its current commitment to only use nuclear weapons in retaliation for a nuclear attack, known as ‘no first use’. According to some experts who are watching the situation the risk of a conflict between the two countries has never been greater since they both tested nuclear weapons in 1998.

Rushdie, Pamuk, 260 writers tell Modi: Aatish episode casts chill on public discourse

Counterview Desk
As many as 260 writers, journalists, artists, academics and activists across the world, including Salman Rushdie, British Indian novelist, Orhan Pamuk, Turkish novelist and recipient of the 2006 Nobel Prize in literature, and Margaret Atwood, Canadian poet and novelist, have called upon Prime Minister Narendra Modi to review the decision to strip British Indian writer Aatish Taseer of his overseas Indian citizenship.

Worrying signs in BJP: Modi, Shah begin 'cold-shouldering' Gujarat CM, party chief

By RK Misra*
The political developments in neighbouring Maharashtra where a Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress government assumed office has had a trickle down effect in Gujarat with both the ruling BJP and the Congress opposition going into revamp mode.

'Favouring' tribals and ignoring Adivasis? Behind coercion of India's aborigines

By Mohan Guruswamy*
Tribal people account for 8.2% of India’s population. They are spread over all of India’s States and Union Territories. Even so they can be broadly classified into three groupings. The first grouping consists of populations who predate the Indo-Aryan migrations. These are termed by many anthropologists as the Austro-Asiatic-speaking Australoid people.