Posted on 2010-06-03 at 8:25 a.m..
One of the first documentaries I ever watched that 'touched' me, was The Future of Food. I was shocked by the truth of how serious the issue of genetically modified plants is. If you don't think it's serious, please read on.
We used to be a nation of farmers. Most anybody knew how to grow food. We knew how to tend animals, how to grow plants, how to harvest, how to store, and how to seed our crops.
Now, the common person knows little to nothing about growing food. Most of us don't even know where the food we eat comes from.
Because so many of our ancestors grew crops, there was a large variety of "Land Races" or rather, there was a large variety in the genetics from one crop to the next within the same species. Be it corn, carrots or potatoes, we only now use 10% of the variety we used to have world wide.
Most of the variety that is left are in small countries that are not selling or producing on a large scale. This can and has caused major problems.
When you have a large mono-crop, when that strand of plant is weakened, diseased or plagued by a certain bug, then the entire crop gets it. In the past, you could just go to your neighbor for a different strand of seeds, but now, these gigantic crops must look out of the country to find different strains to replant.
Because so many of us are unfamiliar with the process, we're not aware of how little the common farmer is paid. We're not aware of what's done to our food, how far it's shipped, and even if our food has been genetically altered or not.
In Europe, or Japan for example, it'll say right on the package ingredients, "genetically modified." In both of those countries the people voted against genetically modified foods. Here in America the foods have not been tested, and have not been voted on by the Congress or by the people. Because it's not on the labels, it's not even traceable.
For more on this topic, watch this fascinating documentary that explains the entire process of genetically modifying plants:
Genetic modification actually cuts the productivity of crops, an authoritative new study shows, undermining repeated claims that a switch to the controversial technology is needed to solve the growing world food crisis.
The study – carried out over the past three years at the University of Kansas in the US grain belt – has found that GM soya produces about 10 per cent less food than its conventional equivalent, contradicting assertions by advocates of the technology that it increases yields.
Professor Barney Gordon, of the university's department of agronomy, said he started the research – reported in the journal Better Crops – because many farmers who had changed over to the GM crop had "noticed that yields are not as high as expected even under optimal conditions". He added: "People were asking the question 'how come I don't get as high a yield as I used to?'"
He grew a Monsanto GM soybean and an almost identical conventional variety in the same field. The modified crop produced only 70 bushels of grain per acre, compared with 77 bushels from the non-GM one.
The GM crop – engineered to resist Monsanto's own weedkiller, Roundup – recovered only when he added extra manganese, leading to suggestions that the modification hindered the crop's take-up of the essential element from the soil. Even with the addition it brought the GM soya's yield to equal that of the conventional one, rather than surpassing it.
The new study confirms earlier research at the University of Nebraska, which found that another Monsanto GM soya produced 6 per cent less than its closest conventional relative, and 11 per cent less than the best non-GM soya available.
The Nebraska study suggested that two factors are at work. First, it takes time to modify a plant and, while this is being done, better conventional ones are being developed. This is acknowledged even by the fervently pro-GM US Department of Agriculture, which has admitted that the time lag could lead to a "decrease" in yields.
But the fact that GM crops did worse than their near-identical non-GM counterparts suggest that a second factor is also at work, and that the very process of modification depresses productivity. The new Kansas study both confirms this and suggests how it is happening.
A similar situation seems to have happened with GM cotton in the US, where the total US crop declined even as GM technology took over.
Monsanto said yesterday that it was surprised by the extent of the decline found by the Kansas study, but not by the fact that the yields had dropped. It said that the soya had not been engineered to increase yields, and that it was now developing one that would.
Critics doubt whether the company will achieve this, saying that it requires more complex modification. And Lester Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute in Washington – and who was one of the first to predict the current food crisis – said that the physiology of plants was now reaching the limits of the productivity that could be achieved.
A former champion crop grower himself, he drew the comparison with human runners. Since Roger Bannister ran the first four-minute mile more than 50 years ago, the best time has improved only modestly . "Despite all the advances in training, no one contemplates a three-minute mile."
Last week the biggest study of its kind ever conducted – the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development – concluded that GM was not the answer to world hunger.
Professor Bob Watson, the director of the study and chief scientist at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, when asked if GM could solve world hunger, said: "The simple answer is no."
Haitian farmers are calling the news that Monsanto is donating 475 tons of pesticide-treated hybrid seeds a “new earthquake,” and members of the Peasant Movement of Papay (MPP in Creole) have committed to burning the seeds. MPP Executive Director and National Peasant Movement of the Congress of Papay (MPNKP) spokesperson Chavannes Jean-Baptiste called Monsanto’s seeds “a very strong attack on small agriculture, on farmers, on biodiversity, on Creole seeds… and on what is left our environment in Haiti.”
The country’s Ministry of Agriculture originally rejected Monsanto’s offer of Roundup Ready seeds, because the country has no policy in place to regulate GMO’s, but consented to accept the donation after being assured in an email that the seeds were not genetically modified. The 60,000 sacks of corn and vegetable seeds are, however, patented hybrid varieties – meaning farmers will have to purchase new seeds next year instead of being able to save them – and have been treated with toxic chemicals. The tomato seeds were doused in thiram, a highly hazardous pesticide whose home and garden use has been banned in the U.S. because most consumers don’t have access to sufficient protective equipment.
Monsanto failed to mention any of the dangers or necessary safety precautions of thiram to Haiti’s Ministry of Agriculture. The seeds will be distributed by the by the United States Agency for International Development's (USAID), a tax-payer funded agency infamous for promoting U.S. agendas while offering development assistance. A Monsanto representative also told Business Week that, while Monsanto won’t be receiving any of the profits, farmers will have to pay for the seeds, “to avoid flooding the local economy with free goods.”
The U.S. hasn’t had any qualms about flooding Haiti’s markets in the past. Haiti was forced to open its markets to foreign agricultural imports by the International Monetary Fund in order to qualify for a much-needed loan. Haitian farmers couldn’t compete with heavily subsidized rice from the U.S., and farmers lost their only source of income. In 2008, 78% of Haitian people were living on less than $2 a day. Farmers involved in the MPP’s agroecological projects recognize Monsanto’s ploy to force chemical-reliant industrial agriculture on a struggling economy; Jean-Baptiste said earlier this year, “We need to establish seed banks and have silos where we can store our Creole seeds. Local, organic seeds are the basis of food sovereignty.... It’s urgent that Haitians buy local seeds.... What's the danger we face today? It’s that food aid from USAID and others is getting dumped in the country."
A better way...